16 Days of Activism

Updates on the Abuse in Religious Contexts Project

NB: The Shiloh Podcast with broadcaster Rosie Dawson has episodes and webinars on the Project reported on here. Please have a listen and help us spread the word about it. Another fabulous podcast, focused on violence and the Bible is The Bloody Bible, hosted by Shiloh Project Co-Directors Caroline Blyth and Emily Colgan. It’s fabulous. 

The AHRC-funded Abuse in Religious Contexts Project is well under way. As one Co-Investigator of the Project, Shiloh Co-Director Johanna Stiebert has been running a series of five workshops. The series has just concluded.

The aim of the workshops has been to gather a series of snapshots, or to ‘take the pulse’, of how abuse features in and affects different religious communities.

The first workshop (see more here) was held at the University of Leeds. One aim of this two-day event with the title ‘Researching Religions and Abuse’ was to bring together postgraduates and early career researchers who explore religion at the intersection with violence, trauma, and abuse. A second aim was to share experiences, strategies, and methodologies for investigating such difficult topics. 

The second workshop, also at the University of Leeds, was entitled ‘Researching Abuse in Contexts of Buddhism’ (see more here) and was led by Ann Gleig and Amy Langenberg. This workshop focused on their soon-to-be-published research on abuse in Buddhist convert communities. This interactive event was attended by emerging and established researchers of religion and gender-based violence, including in Buddhism, new religious movements, and Sikhism. 

The third workshop was held in Bristol, with postgraduates and ordinands of the Bristol Baptist College and Trinity College, Bristol. Here we explored together the secondary violence of a biblical text and the implications of texts that are both sacred and violent. This workshop applied methods explored in a toolkit for churches called Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Harm.

For the fourth workshop, project partner Yehudis Fletcher, Johanna, and four orthodox rabbis, together read, interrogated, and discussed the violent biblical text of Judges 19.

The fifth and final workshop took place in December 2023 in two community centres in Blackburn and Accrington, Lancashire. Essential to the event was facilitation by members of the community group, SAS Rights. This group regularly runs community-building and community-support events.

The group of participants in this workshop consisted of all women, the majority of whom are Muslim and British-Asian. Several have moved to Lancashire from other parts of the world – Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. There were also some Christian women, including one who has rejected the Catholic faith in which she was raised on account of the abuse scandals, to which she was indirectly exposed, and another who said her Catholic faith is what keeps her going.

Our workshop began – appropriately, given the season! – with pulling Christmas crackers and with each participant exchanging with one other participant about their relationship with religion, and about how religion harms and heals. From there, we gradually widened out the discussion beyond pairs, eventually to the whole group (with Christmas party poppers marking highlights). 

Most of the group reported finding considerable solace in their faith, privately – such as in private prayer and in the promise of divine forgiveness no matter what. All the women reported harm caused by clerical structures and leaders, as well as by other religious figures with power, including parents. All were reluctant to attributing harm to ‘religion’, opting instead for ‘culture’. While they conceded that ‘culture’ referred to structures that brought familiarity and a sense of identity, ‘culture’ also signified for them constriction and potential for and cause of harm. 

The women were agreed that women are more prone to spiritual abuse than men.

After a long discussion that covered a lot of ground, we shared food, did some arts and crafts, and then took part in a Zumba class together. Everyone was included – all levels of fitness. It was joyful and bonding.

The two community centres and the activities organised by SAS Rights were remarkable spaces – very inclusive and co-operative, with a mix of ages, backgrounds, and religions.

SAS Rights organises affordable hot meals, exercise classes, learning to ride a bike classes, forums for discussion and conversation, arts and crafts, facilitation for support and safeguarding services of many kinds, professional counselling… – particularly for women from hard-to-reach communities. 

Findings from the workshops and Project will be published in a volume (to be edited by Gordon Lynch and Eve Parker) under contract with Oxford University Press.

Two forthcoming Routledge Focus volumes edited by Johanna will present chapters on abuse in diverse religious contexts (Volume 1) and on the ways different religious communities resist and counter abuse (Volume 2). 

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Celebrating Five Years of the Shiloh Project


This year, the Shiloh Project celebrates its fifth birthday. It all began back in 2017, when Katie Edwards, Johanna Stiebert, and Caroline Blyth got together to create a resource focusing on the interconnections between rape culture, religion, and the Bible. Armed with only a website and a great deal of enthusiasm, they started to invite contributors – academics, activists, and practitioners – to share their expertise about the religious texts, traditions and institutional structures that play a role in perpetuating and resisting rape cultures. Later that same year, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement was reignited on social media, its viral and worldwide spread testifying to the insidiousness and ubiquity of gender-based violence. #MeToo brought a surge of interest in and participation with the Shiloh Project, as well as kindling an especial urgency to its work and goals.

Since 2017, the Shiloh Project website has grown into a dynamic resource and repository of diverse perspectives and media. To date, there have been over 300 posts, with contributors hailing from diverse locations, including the United Kingdom, Aotearoa New Zealand, Botswana, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, Bangladesh, the United States and Germany. This international flavour is echoed by the current Shiloh coordinators, who include Johanna Stiebert and Chris Greenough (based in the United Kingdom) and Emily Colgan and Caroline Blyth (in Aotearoa New Zealand).

Despite the miles that separate them, Johanna, Emily, Caroline (aka Caz), and Chris have always found that their work is most fruitful when they meet over Zoom to chat, make plans and share ideas. So, back in 2021 during one of the pandemic lockdowns, they got together and recorded a conversation where they talked about their motivations for being involved in Shiloh and their goals and visions for the project’s future.[1]

This post captures their conversation, which we hope give the Shiloh audience a sense of the project’s journey – past, present, and future. Thanks to everyone who has supported us, written posts for us, and generally cheered us on (and up!) these past five years. Here’s hoping the next five are equally as fruitful for all of us.

Zooming about Shiloh: A Global Conversation

Emily: So Caz, start us off. How did the Shiloh Project begin? Was there anything in particular that sparked your desire to set it up?

Caroline: Shiloh grew out of conversations I had with Katie Edwards back in 2014. We were talking about two cases of widespread sexual violence against teenage girls – one in Aotearoa New Zealand, one in England – that had recently been in the news. The Roast Busters case in Auckland and the sexual exploitation case in Rotherham were similar because, in both instances, no one initially took the victims’ voices seriously. Multiple girls were reporting their sexual assaults to the authorities but they weren’t being believed, or assumptions were made about them (because of their age, gender and class) that led authorities to blame them for their own victimization. Katie and I both felt that this happens far too often, regardless of where we are in the world. Rape victims get blamed and shamed, rape isn’t taken seriously and perpetrators all too easily get away with what they are doing. So, we asked ourselves: what can we do about it? How can we use our work as biblical scholars to challenge public misperceptions about gender-based violence? In our academic research, we often drew attention to the many complex threads connecting religion, gender violence and rape culture. But we typically directed our work towards an academic audience, writing articles and books that probably only like-minded scholars would read. It felt too much like preaching to the choir. So, Katie and I began to plan ways to make our work more public-facing and accessible to a wider audience. A couple of years later, we brought Johanna on board and, early in 2017, she arranged a meeting with colleagues from Sheffield and Leeds who were also researching religion and gender-based violence. After a day of fruitful conversations and brainstorming, the Shiloh Project was born. From that point on, things became much easier, because now we were working as a team – a collective – rather than as individual researchers struggling to make our voices heard. I’m so glad we involved you, Johanna!

