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Research Resources

The Bible and Violence: Online Conference

An painting of a violence scene from the Bible

It’s just over a year since we launched our Bible and Violence project. With a list of over 120 stellar chapters, The Bible and Violence will be an inclusive reference work that explores the complex dynamics between the Bible, its interpretation, reception, and outworkings, with particular emphasis on violence in its multifarious forms.

We’re so excited to share the good news with you. The Bible and Violence project will be holding an online conference from Monday 25th – Wednesday 27th March 2024. The aim of this short conference is to share some of the work already submitted by contributors – to give you a sneak preview of the varieties of violence in biblical books and their uses.

Our fabulous line up of speakers and topics is below.  Please note all times are GMT (UK), so please check for your local time equivalent.

The event is free, but please follow this link to sign up. Places are limited, so don’t miss out.

For any queries, please contact: [email protected]

Monday 25th March
9:15-9:30Welcome
9:30-10:15Erin Hutton, Australian College of Theology, AustraliaStriking like the Morning Star: How can Song of Songs 6:4–10 prevent domestic abuse?
10:15-11:00Grace Smith, University of Divinity, AustraliaRape Culture and the Bible: the efficiency of rape and rape propaganda
11:00-11:15Break
11:15-12:00Robert Kuloba, Kyambogo University, UgandaThe Ideological Dilemma of Suicide in Uganda: African Bible Hermeneutical Perspectives
12:00-12:45Deborah Kahn-Harris, Leo Baeck College, UKViolence in the Book of Lamentations
12:45-13:00Close
Tuesday 26th March
14:00-14:15 Welcome
14:15-15:00Stephen Moore, The Theological School, Drew University, USAViolence Visible and Invisible in the Synoptic Gospels
15:00-15:45Juliana Claassens, Stellenbosch University, South AfricaExploring Literary Representations of Violence in Bible in/and Literature
15:45-16:00Break
16:00-16:45Barbara Thiede, UNC-Charlotte, USAViolence in the David Narrative: A Divine Order
16:45-17:30Alex Clare-Young, Westminster College, Cambridge Theological Federation, UKThe Bible and Transphobia: The Violence of Binarism
17:30-17:45Close
Wednesday 27th March
14:00-14:15Welcome
14:15-15:00Alexiana Fry, University of Copenhagen, DenmarkViolence, Trauma, and the Bible
15:00-15:45Susannah Cornwall, University of Exeter, UKThe Bible, Intersex Being and (Biomedical) Violence
15:45-16:00Break
16:00-16:45Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer, ALT School of Theology, SwedenViolence and Lack of Violence in the Reception of David
16:45-17:30Luis Quiñones-Román, University of Edinburgh, UKDivine Violence in The General Letters
17:30-17:45Close
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Conference: Gender and Religious Exit, Moving Away from Faith

Tuesday, 28 November 2023 at 9:00–17:30 

Please use this form to register to attend the online symposium: Registration – Gender and Religious Exit (onlinesurveys.ac.uk)

Organisers:
Dr Nella van den Brandt, Coventry University, UK 
Dr Teija Rantala, Turku University, Finland 
Dr Sarah-Jane Page, University of Nottingham, UK 

From the conference organisers:

There have always been reasons for people to move away from a religious tradition, community or movement. Religious traditions are instrumental in providing individual members with a perspective on the world, a community and a relationship with the divine. Religious communities socialize their adherents regarding behaviour, embodiment and emotions. When people move away from their religion, their experiences may pertain to all or some of these aspects and dimensions. Leaving religion is thus a varied and diverse experience.

The one-day online symposium Gender and Religious Exit starts from the premise that motivations for moving away from religion range from experiencing cognitive or emotional dissonance to social marginalisation to a critique of power relations. The notions of ‘moving away’ or ‘religious exit’ should be considered in a layered and nuanced manner: they raise questions about what exactly individuals consider to leave, and what elements of behaviour, embodiment and emotions remain part of their environments, lives and futures. 

Moving away from religion can thus involve complex processes and negotiations of all areas of life and understandings of the self. An intersectional perspective and analysis of leaving religious is long overdue, since notions and experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and dis/ability are central in shaping identity and the self. The multidisciplinary symposium invites scholars to investigate the variety of contemporary dynamics of leaving religion in the lives of individuals and communities.

During the opening plenary session, research findings will be presented that emerged from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funded two-year qualitative research by Dr Nella van den Brandt (Coventry University, UK) on women leaving religion in the UK and the Netherlands. Keynote lectures on gender, feminism, apostasy and non-religion / leaving religion in various national and cultural contexts will be provided by Dr Julia Martínez-Ariño (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands) and  Prof. Dr Karin van Nieuwkerk (Radboud University, the Netherlands). During parallel sessions, we will further look into current international and intersectional perspectives on moving away from religion.

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Q&A with David Tombs about his new book – available open access

There is a new book in our Routledge Focus series, ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’ and this one is available from today and open access.

The author is David Tombs and the book’s title is The Crucifixion of Jesus: Torture, Sexual Abuse, and the Scandal of the Cross (London: Routledge, 2023). 

For the open access ebook DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429289750 

For further information and the hardback: www.routledge.com/9780367257651

Tell us about yourself. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

When I was an undergraduate studying Philosophy and Theology I picked up a copy of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s book A Theology of Liberation in Blackwell’s bookshop in OxfordIt is a classic work, but I had no real idea of that when I first looked at it. Instead, I was drawn to the distinctive cover image. I had visited Peru the previous summer and the cover captured what I had seen there in two readily recognisable scenes. One scene showed a poor community, the other showed a row of military police. It was not what I expected from a theology book. 

I started reading the work of Gutiérrez and then the works by other liberation theologians in the library. I was struck by the passion and compassion they brought to their work and their belief that theology can make a radical difference when it is rooted in what they called ‘an option’ for the oppressed. Their concern for poverty and injustice guided a liberative approach to theological and biblical work. From then on, I have been interested in how faith and theology can make a difference, and how reading the Bible from a specific context can offer new insights into the text. In my theological work in the UK, then in Ireland, and now in New Zealand, I continue to seek insights from liberation and contextual theologies for my thinking and writing.

