I will tell you something about stories [he said], They aren't just entertainment. Don't be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have the stories.

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1970)

In these verses Leslie Marmon Silko invites readers into the power of ritual—of ceremony— through the power of stories. Stories are people. Stories are power. Stories are healing. Stories are bodies and bodies are stories. 

Here, our Digital Stories began as a place to enter into stories through words, images, and sounds. Using digital methods to access the storyworlds of people past and present, we had in mind a way of disrupting the interpretive grip of the word in studies of religion and theology. A kind of thinkspace to work out what the study of religion is when we shift from words and texts to stories. We hope it becomes this. We hope that contributors seize this opportunity to practice storytelling through images and sounds, to create visual and aural information from datasets, to use lyrical voice and autoethnographic methods, to enter storyworlds of taste and smell and touch. The digital still privileges sight and sound but stories are bodies and live in a world that is felt and smelled, tasted and touched. We can’t replicate those worlds but we want to find ways of coming into meaningful engagement with them, to know that within them there is a power not only to bring new stories and people into our existing frameworks of analysis but to dismantle and rebuild our field of inquiry to better approximate the lived worlds we claim to know so well.

But the world has changed between the time that we began to build this space and where we now find ourselves, dispersed, isolated, distanced. We may find ourselves in perpetual proximity to people we love, or at least with whom we reside. We may find ourselves in unyielding solitude. Some, many, perhaps, both together and alone. We are now confronted with new rhythms and realities of breath, touch, smell, and taste. The touch of dough between fingers, the smell of shampoo, the sounds of birdsong, the rise and fall of our own breath—will it continue or will it fail?—suddenly inescapable, suddenly full, suddenly present. Digital Stories take on new meanings in the world we now live in, a world we could scarcely have imagined just weeks ago. Life, for many, has adapted to physical isolation by digital connection. There are powers and privileges in this digitalization of community that must be acknowledged. Religion, too, now more than ever, is lived in a digital age. So our stories here will reflect this new world even as we seek to access storyworlds that are not bound by the constraints of existing digital technologies or interpretive priorities. 

The speaker who opens Silko’s verses knows of illness and death, of violence and trauma. He knows if stories are stolen, forgotten, or confused that the people are defenseless. So the stories are hidden away in his belly,—“Here, put your hand on it / See, it is moving. There is life here for the people.” Silko’s Laguna Pueblo stories are not mine to tell—not ours to tell. But we can learn from her how not to become fooled into thinking that stories are anything less than life in its fullness. We hope you join us in this effort.

– Rachel McBride Lindsey

Photo credits:

Frances Densmore with Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief during a recording session for the Bureau of American Ethnology (1916, Public Domain). 

Andrew Comstock, A System of Elocution, with Special Reference to Gesture, to the Treatment of Stammering, and Defective Articulation (1846).