Johanna: I’m glad too! Like you and Katie, mounting outrage was a big motivation for my involvement with Shiloh. I’ve studied gender-based violence in biblical texts since researching this topic for my PhD. Previously, however, I focused on Hebrew terminology and biblical texts as ancient documents in their original socio-historical contexts. My perspectives changed dramatically when I moved to Botswana in 1999, because I saw the Bible being used there much more urgently and proactively. In Botswana, the Bible was central to all kinds of conversations, including those around sexuality and sexual violence. It was the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic at that time, with rates of HIV infection and deaths from AIDS at their peak. The Bible was used to open discussions around HIV, its transmission and prevention, and the stigma surrounding it. This became central to my coming to see this ancient text as a text that is alive, relevant and formative in the present. Feminist biblical scholar Musa Dube, my colleague at the University of Botswana, was highly influential too. Her own work demonstrates the gendered dimensions and consequences of the pandemic, as well as how the Bible interfaces with them. What I learned back then has never left me. When I started working with Katie and you, Caz, I recognized that we had this shared goal of making biblical studies relevant to contemporary contexts.

Caroline: Your work in Botswana reminds me of another important factor that’s shaped Shiloh from the outset – its global focus. It was never just going to be a New Zealand and UK-based project. I like to think that our locations – one in the northern hemisphere, one in the southern, as far apart as they can be from each other – symbolize Shiloh’s efforts to encompass everything in between. 

Johanna: Shiloh has been consciously and strategically international and multicultural from its inception. That’s because rape culture is a universal phenomenon. Of course, it manifests differently according to particular contexts and intersecting layers of oppression, but it’s a problem all over the world and, therefore, something that can bring international scholars, practitioners and activists together in resisting it.

Caroline: International, multicultural, and contextual – I think we always need to keep these three words at the forefront of our work with Shiloh. We have to keep looking beyond our own locations, identities and experiences.

Chris: That’s very true. When you are working with a subject such as gender-based violence – a subject that has so often been silenced, or is taboo and stigmatized – you always need to be committed to its contextual and intersectional dimensions. You always have to attend to voices from those who are multiply marginalized. I agree that this is key to the work we do with Shiloh.

Before I joined Shiloh as a co-director, I’d always been a supporter. But I had internal questions relating to my own male identity. I spent a long time reflecting, as a gay man, on the possibilities of my involvement: what can I actually do, or how can I be involved in this project, given that, as a man, I am part of this problem? But then, I began to wonder if I could offer some insights into sexual violence against men and LGBTIQ+ people. Men can be oppressors or victims, although their victimhood is often forgotten or left out of conversations around gender-based violence. Previous research has highlighted that male victims, like female victims, experience shame and stigma in multiple forms. Even the topic of male rape is surrounded in taboo, as it is often perceived to threaten dominant ideations of masculinity. Given that one in six men have experienced sexual violence or unwanted sexual attention, there are clearly not enough existing networks where men can discuss their abuse and seek support. When #MeToo became popular in 2017, men also began using the hashtag to disclose and platform their own status as victims, but they were critiqued for hijacking a space that some believed was created only for women.

This is part of the tension I wrestle with a lot when I think of Shiloh. I see it as a space that still has a lot of work to do and a lot of voices to attend to, but it’s a space that has always committed itself to offering a platform for multiple voices and multiple experiences. Sexual violence affects everyone. Toxic masculinity and patriarchy are damaging to women, but also to men, LGBTIQ+ people and so many other marginalized and minoritized groups.

Caroline: I completely agree, Chris. We need to be aware of the different ways people understand and experience gender-based violence, and to respect and make space for this diversity. As directors of Shiloh, we cannot (and ought not) ‘speak for’ all victims of gender-based violence, or assume that our own understandings of this violence can ever capture the multiple ways it impacts victims and survivors. I know that’s something you’re particularly aware of in your own research, Emily.

Emily: Yes, absolutely. During my PhD, I explored ecological interpretations of biblical texts, particularly Hebrew Bible texts. One of the things that became a central theme of my research was the strong connection between the bodies of women and the body of the land, and these bodies as sites of sexual violence. This biblical imagery can have a tangible impact on readers and can become part of the lived experience of communities that engage with biblical texts. The influence of these texts – particularly in relation to sexual violence – is real and ongoing. And this issue needs a lot more critical ‘mic-time’ in both the church and the academy.

I currently teach biblical studies at Trinity Theological College in Auckland, and I have always been keen to incorporate issues of gender and sexual violence into my teaching. At Trinity, our culturally diverse student cohort tends to be fairly conservative, both socially and theologically. Many belong to faith communities that embrace traditional gender roles and hierarchies, which can, in turn, normalize and sustain various forms of gender-based violence. Rates of sexual violence and family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific are extremely high, but for many of our students, discussion around this issue is culturally and theologically tapu (or taboo). This raises some thorny questions about how to talk about it in the classroom. How do I, as a Pākehā,[2] challenge such violence while still being sensitive to my students’ investment in their cultural and theological traditions? To what extent can I invite students to critique the traditional underpinnings of their own cultures, particularly when I do not belong to those cultures? These questions remind me that issues of colonization and marginalization constantly intersect with discourses of gender-based violence. I am conscious of the fact that I always run the risk of ‘colonizing’ my students’ own cultural contexts; at the same time, however, I try to empower them to join me in the quest to scrutinize our own cultural traditions with integrity, and to acknowledge that all of our cultures and communities are, to some extent at least, complicit in sustaining the discourses that enable gender-based violence to flourish.

Johanna: That’s such an important goal – but a really difficult one to achieve! How did you set about making it happen?

Emily: Because most of my students are, theologically, quite conservative, they take the Bible very seriously; it’s not just their ‘course textbook’ but their sacred scripture too. In this context, the Bible can function as a safe point of entry into difficult conversations about gender-based violence: if the Bible talks about it, so can we. It’s similar to what you said, Johanna, about the Bible’s use in Botswana during the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We use the biblical text as a springboard to confront issues that are prevalent in our own communities. And the work of Shiloh equips me with the skills to facilitate these classroom conversations. I really love that Shiloh has a commitment to bring together multiple voices and perspectives on issues of gender-based violence, and is constantly attempting to bridge the gap between the academy and grassroots communities. In particular, I appreciate Shiloh as a forum that wrestles with the issue of gender-based violence in all its forms, while recognizing the nuances of context and holding space for marginalized voices. I see this as a key aim of Shiloh – to start difficult conversations and make them accessible and meaningful to our students, colleagues and wider audiences, whatever their own relationship with the Bible and religion.

Johanna: I agree.  In my experience, something meaningful and poignant can sometimes grow from such ‘difficult conversations’, and people can talk about their experiences of rape culture using the Bible as a medium, a sort of ‘common language’.

Chris: My own academic engagement with the Bible has always been an important part of my research, because I recognize it has been and continues to be used to weaponize so many issues around gender and sexuality. I’m interested in the sociological impact of what the Bible does in everyday life. Many people – including believers – have never read the biblical text (or, at least, haven’t read a great deal of it!) but are still aware of the ways it is used to subjugate people on the basis of their gender or sexuality. The Bible has been weaponized to justify hostile theologies and positional statements from religious authorities about women, people in LGBTIQ+ communities and other  minoritized groups. And that makes me determined to explore the Bible’s present and future influence in order to undo some of the harm that’s perpetrated in its name.