The specific prompt for the book dates back to the 1990s. I was a PhD student at Heythrop College, London, and working on liberation theology and Christology. Following a visit to El Salvador in the summer of 1996, I read a story of a sexualised execution that occurred during the war in the 1980s. It was a very confronting testimony and I wanted to understand more. First I asked myself why it had happened. Then I asked why it did not get more attention.  Even a theologian as insightful and courageous as Jon Sobrino who had worked in El Salvador for many years seemed to be silent on this type of violence. So I read more about sexualised violence during torture and state terror in Latin America. Then I  started to explore the relevance of this to crucifixion. I first published on this in the article ‘Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse’ (1999) (see here). The book has been an opportunity to revisit this and develop the argument further. 

Last year, I co-edited the book When Did We See You Naked? Jesus as a Victim of Sexual Abuse (SCM 2021) with Jayme Reaves and Rocío Figueroa. Scholars from Australia, the Bahamas, Botswana, Indonesia, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the USA, explored implications of acknowledging Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse. It was an opportunity to work with a fantastic group of colleagues and a really inspirational learning experience. It helped me see more clearly what a book like The Crucifixion of Jesus could support this area of research. 

What are the key arguments of your book?

The book investigates some disturbing elements of crucifixion that have only recently started to get attention. It starts with the Salvadoran execution I just mentioned and the impact this had on me. I then turn in Chapter 1 to the strippings of Jesus. These include the multiple strippings by the cohort of soldiers in Pilate’s palace (the praetorium) recorded by Mark and Matthew. In addition, there is the stripping of Jesus at the cross recorded by all four gospels. The strippings and the enforced nakedness of crucifixion are well attested in the gospels, and I would argue that the facts of these alone  are compelling reasons for acknowledging that Jesus was a victim of sexual abuse. 

I then ask whether Jesus might have experienced other forms of sexualised violence beyond the strippings. The evidence for further violence is less direct, and the answers less clear-cut than the strippings, but the questions are worth asking. Forced stripping often leads to further violence and Chapter 2 investigates whether there might be more to the mocking than is usually assumed. I look at what might be learnt from the rape, murder, and dismemberment of the Levite’s wife in Judges 19, and also at why the mockery that followed the death of Herod Agrippa in 44 CE might be relevant to the mockery of Jesus.

Chapter 3 turns to the horror and shame associated with crucifixion. It looks at passages by the Roman writer Seneca that suggest sexualised violations during crucifixion. This is explored with attention to ancient impalement practices and the common belief that the Romans used crucifixions but not impalement. I think the reality might have been more complicated, but the evidence is not easy to interpret. It  requires more research by specialists and I hope to encourage this work by others. Although Jesus’ experience of strippings and enforced nudity provide strong reasons for seeing him as a victim of sexual abuse, we don’t know—and will probably never know—whether there were further forms of sexualised violence in the mocking and crucifixion.

Chapter 4  discusses why this sort of research matters and what positive value might come from it. These are questions that I have often been asked;  I discuss them with attention to Christian belief in resurrection. I believe that recognising Jesus’ experience can help churches address victim-blaming and the perceived stigma associated sexual violence. For example, it can strengthen positive messages to survivors like ‘You are not alone’ and ‘You are not to blame’. Of course, churches should not need the experience of Jesus to prompt them to respond well to survivors. But in my experience it can be an effective way to open up a deeper conversation on how churches can do better.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I am a theologian not a biblical scholar, so whilst I found the biblical discussion very interesting, and I hope it will be of interest to others, I also hope that some readers will be interested in the theological issues the book raises. For example, how this reading might offer a  better understanding of Jesus as fully human and vulnerable, or how it might challenge the assumption that the cross must be good. Sobrino speaks of ‘taking victims down from the cross’. I hope the book will encourage readers in churches to think about how recognition of Jesus’ experience might guide a better response to sexual violence. 

Please give us a quotation that captures something significant about your book and will make readers want to read the rest.

“This has been a difficult book to write, and it will almost certainly be a difficult book to read. But the book is driven by the conviction that the biblical text matters. It is also shaped by the belief that recognising and confronting violence—especially sexual violence—matters’”(p. 2).

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Introducing The Contributors to “The Bible and Violence” – Katherine Southwood and Dominic Irudayaraj

Bible picture with a 'warning' sign.

Over the next weeks and months, as our Bible and Violence project (under contract with Bloomsbury) gathers momentum and grows, we will be profiling some of the 100+ contributors. Today we are thrilled to introduce Katherine Southwood and Dominic Irudayaraj. (For our earlier introduction to the Bible and Violence Project, see here.)

Katherine Southwood is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford, St John’s College. She specialises in Hebrew Bible and is passionate about interdisciplinary engagement with material from antiquity. Katherine has published several monographs: Job’s Body and the Dramatised Comedy of Moralising (2021); Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges (2017); and Ethnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis in Ezra 9-10 (2012). She has also published many articles and chapters in edited volumes, and she enjoys the privilege of teaching students. Katherine is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Judges, as well as a chapter on self-critical correction when writing on the Bible and violence.

My second monograph, Marriage by Capture in the Book of Judges, was published in 2017. It focused primarily on the mass abduction and rape of women as depicted in Judges 21. Save for a note in the preface, my tone throughout the book was distant, even clinical. This was a coping mechanism, a way of maintaining an emotional and critical remove from the distressing content of the chapter I was writing on. I realise on reflection that it is harmful to remain critically detached when engaging with distressing biblical primary evidence. We scholars have an ethical duty not to turn off our emotions. In my chapter for this volume I will admit that in the past my tone in writing was deeply problematic. Academic work is never finished, in my view, so now I feel I need to return to Judges 21 and try to show what a difference it makes to engage the text with a mixture of intellect and emotion. 

I will argue that it is urgent not to ignore texts in the Bible wherein rape occurs, because silence about these texts is problematic.  Distancing myself, or turning away from, or ignoring rape in Judges 21 has consequence for how the text is read and for how it lives on, because it shrouds sexual violence under a veil of stigma, shame, and taboo. This is especially powerful given that Judges 21 is in what is, for many, Scripture. 

