Imagery, Ritual, and Birth

Ontology between the Sacred and the Secular

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Anna Hennessey
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , December
     218 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Ann W. Duncan forthcoming.


Every human being is born and has gone through a process of birth. Yet the topic of birth remains deeply underrepresented in the humanities, overshadowed by a scholarly focus on death. This book explores how imagery is used ritualistically in religious, secular, and nonreligious ways during birth, through analysis of a wide variety of art, iconography, poetry, and material culture. Objects central to the book’s study include religious figurines, paintings about birth, and other items representative of pregnancy, crowning, or giving birth that have an historical or original meaning connected to religion. Contemporary artists are also creating new art in which they represent birth and mothering as nonreligious events that are sacred or divine. Framed through the concept of social ontology, which examines the nature of the social world and studies how people create meaning out of the various objects, images, and processes that make up human social life, the book theorizes a social ontology of birth, focusing on how the meaning of imagery undergoes metamorphosis between the spheres of religion, secularity, nonreligion, and the sacred when used during birth as a rite of passage. Included in the study are more than thirty images of birth, some of which have never been written about before.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anna Hennessey is Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley.

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