Caroline: I agree, that’s such an important part of our work in Shiloh, and something we need to keep developing. As you said earlier, Chris, there’s still a lot of voices that we need to give more attention to. Like you, I’m keen to expand our focus on the ways that religious texts and teachings impact people who belong to LGBTIQ+ communities. It’s a topic we’ve covered in some of our Shiloh posts and other projects, but we need to do more. We often focus on the negative side of this conversation – the harm done to queer people by religious institutions and teachings – yet there are some really constructive and restorative projects out there too that we can also raise awareness of. I’m thinking of the brilliant activism of groups like LEGABIBO and The Nature Network,[3] which you’ve written about for the Shiloh blog, Johanna, as well as research by scholars such as Adriaan van Klinken (2019), who writes so evocatively about the Kenyan church as a critical location for queer Kenyan Christian activism and transformation.[4]

I also want to keep encouraging more international contributions. But I’ve noticed that our posts about gender-based violence in the global South often get lower viewing figures than those with a British or North American focus. And that is such a massive shame, because gender violence in the southern hemisphere is surely just as important. Yet it’s often left out of scholarly conversations, as well as wider public discussions, among audiences in the global North.

Johanna: I’ve noticed that trend too: when we’ve posted on topics related to the global South, the number of views is often way down. I think we need to do more to bring attention to that. Call it out. Say to people, ‘Why do you stop reading if you notice that the post is about Kenya or Australia? Get out of your echo chamber!’

Caroline: Yes! Given that Shiloh was always intended to be a site of activism as well as academic discussion, we should be calling attention to this relentless prioritizing of the global North – it’s something I’ve really become so very aware of since moving from Scotland to Aotearoa. And sure, Shiloh also needs to do more to grow our southern hemisphere audiences, but that doesn’t detract from northern disinterest in southern issues. It’s not a zero-sum game! We need to push back at this prioritizing of the global North and challenge its deeply harmful legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy.

Chris: I love that image of us all pushing back! I’ve always seen Shiloh as a site of resistance – against rape culture and gender-based violence, and all the ways that religion might be complicit in perpetuating them. But we should also push back at academic work – including our own – that’s not yet done enough to tackle the various gendered injustices so prevalent in contemporary life. The critical nature of our work involves finding threads that trouble us – we pull on these threads in order to create holes, and that helps us see what has been covered up or obfuscated in our own and others’ work to date.

Johanna: I think that class is another of these holes we can uncover, Chris. It’s a further facet of people’s identity that’s often side-lined, or that people choose to ignore because they don’t see it as relevant to them. Or when it is spoken about, it’s often done from a position of privilege that fails to recognize the massive implications of class on people’s lives, particularly women’s lives. Shiloh needs to step up in terms of its engagement with issues of class, because it is relevant.

Another area I became more attuned to after being asked to review a book by Julie Faith Parker (2017) is childist criticism, which points out how the Bible marginalizes children and children’s perspectives. There is, of course, a lot of work being done (finally!) on the abuse of children, but this topic still needs and deserves much more attention from religious and theological perspectives, particularly given that so much child abuse has been perpetrated within religious communities.

Emily: The impact of religion and rape culture on children and teenagers is definitely something Shiloh needs to keep talking about. Young people can be acutely affected by these issues, especially in religious institutions and communities, where they are typically low in the ‘pecking order’. Their voices are not always listened to and their agency isn’t recognized. This is particularly true in religious communities that endorse discourses of sexual purity and modesty.

Caroline: That’s so true. You  and I have both done research on this topic, Emily, focusing on evangelical Christian ideologies of purity and modesty. What I find striking is the way that these ideologies operate to scaffold rape culture. I saw that all too clearly in my study of evangelical teen girl Bibles (Blyth 2021), and you’ve identified it yourself within evangelical ‘self-help’ literature marketed to young women (Colgan 2018). It’s a topic that quite a few of our contributors have covered on the Shiloh blog, but it deserves even more attention.

Emily: It does, and for good reason. One of the things that struck me when I started working on this issue was the overwhelming amount of evangelical ‘self-help’ literature that’s out there, all of it offering advice and guidance on how to be a ‘godly’ woman. But for many Christian women, these books have been hugely influential, often in negative ways. The authors invariably have a strong commitment to hetero-patriarchal ideals, which they support by citing problematic biblical texts, such as Hosea’s controlling relationship with his ‘unfaithful’ wife Gomer (Hosea 1–3). These wildly popular books essentially justify women’s subservience and surrender to male power and authority. They provide the raw material for cultures in which coercive control and sexual violence are normalized, even sacralized.

Johanna: Your mention of Gomer reminds me that women’s sexuality is so often problematized in religious texts and traditions, not to mention in academic work. I’m shocked how regularly academics and academic publications – in passing and without any critical reflection – say damning things about ‘prostitutes’, often drawing on harmful stereotypes about sex workers’ ‘depravity’ or ethical questionability. The casualness of how it’s done is embedded in rape cultures, which socialize us to become inured to horrendous acts of violence against those considered so marginalized that they almost become dehumanized – not ‘one of us’. And this, in turn, makes it easier to blame them for their own victimization – just as Gomer gets blamed for hers – as though they ‘had it coming’, or were ‘asking for it’ due to their ‘immoral’ and high-risk ‘lifestyles’.

Chris: I agree, there is so much work to do around the marginalization of sex workers, and, coming back to what you said earlier, Johanna, this is connected to class too. Sex work is work – it is work carried out by the working classes. It is wrapped up in the machine of the economy, capitalism and class. As people who are committed to activist work with marginalized groups, we have to recognize that we often stand in a place of privilege and that will impact our research and our activism.

Johanna: I’m glad you mentioned activism, Chris, as I’d like us to talk about Shiloh’s activist goals. I spoke earlier about our sense of outrage at various gendered injustices, and the way that it inspires us to use our academic training both actively and for activism. We all bring to this our different approaches. For me, activism often begins with conversations focused on texts I’ve studied, which then draws my attention to gender-based violence, and, from there, onwards to fuller understanding and resistance. I believe in the benefits of grounding action and activism in critical understanding and research.

Chris: I think our role as academics gives us such an important platform as activists. One of the methods I work around is life story narratives – these are powerful accounts of people’s realities, which provide a robust counter-narrative to misplaced and harmful ideologies. Most importantly, we research and teach about issues that are not just speculative, theoretical or abstract, but lived, embodied and that matter to people today. I’ve said it before, but I would love to see the day when my work becomes completely irrelevant because social change has been effected.

Emily: That’s such an important point, Chris. The issues we are working with can tangibly impact the lived experience of people in our communities. Reframing our work as ‘activism’ was a significant shift for me. I’ve always been very conscious of the critique that, as academics, we sit navel-gazing in our ivory towers while contributing little of use to those ‘in the real world’. This shift helped me reconceive my work as a (small) contribution to the fight against rape culture and gender-based violence, and this work/activism extends to the classroom too. Many of the students I work with are training for leadership in Christian communities and, as leaders, their voices will carry authority and the theologies and biblical interpretations they affirm will have real-life implications for the people in their congregations. Part of my duty as an activist–academic is to help students become aware of the issues related to gender-based violence and the role that Christian leaders (often unwittingly) play in perpetuating harmful theologies that enable violence to flourish. But this work is more than just raising awareness. It’s also about equipping students to challenge these harmful theologies themselves, so that their communities are safe and welcoming for people who feel vulnerable and marginalized. Shiloh contributors both inspire me in this work and provide invaluable resources for me to use in the classroom.

Caroline: I’ve always tried to use my writing and my teaching as ways to ‘do’ activism – I want to start conversations and debates, rather than shutting them down. Dialogue is the only way that things can change for the better. So even if my work just gets people thinking, or begins conversations, then that’s a start.