For as long as sexual violence exists in our societies, sanitising and euphemising biblical texts depicting sexual violence only adds to the problem. These texts can and should make us uncomfortable and outraged. We need safe spaces for discussion of such texts. I will argue that critical empathy can help us to understand the dehumanising “logic” that underpins the entire “marriage” system in Judges. And this, in turn, can detoxify and help us to unravel and undermine this system. I suggest that by acknowledging the pain such systems cause, and by grieving, we can resist the values and structures that make the violence we find in Judges 21 possible. 

(For more about Katherine and her publications, see here.)

__________________________________________________________________________________

Dominic S. Irudayaraj is Jesuit priest and Professore Lettore at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He reads the Bible as a faith-inspired and faith-inspiring book yet concedes that biblical violence as a concept can be dissonant both in classroom settings and ministerial contexts. The theme of violence in the Bible invites him to read in ways that balance criticism with respect for the text. Dominic is writing the chapter on Violence in the Book of Isaiah. 

I am a biblical exegete, with research and teaching interests in Hebrew Bible prophetic books, especially Isaiah and Micah. I am drawn to emerging interpretive approaches and read the ancient prophetic texts in terms of their relevance and import for contexts ancient and current. 

My monograph Violence, Otherness, and Identity in Isaiah 63:1–6: The Trampling One Coming from Edom (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017) avails both social identity approaches and iconographic exegesis to wrestle with the violence in this very difficult text. I am also co-editor of a forthcoming volume, Isaiah and Its Unity: Challenges and Promises (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, manuscript submitted). I approach the theme of violence through a triad of interpretive lenses: socio-cultural, literary-rhetorical, and theological. On this, see my article, “Violence in the Bible: Towards a Non-violent Reading.” The Bible and Interpretation (April 2019, here). This article is available also in Hungarian! (“Erőszak A Bibliában – Úton Egy Erőszakmentes Olvasat Felé.” Trans. by Miklós Szabó, in Bibliakultúra 2020, here.)

I have taught graduate level courses with a particular focus on biblical violence at Hekima University College (Nairobi, Kenya) and Pontifical Biblical Institute (Rome, Italy). Currently, I am part of a four-member committee to develop a team-taught course called “Discourses and Counter-Discourses of Violence: Biblical, Ancient Near Eastern and Beyond.” 

In my chapter for the Bible & Violence volume, I aim to attend to some or all of the following: (1) a conceptual clarification of violence in Isaiah; (2) a description of violence and its varieties in Isaiah; (3) a reading of violence in select Isaiah texts (for example, chapters 1, 24, 34, or 63); (4) an account of some ab/uses of these texts in interpretive history; and (5) the value of reading these difficult texts non-violently. 

(For more publications by Dominic, see here.)

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Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff and Students in Anglican Foundation Universities

Cover image for 'Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Staff and Students

Today’s blog post comes from Professor Esther McIntosh. She recently completed, with Dr Sharon Jagger, a two-year project exploring chaplaincy support for trans and non-binary staff and students at Anglican foundation universities, which is the focus of this blog. The project received financial support from the Church Universities Fund and ethical approval from York St John University.


Despite gender reassignment being named as a protected characteristic under the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, access to healthcare for trans folk is far from equal and the focus of mainstream media is not often positive or inclusive of the trans community. In 2020, an Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) report found that stories focussed on trans ‘issues’ increased by 400% between 2009 and 2019. Increased visibility and awareness of a minority group is not necessarily problematic and can improve representation and awareness; however, if the tone of the coverage is negative and not representative of the people it claims to be about, it is harmful. IPSO notes in its report that there has been some ‘increased hostility’ and ‘concerns relating to freedom of expression’, while research by Paul Baker for Mermaids, one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities, found a substantial rise in media reporting referring to trans folk as ‘demanding or aggressive’ alongside ‘an explosion in media stories relating to children and gender issues’ some of which is ‘misleading, ill-informed and even, at times, cruel’, whilst failing to engage with trans folk themselves. Mermaids CEO, Susie Green states: ‘One consistent issue we’ve found is that politicians, presenters, campaigners and influencers are eager to speak about trans and gender-questioning children without listening to them first’. Furthermore, attempts to reform the UK’s 2004 Gender Recognition Act and to introduce self-identification have received targeted opposition from self-named ‘gender critical’ feminists.    

Trans Folk and the Church of England

For trans people of faith, there is a potential double jeopardy. In addition to misrepresentation by mainstream media, the Church of England has been similarly guilty of writing about trans folk without consulting them. The 2003 document Some Issues in Human Sexuality contained a consideration of ‘transsexualism’, made use of the binary terminology of ‘male’ and ‘female’ as found in the biblical text, and reached its conclusions surrounding identity and sexuality without consulting any trans folk. Fifteen years later, the Church of England eventually issued new guidance permitting clergy to mark gender transition using the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith. While priests who are trans – Rev. Dr Tina Beardsley, Rev. Sarah Jones and Rev Canon Dr Rachel Mann – were consulted in the process and the guidance does represent a step towards liturgical inclusion of trans folk, the House of Bishops rejected the request for a specific liturgy for gender transition.[1] At present, the Church of England is nearing the end of a multiyear project entitled ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF). On the one hand, the project has commendably sought out a range of participants including those who are trans, non-binary and intersex to share their stories; on the other hand, the 2020 publication accompanying the project, whilst speaking of ‘learning from the mistakes of the past’ and promoting ‘a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church’ (pp. viii and vii), repeatedly fails to challenge the claim that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman understood in binary, essentialist and heteropatriarchal terms. Admittedly, the purpose of the LLF resources at present is to invite discussion and understanding regarding different perspectives on marriage, gender and sexuality, and we wait to see what proposals will be presented at the General Synod in February 2023, but it has not been an entirely encouraging process thus far. Fifteen months after joining the co-ordinating group of the LLF project, Tina Beardsley’s optimism was exhausted and she resigned, citing, in the Church Times, marginalisation, power imbalances and the serious harms that are experienced by LGBTI+ people when gender and sexuality are held up for debate. Furthermore, earlier this year at the 2022 Lambeth conference,[2] same-sex unions were the main issue of contention leading to reaffirmation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, of Lambeth I.10 (1998) which states that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman’ and that ‘homosexual practice’ is ‘incompatible with Scripture’; once again, despite claims that all ‘are loved by God’, LGBTQ+ folk have been left feeling hurt and rejected.       

