image of Threads of Tradition – Textile Metaphors

Threads of Tradition – Textile Metaphors

CERES Palais, room "Ruhrpott" (4.13)

The word text derives – as it is commonly known – from lat. texere, to weave. Letters often consist of or are arranged in lines, and the Latin word linea, we learn from anthropologist Tim Ingold, originally appears to have meant a thread made from flax, linum. „If line“, Ingold assumes, „began as a thread rather than a trace, so did text begin as a meshwork of interwoven threads.“ (Ingold 2007:61). In different parts of the world, religious tradition is called a „thread“: in Chinese, for example, the word for „canon“ is related to the vertical threads of a cloth.

In German, we speak of the „red thread“ without which any narration or argument would fall apart. Red threads, on the other hand, are distributed to Jewish visitors of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and brought along to all parts of the world. In Islamic theology, the foundations of creed are called ʿaqīdah, a word derived from the verb ʿqd meaning „to make knots“. Knots (ʿuqad) are also mentioned in the penultimate Surah of the Qur’an, where refuge is sought from the women who perform magic by ‚blowing on the knots‘. From Eastern Europe to Central Asia one can find the tradition of binding pieces of cloth or thread into trees, and in the hills of Istanbul, there is a saint called Telli Baba, father with the threads, from whose grave pilgrims cut pieces of silver thread to come back later, when a prayer has been accepted, in order to leave a piece of thread on the grave themselves.

Many more examples for the importance of threads and textiles in religious practices and for weaving, knotting, spinning, binding and untying as recurrent metaphors in religious texts could be mentioned. While networks, fabric and other textile metaphors are prominent in the metalanguage of the social sciences (think e.g. of Clifford Geertz’ definition of man as an „animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun“), the wide range of textile metaphors in religious communication is only rarely dealt with in its own right. The aim of this workshop is therefore to shed light on textile aspects of religion (from textile to text and back) by focusing both on threads and textiles as vital elements in religious practices and on textile terminologies in religious texts. The workshop will start with the guest lecture by Prof. Tim Ingold (Chair of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, author of Making: Archaeology, Anthropology, Art and Architecture, 2013 and Lines: A Brief History, 2007). Prof. Ingold will also be present during the sessions of the following day. All CERES researchers are most welcome to contribute by presenting a part from their own work related to textile.

Workshop programme


Photograph of Dr. des. Esther Voswinckel Filiz

Dr. des. Esther Voswinckel Filiz