Johanna: Yes, debates and dialogues are so important. Shiloh has kept an activist focus through our efforts to bring different interest groups together and open ourselves to alternative viewpoints we may not have engaged with before.

Chris: Shiloh replaces ‘silo’!

Johanna: Exactly! It’s a work in progress,  but we try to foster new collaborations, such as the Shiloh workshop we held in Leeds back in April 2019. Our participants included academics who were researching religion and gender-based violence, as well as community practitioners working for organizations that support people impacted by such violence. It was so inspiring having everyone in the same room, sharing their expertise and learning from each other. The workshop facilitated meaningful conversations and ways of working together towards a common goal.

Emily: Caroline and I hosted a similar Shiloh workshop in Auckland in July 2019. We invited academics, religious leaders and frontline practitioners. One of the things we wanted to address was the fact that there is often a deep and mutual suspicion between secular community organizations and religious institutions. Secular organizations (often rightly!) view religious institutions as enabling and sometimes perpetrating gender-based violence, whereas religious institutions may be wary of secular organizations because they aren’t always familiar with (or respectful of) religious beliefs and practices. For me, one of the best outcomes of the Auckland workshop was that we were able to break down some of those suspicions and foster an open engagement with the important work that everyone in the room was doing.

Caroline: For me, the highlight of that workshop happened during the lunch break. I was chatting to Miriam Sessa, who is the manager at the national office of TOAH-NNEST (Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together). I admitted to her that, after hearing about the vital work being done by practitioners on the ‘front line’, I felt completely humbled and overwhelmed, anxious that Shiloh simply wasn’t doing enough. But Miriam reminded me that no one can do everything in the battle against gender-based violence. It needs to be a team effort, and Shiloh was earning its place on the team by raising awareness of the relationships between gender-based violence and religion. We were bringing something unique to the table that practitioners find valuable. It was really reassuring for me to hear that from her.

Emily: Another positive thing about that Shiloh event was the involvement of three students from the university’s Thursdays in Black group. Thursdays in Black are hugely active on campus, raising awareness of rape culture, offering advice and support to student victims of sexual violence and pressuring our university leaders to do more to tackle campus rape. They are a perfect example of how we can be both practitioners and academics. I really valued these students’ voices in our Shiloh workshop, because students’ perspectives are often missing in academic discussions about rape culture and gender-based violence. And I know it’s been Shiloh’s mission since the outset to include student voices.

Johanna: That’s so important, not least because most university campuses have a big problem with rape and sexual harassment. For all the ‘blah blah blah’ about how progressive, diverse and inclusive we are in higher education, too little the fuck happens when gender-based violence is called out in our midst. We’ve probably all encountered students who tell us they’ve experienced sexual assault or harassment on campus, but when they try to report it, no one takes them seriously, or authorities stonewall them or try to brush it under the carpet. We’ve also likely encountered colleagues who have a ‘bit of a reputation’ with students, yet nothing gets done about it. And we’re complicit in maintaining the silence ourselves, because it’s so entrenched in academic culture that it’s practically become the norm. Shiloh needs to be more outspoken about this too – more proactive in calling out gendered violence within the academy and fostered by the academy.

But like you say, Caz, I, too, often worry I’m not doing enough and feel overwhelmed because the problems are so big. I agree with what Miriam said to you at the Shiloh event: as academics, we can give what we can, even if it feels small and inconsequential, but we always need to remember that it matters. We’re highly trained at conducting research, decoding texts and making complicated things more accessible. It may seem too cerebral, or not practice-based enough, but it can surely still play a role in our activism, sometimes an important one, not to mention being a good use of our work time. If our work is publicly funded, we can and we should make it work for the common good.

Caroline: Totally. We have to serve as critic and conscience of the society we operate in as academics. We have to be public intellectuals, taking our research into the community and listening to community members about issues that have previously  been ignored or silenced. And I think that Shiloh helps us achieve this.

Chris: Yes, as activists and public intellectuals, the things we do on a daily basis are emotionally charged activities. We’re not abstract researchers who go into a lab and objectively analyse our data. The work can be emotionally draining, especially when we are dealing with sensitive issues. The reality of gender-based violence sits with us even when we’re not ‘at work’. When we’re in the ‘thick of it’, things can get really difficult, but, in a sense, that’s the fuel to keep going. If it matters and has an impact on us, it will matter to others too.

Emily:  I agree, Chris. My teaching in this area is not just an academic exercise – it’s about equipping people (myself included) to live and act (out) in the real world.

Johanna: Students tend to respond well to our activist focus, because it’s often so relevant to their own lives and communities.

Chris: That’s the same with me. I recently taught a course on the Bible in the modern world, and  most of the students focused in their assignments on sexual violence, purity culture and/or LGBTIQ+ criticism, because they recognized the impact that these topics have on their everyday lives and the world around them.

Emily: I’ve had a similar experience. I’ll often have an ‘open topic’ class, where students are able to choose what we discuss. Almost without fail, they will choose to focus on sexual violence, purity culture or queer interpretations of difficult biblical texts. They are desperate to engage with academic perspectives in these areas and to take their learning back into their own communities. So I try to teach them the skills and confidence to foster conversations and push back against the silence that often surrounds issues of gender and sexuality in their communities and churches. 

Something that I’ve found really helpful in terms of integrating Shiloh into the classroom is the highly accessible and creative ways that we disseminate our discussions of rape culture and religion using a variety of media. We have short ‘bite-size’ blog posts and longer written pieces, as well as poems, interviews, book reviews and art. I think this is a real strength of Shiloh. We’re not ‘dumbing down’ the topic so much as making it easier and less intimidating for students to engage with, all the while encouraging them to make their own research both accessible and creative. We want them to be public intellectuals too.

Johanna: The Shiloh Podcast has been another way we’ve tried to make academic work more accessible. It developed from an earlier podcast called #SheToo, which was commissioned by the Bible Society. Both podcast series feature journalist Rosie Dawson, who is terrific at ‘digging into’ complex ideas and getting researchers to lay out the steps in their arguments clearly and concisely.

Caroline: The Shiloh Podcast has been a fabulous way to engage with scholars whose opinions and faith perspectives are, at times, quite different from our own. I mentioned earlier that one of Shiloh’s goals is to foster these conversations and debates. Mind you, I’m also aware that we – as co-directors of this project – have always had a strong sense of where to draw a line in the sand that we will never, ever cross. We will never be an uncritical platform for religious views that promote or condone intolerance to already vulnerable and minoritized communities. We will never entertain discussions that promote patriarchal ‘values’ or that minimize (or even deny) the insidious damage caused by rape cultures. Dialogue and debate are so important, but we need to know when to say, ‘No. That’s not good enough. Your beliefs and ideologies are actually hurting people’. We won’t give them a platform.

Johanna: Yes, being inclusive does not mean ‘including everyone uncritically, no matter what they believe or say’. But that doesn’t stop us engaging critically with multiple viewpoints, even those (or particularly those) we strongly disagree with, or believe to be deeply harmful.  For instance, we need to understand better some of the current outputs by evangelical Christian groups. There are some very powerful voices in these groups who profess to interpret the Bible ‘properly’, or who make claims about ‘what the Bible really says’. They have a lot of financial and political support that gives them a huge platform, and their literature is widely disseminated. As part of the research for my next book project, I’m currently reading some hideous publications, all free online, promoted by the deeply conservative Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I’m trying to unpick the bullshit in these publications, taking the arguments apart to show how screwed up they are. That’s an important thing we can do on Shiloh: to talk back to this toxic nonsense and offer a counter-narrative. Because publications like these can be profoundly damaging to real people’s lives – those who’ve been assaulted, or who have had an abortion, or who identify as LGBTIQ+, or who are in abusive marriages. Mind you, I’m aware that not everyone who reads our Shiloh blogs and publications will agree with us about this.