Hearing the Voices of Trans and Non-Binary Folk

Hence, the impetus for our project was three-fold. First, as academics we were increasingly encountering transitioning and gender fluid students, and while our university was trying to be inclusive, some staff were struggling with terminology and pronouns, and some IT systems were not as flexible as they needed to be (for example, producing class lists with birth names rather than preferred or chosen names). Secondly, as academics in a department of religion, we were well aware of the difficulties that can be faced by queer and trans students with faith. Third, as cis feminists we believe there is an urgent need to stand up for trans-inclusion and to combat transphobia (especially anti-trans rhetoric from ‘gender critical’ feminists). Furthermore, given the prevalence of stories and policies written about trans folk rather than with them, at the heart of our project was the aim to hear and centre trans and non-binary voices, and to raise visibility and awareness of gender variance on university campuses. In addition, it was a requirement of the funding body that the research should enhance the Anglican ethos of the university or the presence of chaplaincy at Anglican foundation universities, which seemed like an ideal opportunity for us to also explore the ways in which chaplains negotiate the apparent tension between the inclusive ethos of a university and the less than inclusive religious institution that they represent. As cisgendered researchers, we paid attention to the ethical guidance developed by Johnstone (2019) and Henrickson et al. (2020), consulted trans priests before submitting the proposal, and made sure that the final report was written in consultation with our participants.

Phase 1: We began by circulating an anonymous questionnaire and interviewing any staff or students who indicated a willingness to be interviewed, as well as interviewing fourteen chaplains at Anglican foundation universities and two prominent trans Priests.

Phase 2: We organised the provision of story boards on university campuses to raise the visibility and awareness of trans and non-binary folk. The story boards created an opportunity for students to share poems, narratives or comments about their identity.

Phase 3: The culmination of the project was the writing of a report with recommendations aimed at improving inclusion on university campuses. We sent a draft of the report to participants and then held workshop to ensure we had represented the participants accurately, and, further, to find out whether our participants thought that the recommendations, if followed, would improve inclusion. In order to keep the recommendations manageable, practical and effective, we combined an initial list of thirty into eight and worded each as a verb: something to do. In addition, in order to enhance accessibility, the final report is free to download from the Centre for Religion in Society website.    

Recurring Themes

We encountered a number of recurring themes. Some participants wished to challenge the homogenising effect of the umbrella abbreviation ‘LGBTQ+’ on the grounds that not all LGBTQ+ groups are supportive of all genders, expressions and identities. Other participants talked of living in stealth – having a trans history that is not part of their current public identity – and the ways in which the constant fear of being outed has curtailed career and other lifestyle aspirations that carry the risk of exposure. Relatedly, the trans priests spoke of the emotional labour and exhausting sacrificial work involved in having a public trans identity, especially through the constant ‘flag waving’ required for trans needs to be heard. The chaplains we interviewed highlighted the concepts of marginality and inclusion. They noted that while they often support those who are at the margins in the university context, they also operate from the margins of the Church. Moreover, they hold inclusion to be a baseline for the role of a chaplain and, yet, they face tensions supporting both trans folk and those who are opposed to gender transition. We were not surprised to find trans folk reporting negative experiences and barriers to inclusion in higher education, but these negative experiences are often hidden by the prevalence of rainbow lanyards on university campuses that can be a cover for action. Nevertheless, chaplains are in a unique position to signpost staff and students of faith to inclusive churches, and to influence university policies and practices.[3]

Surprising Findings

One of the more surprising findings for us arose around our use of story boards; we encountered resistance from gatekeepers of university spaces when we sought to increase the visibility of trans and non-binary folk. In spite of the promotion of events for LGBT+ History Month and the general perception that campuses are safe spaces, gatekeepers argued that it would not be safe for trans and non-binary folk to post comments on story boards. We stressed that posting on the boards was voluntary and could be anonymous, and within days the boards were filled with revealing comments: some trans folk expressed the freedom that university had given them to be themselves and to celebrate their identity, others reflected on the impact of the negative media coverage and on distressing estrangement from family members. On the one hand, the use of the boards suggests that trans and non-binary folk welcomed the opportunity to share their stories and to increase visibility and awareness on campus. On the other hand, the resistance we encountered from university personnel shows that trans folk are perceived to be uniquely vulnerable and confirms that, while the effort to protect groups seen as vulnerable comes from a place of good intention, it has the effect of making those groups invisible, taking away their decision-making opportunities and thus reducing their agency. As Doris Andrea Dirks (2016) argues, vulnerability discourse ignores the resourcefulness of gender variant folk and may serve to maintain marginalisation. Other findings included the view that encouragement to announce pronouns, which is intended to be trans inclusive, can be a form of outing for those who are questioning their gender identity; while, the use of Anglican cathedrals for graduation ceremonies can be a source of discomfort for staff and students who are LGBTQ+.

Recommendations and Concluding Remarks

Our recommendations were positively received and endorsed by participants. Although aimed at chaplains and intended to improve inclusivity on university campuses, they are applicable for others working in education and for other educational institutions. The recommendations can be read in full in the report. In brief, the recommendations are as follows:

1. To Listen and to Share: the importance of listening to and consulting with trans folk regarding their experiences on campus, and raising visibility through sharing stories is vital.

2. To Learn: current use of language is changing and what is liberating for some may not be for others; there is no one answer or solution for inclusion, rather, continual learning is necessary.

3. To Develop Trans-Inclusive Theologies: there is a need to challenge dominant theologies and to work with trans folk of faith to develop trans-inclusive theologies (this recommendation to challenge dominant texts and theories may also be applicable to other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology, film, literature and so on, if the mainstream theories are cis normative).

4. To Influence: those with access to senior leadership teams can request training on campuses to improve knowledge and awareness.

5. To Be Visible: the rainbow is useful, but sometimes trans and non-binary folk feel invisible, and it can be beneficial to use specific trans and non-binary colours and symbols.

