Negotiating Cultural Capital (completed)

Politics of the Body in Translations, Transmediations and Receptions of the Bible


About the project

Through their reception and use texts that are seen as cultural specimen undergo continuous negotiations of values, world views, etc. They become miniature repositories of cultural memory. Such processes of acculturation (in the widest sense) are very slow and often unnoticeable. However, when such cultural texts are to be translated to new languages they may become spaces for renewed inter cultural negotiations (and power discourse).

An eminently cultural text: Biblia
cum glossa ordinaria.

The Bible is an eminent specimen for studying such processes. Through centuries of translation, commentary, and re-reading the originally Hebrew and Greek Bible became European cultural capital par excellence. A graphic expression of the situation is found in the Biblia cum glossa ordinaria (see picture). The biblical text occupies a small part of the upper middle register of each page. The rest of the ‘sacred page’ (pagina sacra) is dedicated to philological comments, excerpts from traditional late antique commentaries, medieval commentaries, and dogmatic lore. During the many biblical translation projects still going on, biblical literature reveals itself as a global arena for struggle over cultural values, regimes of knowledge, of economy, of health services, etc. This process also reveals how the “source” of translation – Western biblical concepts – are themselves receptions of ancient Oriental speech and thought, which sometimes are closer to that of the “target” cultures in question.


This project focuses on the translation of selected biblical concepts and passages, all relating to notions and politics of the human body. These items are seen in two prisms. First we study the negotiation of biblical concepts and passages into Latin and later into vernacular European bible versions. Secondly, we study the translation of such concepts and passages (often under strong influence from the Western bible tradition) into non-Western languages and cultures in South America, Africa, and Asia.

As one example, take the biblical concept “salvation”. The biblical source languages (Hebrew and Greek) had obvious bodily connotations in this concept: The Hebrew root yasha‘ in the relevant stem means “to assist”, “to help”, “to save”, and the Greek verb sōzō translates “to heal” and “to save”. Especially in post-Enlightenment Protestant European perception, however, “salvation” has primarily metaphysical connotations. This European perception of “salvation” often becomes contested during translation of the Bible to South American, African, or Asian languages. The introduction of Western perceptions of the body embedded in Bible translations become evident when translators of the Bible also introduce Western medical perceptions and services that defy local therapeutic philosophies, symbols and practice systems. This entire ecology of perceiving, negotiating translating, printing, publishing, and culturally implementing regimes of the body becomes a great laboratory for cultural exchange and struggle – in a local environment, but with global implications.


The project was established in the spring semester 2013 as scholars of religion and language, working in three different departments at the University of Oslo, decided to join forces in order to attempt a more comprehensive study of these aspects of translation and globalism. The project, still under configuration, now includes a few international colleagues.

Current leader for the project is prof. Terje Stordalen, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo.

Project Coordinator is Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo, Affiliated Scholar, The Centre for Development and The Environment (SUM), UiO; Research Associate, Moses Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project, Harvard University; Research Associate, Institute for Signifying Scriptures (ISS), Claremont Graduate University.

The project received seed grants from PluRel (Religion in Pluralist Societes) for 2013 and 2014.

More about the project (pdf)

Published July 10, 2013 2:40 PM - Last modified June 8, 2016 2:52 PM


Detailed list of participants