Caroline: You’re so right. We’ve had our fair share of critics along the way, people who find our work ‘disrespectful’ or ‘unbiblical’, particularly when we’re pointing out the violence inherent in certain religious texts or teachings.

Chris:  Sara Ahmed says, ‘when you talk about walls, you come up against walls’ (2017:148). And I’ve experienced that myself. I’ve been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse because of my work on LGBTIQ+ and religious identities. This links exactly to what you said, Caz, about drawing a line in the sand. It’s not about erecting boundaries or gatekeeping, which happens so often in the academy, but it’s about self-preservation against the horrible abuse that we and others face because of the discourses we critique. It’s also about protecting our contributors’ voices. The work we do with Shiloh is ethical – we don’t spotlight abuse for sensationalist purposes or to create controversy. We always ensure that contributors want to share their experiences or stories with us, and hope that, if we create a safe and inclusive space, people will be drawn to it, assured that we’ll treat their stories with respect and care.

Caroline: So, a final question before Zoom fatigue sets in. We’re currently living in a pandemic world, and likely will be for some time to come. With this in mind, is there anything about Shiloh that has become particularly important?

Chris: Collaboration, for sure. Shiloh allows for collaborative working and research – we’re a community committed to fostering conversations and supporting one another. This rubs against the traditional aggressive competitiveness that can be found in the academy. This pandemic has made me realize that working collaboratively is much more fruitful.

Emily: Yes! Collaboration and collegiality is hugely important, particularly at the moment, and pushes back against the traditional academic model, which is based on individual achievement and success. It is so life-giving, as an academic, to be part of a collective that shares, supports, inspires, energizes, encourages and empowers. 

Johanna: True collaboration is what it’s about, not about getting an edge over anyone. It’s a beautiful thing.

Caroline: It certainly is. Throughout my time working in higher education, I’ve always been told that collaborations have to be structured around hierarchies. Someone needs to be in charge, and they alone direct the research, the outputs, and the funding. Yet, right from the outset, Shiloh grew out of a small group of academics who just wanted to work together as a team. No agendas, no egos, no hierarchies. And, at the start, no funding either! Over the past four years, Shiloh has grown into a project that’s included hundreds of voices and reached thousands of readers and listeners. There’s a lesson to be learned there about what we can achieve if we don’t follow traditional academic models of research.

Johanna: Isn’t there? Just talking about our work, doing our best, and sharing energizing, exciting and ever-developing conversations – it’s so motivating. We’re back to that idea of dialogue and collaboration – it’s essential.

Caroline: I think it keeps us all going. Particularly at the moment.

Emily: Yep, it’s a lifeline. I really hope we keep going, and getting better at it as we go.

Chris, Johanna, and Caroline: Amen to that.


Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blyth, C. (2021). Rape culture, purity culture, and coercive control in teen girl Bibles. Abingdon: Routledge. (Routledge Focus: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible.)

Colgan, E. (2018). Let him romance you: Rape culture and gender violence in evangelical Christian self-help literature, in Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion: Christian Perspectives, edited by Caroline Blyth, Emily Colgan, and Katie B. Edwards, 9–26. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gavey, N. (2013). Roast busting and the revival of misogynistic sexual culture. Sexual Politics Now. Available online:

Greenough, C. (2020). The Bible and sexual violence against men. Abingdon: Routledge. (Routledge Focus: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible.)

Jay, A. (2014). Independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, 1997–2013. Rotherham: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. Available online:—2013.

Parker, J. F. (2017). Valuable and vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Elisha cycle.Brown Judaic Studies.

RespectEd New Zealand. (n.d.). Statistics: Sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand. Available online:

UN Women. (2011). Ending violence against women and girls: Evidence, data and knowledge in Pacific Island countries. 2nd ed. Suva: UN Women. Available online:

van Klinken, A. (2019). Kenyan, Christian, queer: Religion, LGBT activism, and arts of resistance in Africa. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

van Klinken, A., Stiebert, J., Brian, S., & Hudson, F. (2021). Sacred queer stories: Ugandan LGBTQ+ refugee lives and the Bible. Rochester, NY: James Currey.

[1] We made a transcript of our Zoom conversation, then edited out all the ‘ums’, ”yeahs’, ‘y’knows’, and places we got side-tracked. The Zoom transcript was hilarious to edit. Thanks to our various regional accents, errors abounded. Some of the authors’ favourites included: ‘To be an emo’, ‘Do you want to start men up’, ‘shame trousers’ and ‘I am over you all’ (that last one, coming near the end of a two-hour Zoom conversation, may have been an accurate transcription).

[2] The term Pākehā is used in Aotearoa to signify a range of political and ethnic identities. It is being used here to refer to inhabitants of New Zealand who are of European descent.

[3] The Nature Network and LEGABIBO are two groups based in Kenya and Botswana respectively, which offer support to LGBTIQ+ people.

[4] See also van Klinken, Stiebert, Brian, and Hudson (2021).

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Celebrating Human Rights Day

Today’s post marks the final day of the 16 Days of Activism, which span from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to Human Rights Day, focusing throughout on ways to eliminate gender-based violence. Two years ago (2019, ‘Day 16 – Why Do We Do It?’) our Human Rights Day post offered some reflection; this one does, too.

I often think about a woman I met years ago. She had grown up in appalling and chaotic circumstances, her early life marred by violence and abuse. By then, she was living a life that was peaceful and made her content. She told me that what turned things for her was an incident shortly after one of her family members shouted aggressively at her in the street—something to her unremarkable, which she had barely even registered. But then a stranger looked her in the eye and said, ‘I want you to know that this is not okay.’ She says it startled her, and that after this, she would say ‘this is not okay’, like a mantra, whenever things at home got difficult. From then, she determined, things would be different. 

That’s stayed with me.

The ‘Orange the World’ logo, UN 16 Days campaign.

Looking back over Shiloh Project posts from 2021, it has been a full-on year, and our posts cover many themes: from using artwork to talk, or teach about gender-based violence, to multiple reflections on purity culture; from new books and icons featuring women, to rape culture in Bangladesh and rape of men in rabbinical literature; from introducing activist Erin Sessions, and ‘Misogynoir to Mishpat’, a new venture amplifying Black women theologians and religionists, to introducing the Avisa Project on the history of sexual harassment. We’ve had a pushback series on abusiveness against academics, as well as posts on Proverbs 31, white rage in Buddhist studies, on marriage, online teaching about sexual violence, and on Naomi Alderman’s novel Disobedience. We can’t be accused of being predictable!

Over the past 16 Days, we’ve also found things to celebrate: achievements, awards, and appointments; publications, podcasts, and progress.

But 2021 has been another tough year. Climate change, war, migration, corruption, Covid-19…—all have contributed to preventable loss of life, poverty, growing inequalities, as well as to gender-based violence. Even amid our celebrations of inspirational activism over these past days, there has been mention of aid cuts, cuts in higher education, and rising cases of domestic violence and abuse. On a much bigger scale, the same kinds of co-realities appear in the UN Women’s Annual Report. And now, with horror stories from lockdowns, and of the fate of those left behind, as well as those escaped from Afghanistan, and of persons trafficked into indentured labour and sex slavery, emerging, any glimpses of good news can feel like straws plucked, desperately, from a giant bale of miseries. 