6. To Be Accessible: staff and students need to know where to access support, but those in supporting roles also need to know when to step back from a fixing role.

7. To Collaborate: support staff can engage in useful dialogue, organise events and share expertise across staff and student networks.

8. To Resource: support staff should be able to direct LGBTQ+ folk to inclusive churches, policies and networks (trans-inclusive resourcing is also important for libraries and for teaching materials).

Endorsements for the report include:

Tina Beardsley – ‘I feel well listened to, understood, and insightfully interpreted back to myself. I warmly commend this report. Based on interviews with chaplains, staff and students the researchers explore the pivotal role that chaplaincies can play among a ‘team of allies’ of trans and non-binary staff and students’.

Michael Bonshor – ‘The authors of this ground-breaking and thought-provoking report have adopted a refreshingly inclusive approach to their project. Rather than hypothesising about what gender-diverse individuals may or may not need to empower them in academic settings, McIntosh and Jagger directly consulted trans and non-binary staff and students about their experiences of life in higher education. Constructive recommendations are based on the research evidence and have been developed in collaboration with the research participants. This should be required reading for anyone who teaches or works with trans and non-binary individuals in higher education’.

Ultimately, the research underpinning the report has revealed the need for trans-inclusive campuses, for trans-inclusive feminism and for trans-inclusive theology; in particular, it is vital that diversification engenders LGBTQ+ inclusion by centring and amplifying the voices and concerns of the marginalised and we hope that the report may help to achieve this.

Works Cited

The Archbishops’ Council, 2020. Living in Love and Faith. London: Church House Publishing.

Dirks, D.A., 2016. Transgender People at Four Big Ten Campuses: A Policy Discourse Analysis. Review of Higher Education,39(3), 371-393.

Dowd, C. and Beardsley, C. with Tanis, J., 2018. Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Henrickson, M.; Giwa, S.; Hafford-Letchfield, T.; Cocker, C.; Mulé, N.J.; Schaub, J.; Baril, A. (2020). Research Ethics with Gender and Sexually Diverse Persons. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(18), 6615  https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186615

Johnston, M. S., 2018. Politics and tensions of doing transgender research: Lessons learned by a straight-white-cisgender man. In: Kleinknecht, S.; van den Scott, L. J. and Sanders, C. B. (eds), The Craft of Qualitative Research: A Handbook. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, pp. 85-91.

A Working Party of the House of Bishops, 2003. Some Issues in Human Sexuality: A Guide to the Debate. London: Church House Publishing.


[1] By contrast, in 2018, Chris Dowd and Tina Beardsley published Transfaith in which they have written liturgies for trans and gender variant folk, see pp. 178-200.

[2] Lambeth is a decennial conference for bishops from across the global Anglican communion

[3] Chaplains sit on a variety of university committees and have easy access to senior leadership teams and vice chancellors.


Professor Esther McIntosh

Professor Esther McIntosh is professor of feminist theology and ethics at York St John University, and currently serves on the editorial board of Brill’s book series ‘Political and Public Theologies’, as well as on the Executive Board of the Global Network for Public Theology. Her work is interdisciplinary and underpinned by a concern for gender justice. Her most recent publications include ‘The Persistence of White Christian Patriarchy in a Time of Right-Wing Populism’; Blurring the Borders: Christian Women Negotiating Off- and Online Spaces of Feminism and Misogyny’; and ‘Gender in Religion, Religion in Society: The Agency and Identity of Christian Women’.

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Announcing AHRC Grant Success 

The Shiloh Project Will Be Involved in a Large Grant Focused on Spiritual Abuse

Co-director Johanna is part of a team that has been awarded a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for a two-and-a-half year research project on Abuse in Religious Settings. Johanna is one of three Co-Investigators, and the project is led by Gordon Lynch (University of Kent). It will bring together an experienced team of academics, professional practitioners, and people involved in support and advocacy work with survivors, and will work closely with survivors as co-producers of new insights and resources.

Abuse in Religious Settings will involve a series of connected pieces of work examining theological, organisational, and textual issues, how safeguarding professionals and faith communities work with each other, and what relevant legal and policy frameworks have been developed in different countries. It will also work with survivors to learn from their insights about the meanings that abuse in religious contexts can have, as well as what can support resilience.

Johanna’s focus builds on her work in activist uses of biblical texts and with The Shiloh Project. 

The project will be structured around seven main pieces of work, with cross-cutting themes and issues between them also being studied: 

  1. Abuse and the cultures and structures of religious organisations (literature-based study led by Gordon Lynch). 
  2. Abuse in new religious movements: forms and organisational responses (secondary data analysis led by Sarah Harvey).
  3. The role of religious texts in relation to abuse (workshop-based study led by Johanna Stiebert). This will also include the production of more Shiloh Podcast episodes with the fabulous Rosie Dawson.
  4. International comparisons of legal and policy frameworks in relation to safeguarding and abuse in religious settings (review led by Richard Scorer).
  5. Exploring relationships between faith communities and safeguarding professionals in statutory bodies (survey and interview-based study led by Justin Humphreys).
  6. Survivor responses and resilience to abuse in religious settings (interview-based study led by Linda Woodhead and Jo Kind). 
  7. Disclosures and non-disclosures of abuse (photo-elicitation study led by Lisa Oakley).

In addition, the project will also involve activities and events which will build new relationships between individuals and groups working in this field, both within the United Kingdom and internationally. 

If you are interested in possibly contributing to and participating in Johanna’s workshops and podcast episodes (which are still in the early planning stages), please contact Johanna directly: [email protected]

Workshops and podcast episodes will focus on religious texts from a range of religious traditions – not only on the Bible, Jewish or Christian traditions. We welcome postgraduates, practitioners, religious and community leaders, academics and activists working in the area of spiritual abuse and religious texts and contexts.

The project will formally begin with an initial consultation phase in March 2022, with the main research activities beginning in the autumn of 2022. Outcomes from the project are expected to be released by the spring and summer of 2024.

For more information and regular updates about the project, please visit the project website: Abuse in Religious Settings – Research at Kent

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16 Days of Celebrating Activism… Shiloh’s Routledge Focus series!

Today we celebrate our Routledge Focus book series. The Shiloh Project was the inspiration for the series and the series title—‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’—is the same as the sub-title for the Shiloh Project. 

Routledge Focus volumes are concise, no more than 50,000 words in length. Each volume In our series, consequently, is sharply focused. Each represents research-based activism on a theme within the orbit of religion and rape culture. While unified by this larger theme and purpose, the published and forthcoming volumes evidence considerable variety.

We endeavour to publish around three volumes per year. This year, two volumes appeared and a third is due out in January. (The publication of the third volume was delayed on account of its sensitive content, which had to be carefully vetted by Routledge’s legal team—more on that shortly.)

The first series volume of 2021 is by Shiloh co-director Caroline Blyth (profiled as one of our 2017 activists). The title of her volume is Rape Culture, Purity Culture, and Coercive Control in Teen Girl Bibles. Caroline examines several bibles marketed to teen girls and demonstrates how they perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes including rape myths at the heart of rape culture. It’s a searing read that will have you questioning how on earth such publications can justify their claims of helping young women grow in faith, hope and love. Caroline demonstrates the damage perpetuated by purity cultures, and systematically peels back how some teen girl bibles echo or affirm the strategies of coercively controlling parents or intimate partners. It’s brilliantly done. (To hear Caroline talk about her book in an episode of the Shiloh Podcast, see here.)

Excerpt from p.3 of Caroline’s book

The second series volume of 2021 is Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar’s Trafficking Hadassah: Collective Trauma, Cultural Memory, and Identity in the Book of Esther and in the African Diaspora. Ericka’s book identifies the enterprise of rounding up girls from across the empire for the Persian king’s harem, as constituting sexual trafficking on a huge scale. After refuting claims that this is some light-hearted biblical story about a beauty contest, Ericka highlights parallels between sex trafficking in the book of Esther and the cultural memories, histories, and materialized pain of African(a) girls and women during the Maafa, or slave trade. The book is a powerful call, both to responsible Bible reading and to action in the face of human rights violation. (Ericka, too, is featured on the Shiloh Podcast: hear Ericka talking about her book here. For a short Q&A with Ericka, see here.)

‘Slavery’, by quadelirus (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 and available @CreativeCommons)

The third volume has a publication date of 18 January 2022 and is available for pre-order now. This one is by Miryam Clough and has the title Vocation and Violence: The Church and #MeToo. Miryam’s book begins by pointing out that sexual violence is systemic in many workplace settings, including in Christian churches. From here, she focuses on how, among many other devastating consequences, this can destroy women’s careers and vocational aspirations. Because Miryam’s study draws on empirical evidence, including personal stories from survivors of clergy abuse, it required scrutiny by the Routledge legal team. The book is an intense and often painful exposition of clergy sexual abuse of adult women, the conditions that support it, and the pain left in its wake. Bringing testimony into dialogue with theoretical perspectives, the book also makes constructive suggestions for theological models that can heal a broken Church.

‘Devil and Praying Women’, Linde Church, Gotland (from CreativeCommons)

We are delighted with the seven published series titles and excited about the further six that are under contract and due for release over the next two years. 

The volumes are making a timely and important contribution to scholarship on sexual and gender-based violence in religious texts and contexts. They are also ideal for teaching, given their compactness and their availability in affordable e-book format. 

If you, or someone you know, is interested in publishing in our series, please contact series co-editor Johanna ([email protected]). Volumes for the series can be sole-authored, co-authored, or edited collections of essays. Proposals are peer-reviewed, and manuscripts must meet Routledge’s criteria for academic rigour and marketability. Routledge prides itself on a prompt production process and on being in the forefront of publishing cutting-edge research. All volumes are copy edited to a very high standard. Titles appear first in hardback and e-version and, sometimes, later, in paperback, too.

We’d love to hear from prospective contributing authors, and also, from anyone with feedback on volumes in the series, or on topics you’d like to see represented.

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New Book!

We are thrilled to announce the imminent publication of a new book in the Routledge Focus series ‘Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible’, a series inspired by the Shiloh Project. The author is Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar and her book has the title Trafficking Hadassah: Collective Trauma, Cultural Memory, and Identity in the Book of Esther and in the African Diaspora. 

This is a searing book, that turns its direct and unwavering gaze to some of the most pressing and distressing gendered and racialized atrocities of our time. Moreover, it roots these atrocities in both ancient and more recent history and urges us to break harmful cycles that inflict disproportionate suffering on African(a) girls and women. (The word ‘African(a)’ refers to both African persons and persons who are African-descended.)

Trafficking Hadassah is available for pre-order and is shipped from 12 November 2021. The book is available in hardback and eBook versions. (Find out more here.)

We also have an interview with Ericka and a sneak-peek at an excerpt from the book.

Tell us about yourself, Ericka. 

I’m Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar, Visiting Professor of Hebrew Bible at Payne Theological Seminary, Wilberforce, Ohio, in the USA.

How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

The book sheds light on sexualized and gender-based violence, specifically against African(a) girls and women across ancient and contemporary contexts. This project is an expansion of my scholarly-activist work of children’s advocacy and activism to dismantle intersectional violence and oppression. 

This book is a condensed version of my doctoral dissertation.   

What are the key arguments of your book?

I interpret the first two chapters of the biblical book of Esther through a contemporary lens of sex trafficking. I argue that sexualized and gender-based violence are initiated in the first chapter with the treatment and abuse of Queen Vashti. This systematic abuse is expanded to include large-scale legalized sexual trafficking of young virgin girls who are gathered from locales across the Persian Empire, which spans from India to Ethiopia. I then put this interpretation into dialogue with the sexual abuse and enslavement of African(a) girls and women during and after the Maafa,* identifying the abuse as a collective, cultural trauma. I identify and critique social and cultural attitudes that have been embraced and asserted to justify such abuse and outline physical and psychological consequences of sexual trafficking on individual and collective bodies and identities. Additionally, I challenge biblical readers to engage in morally and ethically responsible biblical interpretation by giving attention to intersectionality, polyvocality and the euphemisms and silences often embedded in both texts and traditional interpretations of texts. 