There are things we and our supporters do—donating, fundraising, consciousness raising, staying informed, incorporating information about GBV and its prevention into our teaching, research, funding applications and publications, forming collaborations, looking out for those we encounter and offering support or making referrals…—but it can feel like very little.

Still, it remains important to mark the 16 Days. It remains important to keep activating, and each and together to do what we can, or what is manageable. It’s a way to feel less defeated by the massive things that need sustained action and it’s a way to remember that little actions achieve steps along the way. I’m not a person of faith but I have faith in that.

See you next year for the 16 Days?

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Calling Out – and then some!

Today we celebrate calling out – but that needs a bit of qualification and explanation.

‘Calling out’ refers to a direct challenge to what someone has said or done. Usually, ‘calling out’ is performed publicly, including (indeed very often) on social media. The intention of calling out is to confront and to expose someone, or something.

Calling out can be, or can get, nasty; it can escalate; and sometimes it can expose the caller outer as hypocritical, or attention-seeking, or band-wagoning. 

But calling out can also be a registration of protest, an on-the-spot expression that something is wrong and needs to change. It can be a first and decisive and vocal step in a process of tackling wrongs. 

Let’s face it, we have had some big wake-up calls, including in academia, showing up that very many things have been rotten for too long. Sexual harassment and abuse on campuses, to give just one example, have been rampant, and often ignored, or tacitly, or resignedly, accepted. Processes for addressing sexual harassment and abuse, meanwhile, are often ineffectual. (For some careful investigative work on this topic by Al Jazeera, see ‘Degrees of Abuse’, here). Other kinds of bullying, systemic inequality, discrimination, and abuse are also entrenched.

This year, the Shiloh Project hosted the pushback series to give a platform to speaking up about some of the things that are wrong in academia. We heard from an anonymous feminist scholar who eventually left, defeated, the conservative theological college where she had worked for multiple years. We heard also from Pauline scholar Grace Emmett, Buddhism scholars Amy Langenberg and Ann Gleig, theologian Karen O’Donnell, Hebrew Bible scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou, and our own co-director Chris Greenough. Each spoke—if sometimes with caution and trepidation, mindful of how risky it can be to speak up or call out—of how they have been undermined and thwarted, intimidated, and maligned, in response to their research, often by other academics. 

We also published a response to the ‘I’m back!’ statement of Jan Joosten, which he wrote shortly after completing his sentence. Joosten’s statement elicited many indignant Twitter comments from biblical scholars and, not long after, a panel discussion with the title ‘The Ethics of Citation: Sexual Abusers in Biblical Studies’. This panel comprised Stephen Young, Emily Schmidt, and Mark Leuchter, and was chaired by Meredith Warren (see here). The discussion covers a range of people, offences, and situations, and is largely exploratory. It asks, ‘is it ethical to cite sexual abusers?’

It is, I agree, important to think about this question. But it is not in every case straightforward to answer with either an unqualified ‘yes’ or an unqualified ‘no’. Where Joosten is concerned, I, for one, will not be citing him any time soon. I have cited Joosten in the past, prior to his conviction (see my earlier post, here). I will not cite his scholarship now, for two reasons. The first reason is that since Joosten was found guilty by a court of law for dreadful crimes on a large scale and this became public, I see him first and foremost as a sex offender. For me, this now overshadows any admiration, or respect I may have had for his scholarship in the past. When I see his name now, the first thing I think of is not his erudition, but that 28,000 items of violent child pornography were found in his possession. The second reason is that I see no signs of any attempts at reparation or restorative justice in Joosten’s statement.

There are still questions I grapple with and that the panel discussion—which rightly shifts focus to victims and survivors and calls out and condemns sexual abusers—doesn’t probe fully. How responsible are we as readers for background checking authors we cite? Is hearsay ever a legitimate basis, or only conviction? Does not citing apply only to authors convicted of sexual abuses, and if so, why? Why not authors guilty of other abuses, too, like environmental destruction, drug dealing, armed robbery, business malpractices… because these crimes also have grave consequences. Do we declare all our own privileges and detriments? Do we not cite the work of scholars if they are known to hold views we object to (e.g. on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity, on abortion or Zionism), even if they or we are writing on entirely other topics? I find myself still contending with some of these questions. And I will continue to contend with them, because they matter to me. 

I also grapple with how the discussion about those convicted of sexual abuse can move forward, because the idea that anyone and everyone ever convicted of a grave offence is evermore excluded, also does not sit easy with me. What if they contribute to reparative programmes determined by survivors, for instance? Or what if they participate in restorative justice initiatives, where survivors receive a direct apology? In other words, calling out and openly identifying a misdeed or a crime is important—but it is not and should not be the end to it.

Back in 2019, Barack Obama spoke about ‘call-out culture’ and how calling someone out for something they did or didn’t do, and then sitting back, is not activism. As he went on to say, ‘the world is messy’ and ‘there are ambiguities’. There’s more to do and it’s not straightforward.  

Calling out matters. Being called out can make us more aware. But, ideally, calling out opens up, rather than concludes, engagement. It’s only in the opening up that activism can flourish.

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Saima Afzal!

Saima Afzal is founder and director of SAS RIGHTS, a Community Interest Company that is all about dynamic and creative ways of problem solving and generating community-led activism. 

Saima has often collaborated with the Shiloh Project. You can read an interview about her organisation SAS RIGHTS, and she was one of our 2018 activists and participant in our lockdown series. Saima also  ran numerous campaigns last year aimed at challenging Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), some of which were profiled on our blog (see here and here.)

This year, too, Saima has worked tirelessly at reaching the most isolated and marginalised members in her community of Blackburn with Darwen, facilitating support, information, and networking. This has included a fabulous vaccination drive (in two languages). Given the constrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Saima’s personal hardship with aggressive treatment for cancer, these activities were particularly challenging. All the while, to keep things going, Saima also had to raise funds for her various projects: this in an environment where funding streams are fewer and donations harder to raise. Quite simply: in insecure times like the present, with many struggling financially and feeling anxious, it’s tough to fundraise.  

But… Saima is resourceful. And she has also gathered around herself a loyal and committed team of specialists and volunteers. Somehow, she has managed to do a great deal, partly with the help of grants from the National Lottery Fund, which help cover expenses.. 

Saima and her work in action – see @saimaafzalmbe

The VAWG work Saima leads has the title, ‘Truth, Art, Action and Activism’. This has a number of separate ‘branches’: such as, the ‘From Isolation to Cohesion’ project, offering talking therapy, including by Zoom, during times of social distancing and restrictions; the ‘Take A Break Project’, providing fun online exercise and wellbeing sessions; and the ‘Opening Minds – Love Difference Project’, opening up important conversations on topics that can be difficult to talk about (such as sexual orientation or domestic violence). Quite often, participants from one project find themselves opting in to another – with chats after the exercise class, for instance, leading on to involvement in group discussions, and from there to talking therapy or referrals. 

Saima has decades of experience of working in safeguarding, specialist advising, and human rights advocacy. Most of her work has been in supporting women who experience or live within controlling relationships, or in community structures and cultures that make accessing support difficult. Alongside facilitating help and support to minoritized women, another kind of work Saima does so brilliantly is building bridges of communication and understanding between disparate groups: such as between people of different religions, backgrounds, professions, or ethnicities.

Thank you, Saima, for the invaluable work you are doing and for the goodness and optimism you model and exude. 

If anyone can donate to Saima’s work, please visit here

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Resisting Domestic Violence and Abuse: A White Rose Collaboration

Today we celebrate the UK’s Domestic Abuse Act, which received Royal Assent in late April 2021–though we have some reservation (see below). This Act is likely to protect millions of victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) who are disproportionately female. Alongside this, we celebrate the significant contribution that nuanced understandings of spiritual abuse, and of religion and religious studies, can make in DVA prevention and safeguarding.

Small grants can make a big difference. We hope positive action will grow from a new collaboration funded by the White Rose Consortium. The White Rose Consortium is a group of three northern universities: the Universities of York, Sheffield, and Leeds. The consortium’s Collaboration Fund provides the means for researchers from all three universities to pool knowledge, expertise, resources, creativity, and energies, in a common cause.

From the White Rose University Consortium website (white

The Shiloh Project has had earlier success with this scheme (see here and here). Earlier this year, White Rose funding has been awarded for a project with the title ‘Domestic Violence and Marginalised Communities’. Why? Because, while prevalence of DVA is fairly consistent across various groups (including different religious denominations), marginalised minority individuals and groups experience also additional inequalities, vulnerabilities, and risk factors. 

Black women and women from ethnic minorities, for example, frequently experience multiple additional barriers to escaping DVA and finding support. These barriers can arise, for instance, from systemic inequalities, economic dependency, cultural and religious expectations, and, in some cases, language barriers. The lockdowns and social isolation measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile, have exacerbated pressures, increasing stress, economic difficulties, disruption in social networks and to normal life, and, along with that, risk to those vulnerable to or experiencing DVA. (Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, has reported a huge 700%+ increase in calls, compared with pre-lockdown figures.) The impacts of DVA on those from marginalised groups, therefore, warrants particularly urgent attention in research, policy, and practice.

Unfortunately, the UK government, in passing the Domestic Violence Act, failed to adopt the amendment which would have explicitly secured protection for migrant DVA victims and survivors. Moreover, the Act failed to implement reforms to the payment of Universal Credit, thereby risking situations where perpetrators of DVA have total control over the income of an entire household. This, in turn, can enable economic abuse. (For a fuller description in a news release by Refuge, see here). These shortfalls, affecting women from migrant communities and from socio-economically deprived sectors particularly harshly, accentuate the significance of the focus aims of this White Rose Domestic Violence and Marginalised Communities project.

The project leads are Parveen Ali (Professor in Health Sciences) and Michaela Rogers (Senior Lecturer in Social Work), both of the University of Sheffield. They are supported by postgraduate intern, Moninuola Ifayomi. 

Michaela Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Social Work (University of Sheffield), Project Co-Lead

(There’s a podcast episode with Parveen here: it’s Episode 16 of the superb podcast series ‘Talking Research’, where Asmita Sood interviews academics across many disciplines who all research sexual violence. Parveen discusses gender-based violence and health inequalities, with particular focus on marginalised women.)

Parveen Ali, Professor of Nursing and Midwifery (University of Sheffield), Project Co-Lead

Given that DVA has many layers and contributory factors that intersect cultural, religious, gender and ethnic boundaries, solutions, too, need to be multifaceted. Hence, alongside Parveen and Michaela, other researchers involved in the project come from a diverse range of disciplines: Criminology and Criminal Justice, Social Policy and Social Work, Urban Studies and Planning, International Development, Management, Geography, Law, and Sociology. Emma Tomalin (one of our 2018 activists) and co-director Johanna Stiebert are contributing expertise from the area of religious studies. 

The collective working on this project will focus initially on two topics: first, the methodological complexities of addressing DVA alongside or within faith communities; and second, how to assist interpreters supporting victims of DVA. The aims of this are to highlight DVA experiences in marginalised communities, and to facilitate support through the exchange of knowledge and identification of gaps in current policy, practice, and research.

The collaboration has got off to an energetic start. We are motivated by our common purpose. DVA is a distressing social problem on a vast scale, but it has been fabulous to learn more from the other participants about other factors, reasons for and consequences of DVA, as well as to feel we are working towards something meaningful.

Great things can happen when good people work together – and that is worth celebrating. 

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16 Days of Activism… Celebrating Transformation Through the Arts and Humanities

Today’s post is bitter-sweet. Bitter, because 2021 is the first year since 2013 that the UK has not met its 0.7% of Gross National Income spending target for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Instead, the UK contribution has decreased to 0.5%, with devastating consequences for many vulnerable human beings. The impact of the cuts is profound, and far-reaching.

The cuts have also severely impacted all ODA research funding, with many grants suspended, reassessed and reduced, or withdrawn (see here). Many Humanities subjects, including the study of religion, were already vulnerable in the higher education sector, and now international research on religion and development, too, is further compromised.

More sweet, is the release today of the research report “Transforming Conflict and Displacement Through Arts and Humanities,” by Robyn Gill-Leslie (PRAXIS, Arts and Humanities for Global Development. Leeds: University of Leeds, 2021), see attached.

The report makes a very strong case for what the Arts and Humanities bring to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to human flourishing. 

Dr Neelam Raina puts it beautifully in her foreword: 

“What is especially relevant about this report are the invisible, faint lines of emotions,
reflections, shared experiences, resonances which are echoed across communities and geographies. These lines, best captured by Arts and Humanities approaches to understanding our world, need urgent recognition and exploration, as they are our connection to the possibilities of creating and living in an equitable, peaceful world.” 

Dr. Mmapula Kebaneilwe at Women’s Rights NGO Emang Basadi (Gaborone, Botswana in 2018)

After an introduction, the report illustrates this claim with several case studies and impact assessments. Two of these are projects led by academics associated with the Shiloh Project. One is the recently concluded project “Resisting Gender-Based Violence and Injustice Through Activism with Biblical Texts and Images” (see pages 74-79 of the report), which was centred in southern Africa and led by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna, together with Katie Edwards and Mmapula Kebaneilwe. The other is ongoing and led by Adriaan van Klinken (one of our activists from 2018 and a participant in last year’s lockdown series). Adriaan’s collaboration is called “Sexuality and Religion Network in East Africa” (see pages 86-91 of the report). 

Please take a look at the report and you will see how collaborative, creative, meaningful and purpose-driven both these projects are. (And the same is true of the other wonderful projects profiled in the report.)

Tom Muyunga-Mukasa, campaigns for TB, HIV and Covid prevention and care (Nairobi, 2020)

Moreover, these particular projects show that some literacy at least, and preferably nuanced understanding, of religions and religious studies is not only desirable but, we would say, essential for working in Sub-Saharan Africa. After all, as Adriaan points out, in this vast region between 50% and 70% of all health, education and development services are provided by faith-based organisations, which means “religion must be incorporated into development analyses and interventions” (p.87).

Today we are grateful for a report, which acknowledges and describes friendships made and productive collaborations forged towards sustainable development initiatives. 

We are fearful of the consequences of sharply reducing ODA, especially at a time when populations already vulnerable are battered also by the Covid pandemic and its many repercussions. Alongside keeping up pressure for the reinstatement (and, if possible, increase) of previous levels of UK ODA spending, we also hope for more recognition of the Arts and Humanities, including the study of religion. 

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… The Publication “When Did We See You Naked?”

Today we celebrate an extraordinary book, published earlier this year. The book has the title When Did We See You Naked? Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse (London: SCM, 2021), and is edited by Jayme R. Reaves (one of our 2018 activists), David Tombs (one of our activists from 2017), and Rocio Figueroa (interviewed by the Shiloh Project in 2019).

The book focuses unflinchingly on a distressing detail present in the biblical text of the New Testament gospels—namely the aggressive public stripping of Jesus during his prolonged torture. It calls this what it is: sexual abuse. 