*The word ‘Maafa’ is derived from a Swahili word meaning something like ‘Great Calamity’. It refers to the atrocities of the slave trade and slavery.

What do you hope your readers will take from this book?

I hope that readers will begin to apply intersectionality and polyvocality as frameworks for reading and interpreting biblical texts like the book of Esther, so that their analyses of what is depicted can be deepened and expanded. I hope that readers will wrestle with discerning meaning for those who are embedded within but not often considered in interpretations of this story. I hope they will come to consider how minoritized identities are impacted by the story and by subsequent interpretations of it. I truly hope that people will wrestle with the portrayal and meaning of such widespread and largely uncontested sexualized and gender-based violence in the ancient context and allow this wrestling to inspire action to dismantle and eradicate it in contemporary contexts.

Give us one quotation from the book that you think will make a reader go and read the rest.

“When the treatment of the virgin girls depicted in the second chapter [of the book of Esther] is assessed alongside the treatment of Vashti, it becomes clear that gender and ethnicity intersect and play a major role in othering foreign, minoritized females. Othered, these girls are rendered exploitable and consequently trafficked. Accordingly, the king’s dismissal of Vashti is only a first step in a more elaborate process of imperially sanctioned patriarchy that also feeds sexual trafficking. By this process, the seeking out of girls is legitimated, as is their transport, custody, subjection to a year-long beautification process, and sexual abuse and exploitation by the king (2:1–9). The Persian king and his imperial team target African and other virgin girls for sexual trafficking. In its deployment of this political strategy, the text depicts Africana girls and women as expendable, commodifiable, and rapable. Such intentional displacement, colonization, and sexual exploitation of Africana girls and women are not, however, restricted to the pages of this biblical text, but have been practiced throughout much of history, leading to collective cultural trauma.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you, Ericka. We hope your book will find many readers and much acclaim and lead on to inspire effective resistance to the multiple and widespread oppressions and exploitations to which you draw attention. 

Please help us spread the word about this important publication and please order a copy for your library.

Picture update (10 December 2021)

Ericka S. Dunbar with her new book – hot off the press. (Images courtesy of Ericka)

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Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean – New Book!

Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean

Sara Parks, Shayna Sheinfeld and Meredith J. C. Warren have a new book, Jewish and Christian Women in the Ancient Mediterranean. It is an engaging and accessible textbook that provides an introduction to the study of ancient Jewish and Christian women in their Hellenistic and Roman contexts. The book has a virtual launch on the 13th December, and those interested in finding out more can register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/book-launch-jewish-and-christian-women-in-the-ancient-mediterranean-tickets-204368731377 We caught up with them to ask them to find out more.

Congratulations on your new book! Thank you for taking the time to be part of our interview.

Thank you for letting us tell you more about it! This is something that we’ve developed in collaboration over many years of research and feedback from our students, and we really believe it will be a warmly welcomed resource in a broad range of classrooms and communities.

Tell us about yourselves. How does your book relate to your work as a whole and how did this book come about?

Sara Parks is Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies (New Testament) at Dublin City University, Ireland. Sara’s recent book Gender in the Rhetoric of Jesus: Women in Q argues that Jesus’ earliest sayings point to a respect towards women in varieties of early Judaism, which eroded as Christianity developed. Sara just finished a Leverhulme working on the intersection of misogyny and anti-Judaism in early Christianity.

Shayna Sheinfeld is currently a Fellow at the Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan, USA. She’s working on a book called Big Tent Judaism that examines diversity in Jewish leadership by challenging androcentric ideas of authority in both ancient sources and contemporary scholarship; she includes women, enslaved, and other marginalised people, as well as marginalised sources, in her work. She has also organised two conferences on gender in antiquity through the Enoch Seminar, one volume of which was recently published as Gender and Second-Temple Judaism.

Meredith Warren is Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, UK, where she is Director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies and editor in chief of the open-access Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies. She has written often on food and taste in antiquity, for example, her 2020 book Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean. She has also written about Rape Culture and Revelation for both an academic audience and for the Shiloh Project blog and the #SheToo podcast, and is working on an article on slut shaming the Samaritan Woman.

So we are all working on different aspects of gender and ancient Mediterranean religion, especially early Judaism and early Christianity. But the book really started almost 10 years ago, when we were all graduate students together. Sara had pitched a module called “Reading Women in Greco-Roman Judaism and Early Christianity,” not expecting it to be accepted because there were so many post-grads and only one or two teaching slots per year. But the module was approved! Together we pooled our collective expertise in Greek and Roman religions, the early Jesus movement, early Jewish literature and religion, and later antiquity. Our powers combined resulted in a really great class and we got invited to teach it again the next year. We’ve all been teaching versions of it whenever we can ever since. But setting it up those first years was really difficult because there were no text books or set readings then, just sourcebooks, and these were too compartmentalised, treating either Judaism or Christianity or Greek and Roman religions. We had to compile our own collection of sources, activities, and readings about method and gender, basically from scratch.

Then in 2015 we were all attending the SBL in Atlanta, and Meredith was approached by Routledge Press asking about her future book projects. Instead of mentioning her own next monograph ideas, Meredith was suddenly inspired to pitch a co-authored textbook on ancient women, with Sara and Shayna (which was a surprise not only to them, but to Meredith herself)! We had a contract not long after, and we likely would have had the book done a bit sooner if we hadn’t had a couple of other monographs and a pandemic in the meantime.

The origins of the textbook in a spirit of collaboration stuck with us as we completed it. Shayna managed to get some money to hire student research assistants at one point, and she used them for our book rather than her own research; Sara used some of the Leverhulme funding to hire an indexer for it; and Meredith used some research funding from Sheffield to hire a PhD student to work on the images and copyrights. The only reason this book exists is because we did our best to reject the isolation and competition that is so typical in academia, and instead to be conscious of trying to create a collaborative community, not just with each other, but on down the line. Each of those decisions—to share rather than hoard whenever we’ve gotten a leg up—is now going to result in a wonderful teaching resource.

What are the key goals of this book?