In times past, usually stemming from antisemitic and Judeophobic ideology, the Jewishness of Jesus was more commonly played down, or even denied, than it is today (though see here). And yet, the Jewishness of Jesus is all too clear in the gospels. Jesus, after all, is circumcised, goes to Temple, cites Jewish scripture, and celebrates Pesach. It is no longer controversial to refer to Jesus as Jewish. But in times present, the sexual abuse of Jesus is rarely recognised, let alone called by its name, or discussed. Drawing attention to it is still widely perceived as provocative and sometimes even as offensive.

This book probes first, why the sexualised dimensions of Jesus’s degradation have mostly been hidden in plain sight; and second, why, when they are pointed out, this is often met with resistance, denial, hostility, even repulsion.

There are some helpful resources—a recording of the book launch (featuring the three editors and Mitzi J. Smith, who contributed a powerful chapter to the volume), a link to an extract, another link to a blog post—available here. At the launch, the editors discussed how what is relatively new, is not the descriptions of abuse in the accounts of Jesus’s torture but the application of the language of sexual abuse to these descriptions. 

Screen capture from the book launch (see:

When language of sexual abuse is applied to the experiences endured by Jesus, reactions can be ones of intense discomfort. Sometimes this is because, as David Tombs explains at the book’s launch, the notion of Jesus as sexually abused is readily equated with Jesus being lessened. Several chapters in the book dig down into this idea, talking back to the notion that victims and survivors of abuse are lessened. It is not, emphatically, the abused who are shameful or lessened—not Jesus, not any victim or survivor of sexual abuse. 

As the book also discusses, when the reasons for discomfort and unease are explored with compassion, acknowledgement and embracing of Jesus as victim of abuse, can bring and has brought comfort and healing to other victims and survivors of sexual abuse.

The book arrives into a wider context where the massive scale of sexual abuse, including in church-run institutions and by church leaders, is becoming ever clearer. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia and the Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse in the UK are just two sources exposing the scale and extent of such trauma.

This book is a brave book. It is brave, because it shines a light not only on sexual abuse itself, but on the abuse that derives from denial of sexual abuse and from the stigma wrongly and damagingly attached to sexual abuse. 

The book contains a remarkable diversity of contributors, including many from the Global South. It is also diverse in its responses, with sections on ‘Biblical and Textual Studies’, ‘Stations of the Cross’, ‘Parsing Culture, Context and Perspectives’ and ‘Sexual Abuse, Trauma and the Personal’. Many of the chapters pack a punch and leave you pensive for a long time after you finish reading them. 

This is a book that provokes reaction and action. It is a book that can make us feel conscious, and also consciously kinder. Thank you.

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Research-Based Action Against Spiritual Abuse

IICSA, the ‘Spiritual Abuse: Coercive Control in Religions’ Conference, and the research of Andrew Graystone

The designation ‘spiritual abuse’ is becoming widely used to describe a range of abusive phenomena occurring within religious and spiritual traditions and contexts. These phenomena include sexual abuse, physical violence, coercion, psychological and emotional control. Spiritual abuse can take place in religious households, in faith communities and faith-based organisations, and in religious institutions. Its victims and survivors are diverse – of any gender, ethnic and social group, class, age.

The meticulous work of IICSA, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, has been at the forefront of revealing and examining the scale of sexual abuse directed at children. This has included historical and more recent abuse in religious organisations and settings, as well as abuse by religious leaders. 

This year has seen IICSA’s publication of the ‘Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings Investigation Report’, as well as IICSA’s recommendations for child protection, procedures, and training (2021). Additionally, IICSA’s Anglican Church Investigation Report (2020) was introduced to the House of Commons (March 2021) and the government has now proposed to change the law in the way suggested by IICSA.

“Impressionable”, by emilio labrador (@CreativeCommons, CC BY 2.0 licence)

Alongside IICSA, we want to praise also the research-based action exemplified by the conference ‘Spiritual Abuse: Coercive Control in Religions’, hosted by the School of Psychology and the Department for Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Chester (September 2021). The conference created a safe and constructive space for practitioners, academics, statutory groups, and survivor groups, representing or informing about various religious traditions and contexts. The conference provided a wealth of information and facilitated collaborations and steps towards understanding, preventing, and healing from spiritual abuse. 

This conference was also a shining example of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies enabling incredibly important and multidisciplinary collaborations – both within the University of Chester and beyond. The Department has an amply deserved reputation – both for superb and timely research, and for effective and well-received teaching. And yet, earlier this year, the Department was threatened with redundancies. These threats are aptly described as acts of sabotage and vandalism. In a remarkable show of perseverance amid such strain, the Department co-hosted one of the highlight conferences of the year. Moreover, it did so with all the sensitivity and professionalism required for such a complex and painful topic. Particular praise is due to key organisers and steering group members Lisa Oakley (one of the foremost authorities on spiritual abuse and expert witness to IICSA), Dawn Llewellyn (one of our activists from 2017), and Wendy Dossett. An incredible achievement!

We also want to celebrate Andrew Graystone’s book Bleeding for Jesus: John Smyth and the cult of Iwerne camps (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2021), which was published this year. The book gives a full account of the violent spiritual abuse perpetrated by John Smyth and reports on the failures of religious, including Anglican, institutions in acknowledging, let alone addressing, ameliorating, or helping to repair, the suffering of Smyth’s many victims and survivors. (For a recorded discussion with the author and others about this book, see here.) 

Published by Darton, Longman & Todd, 2021

Like the work of IICSA and the Spiritual Abuse conference, Graystone’s book makes clear the important and life-saving contribution that responsible and sensitive research makes in confronting, and managing the harm of spiritual abuse. 

Thank you for taking a stand, amplifying respectfully victims’ and survivors’ voices, and making a difference.

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… the Centre for the Study of Bible & Violence!

Today we celebrate the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence (CSBV). The Centre is part of Bristol Baptist College and has a firmly theological foundation. Its director is the fabulous Helen Paynter, a long-time Shiloh supporter, one of our 2019 activists, author of the second volume in our Routledge Focus series (see a Q&A with Helen about this book here), as well as of a book on the Bible and domestic violence (reviewed here). Helen also featured in our lockdown series.

The Centre’s vibrant blog is a hub for academic research on the Bible and violence, providing a forum for researchers at every level. In addition, its ‘Applied Arm’ offers resources for preventing or tackling abuses within church settings. 

CSBV has its own podcast (‘Guns and God’) and its own open access journal, Journal for the Study of Bible and Violence (JSBV). This journal is, as stated on the CSBV website, ‘committed to global scholarship and to encouraging emerging scholars’.

CSBV podcast (from the CSBV website)

In 2021, CSBV hosted a large international online conference—‘From the Rising to the Setting Sun: Global Perspectives on Bible and Violence’—and launched its Routledge monograph series ‘Bible and Violence’. The aim of the series is that ‘Each volume will describe and evaluate a well-delineated situation of structural or physical violence, within which the Bible has been or is being weaponised by its actants. It will also, from a perspective that is both academically critical and confessionally committed, offer a constructive interpretation of the relevant texts or themes which is irenic, moderate, and promotes human flourishing.’ The call for proposals is now open.

While the tenor of CSBV is distinct from that of the Shiloh Project, the two have a number of aims in common. Indeed, we recently launched our co-run informal mentoring scheme for postgraduates and early career researchers working on violent and distressing topics in religion/the Bible. (For more information, see here.)

Thank you, CSBV, for your support, important research-based peace-building work, and energetic activism.

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