We had a few main goals, aside from creating a resource for teaching about women and gender in ancient religion. We also wanted to approach the question of methodology directly in the introductory chapters. This arose from our own experiences where none of us was exposed to using theory or made to articulate our own methods until late undergraduate or even Masters work. We wanted to be deliberate about promoting conscious use of methods as early as possible, which is how we teach. So we set out to include a variety of approaches, in an accessible way, up-front, and then give students examples and chances to practice them in every subsequent chapter. This is part of our aim of decentralising the historical-critical method as the only way to do proper scholarship, which some people maintain. We wanted people to see it instead as just one tool in a big toolbox with lots of other ways of learning about antiquity and interpreting textual and material evidence.

We included methods from a variety of fields because we wanted the textbook to be interdisciplinary, and readily usable for colleagues in a number of disciplines. This resource is not only meant for theology or biblical studies departments; it’s for any department within arts and humanities. We’ve designed it so there’s no previous knowledge of the time-period or of gender theory required. We wanted it to be not only accessible to students, but also to diverse instructors.

Another thing that is really important in all our work is to treat Judaism, Christianity, and ‘pagan’ women together, rather than tidily separate from one another, as if everyone weren’t mixing and talking to each other in antiquity. When we treat, for instance, female protagonists of novels, women rulers, or women religious leaders, we don’t separate them out using anachronistic concepts based on contemporary canons and categories, but instead divide them by other types of proximity, whether geographical, temporal, or generic. We always want to help our readers see just how blurry the boundaries are, perhaps especially where someone has tried really hard to draw a firm line between things.

What ideas emerge in the book that will be of particular interest to Shiloh readers?

We do talk about sexual violence and rape culture in the book (with ‘difficult topic flags’), and cover sexual violence against men as well, using some research by Shiloh Project members. We also approach the material in the book in a way that I think will resonate with a lot of Shiloh readers. We try to take an intersectional approach, and encourage our readers, and in particular any students using the textbook, to practice looking out for the multiple ways that power, gender, status, and race intersect in the evidence we have from antiquity. We use the Samaritan woman in John 4 as a recurring example to demonstrate how various methods might be used, from Marxist to queer to post-colonial criticism, encouraging people to think about women’s lives and gender as social construct in a way that isn’t isolating and that is reflective of the multiple facets of ancient (and contemporary!) identities. We include examples of non-binary figures from antiquity where we can, from rabbinic discussions of six different genders and Greco-Roman ‘one gender’ (rather than binary) models, to the figure of the Gallus priest in Roman religion, to the common idea found in antiquity of women ‘becoming men.’

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

 We hope they will appreciate just how diverse religion in antiquity was, and how many different ways there were to participate in religion. We hope readers will see the interrelatedness of Judaism, Christianity, and other religions of the ancient Mediterranean, and see how common trends, for example in types of leadership options for women, changed in sync over the period. We want our readers to think more broadly about where they look for evidence–not only in canons, and not only in written texts–and to pay more attention to marginalised experiences wherever we can find them in antiquity. We want them to imagine alternatives to the normative expectations of elite men from the various traditions. We also want readers to feel enabled to think directly and speak explicitly about their positionality and their use of methodology to approach their own research, and to perhaps apply the methods we explore in the book to other corpora, other time periods, and other geographies.

Give us one quotation from your book that you think will make readers want to go and read the rest.

P 232: Some texts and artefacts (like coins) from the ancient world include descriptions of sexual violence when they use symbolic women to “think with.” Sexual violence against these women-as-symbols acts as a means of reinforcing what the author is presenting as “correct” behaviour. The authors either use the image as a trope to describe misbehaviour being “punished” (sexually, and by a man), or they picture the violent acts to illustrate one entity’s submission to another (using a female symbol of submission and a male symbol of authority). When such texts fall within biblical canons, they pose a problem for people who hold that canon as sacred; responsible and ethical interpreters of scripture ask whether these texts condone—or even encourage—sexual assault and gendered violence. One might think that a fictional Babylon pictured as whore, or a fictional nation of Israel portrayed as an unfaithful wife, are obviously not “real women,” and therefore using violent imagery against them is acceptable as it is only being done symbolically. This view misses several important points. Just because these women might be literary fictions and “flat” characters with which ancient authors are tackling other issues doesn’t mean that the choice of women as the “sinners” and sexual violence as their “punishment” has any less impact on ancient and contemporary readers. In fact, the choice of these literary symbols tells us dreadful things about the ancient societies where these narratives took shape, as well as—importantly—those groups that up to today continue to adopt, use, or accept such literary representations without questioning them.

Plus the activity box that accompanies this section:

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Shiloh Project Interview with Dr CL Nash, Founder of M2M

Please read all about M2M – Misogynoir to Mishpat.

You are invited to the project’s inaugural seminar in the series ‘Decolonizing God’ by Prof. Esther Mombo. The title is: Decolonizing God: African Women’s Epistemic Challenges to Patriarchal Jesus.

This event has now been rescheduled for Thursday 13 May, 16:00-17:30h. Please join via this Teams link.

Launch of the MISOGYNOIR TO MISHPAT RESEARCH NETWORK, and of the seminar series “Decolonising God” (organiser: CRPL Fellow Dr C.L. Nash).

1) Dr CL Nash, tell us a little bit about who you are, and what drives you. Also, what is M2M, which you’ve launched recently?

I am a woman from the U.S. and an independent scholar at the Centre for Religion and Public Life of the University of Leeds, where I manage two research projects. One project deals with religiously ensconced nationalism; and the other, amplifies the religious epistemologies of women of African descent.

This second project has the name ‘Misogynoir to Mishpat’. ‘Misogynoir’ refers to misogyny directed towards Black women, and ‘Mishpat’ is a Hebrew word used in the Bible, which means ‘justice.’ The project is necessary, because the ability and capacity of people of African descent to produce knowledge – such as conducting research, writing and publishing – is often overlooked, pushed to the peripheries, obstructed, or denied. This is especially true for women of African descent. ‘Misogynoir to Mishpat,’ ‘M2M’ for short, will serve as a corrective by resisting and filling this gap in knowledge production. The very title says a lot about who we are and what we strive to do: we strive to move away from the hatred and discrimination of Black women toward fulfilment and social justice.

The challenges for women of African descent are stark, unsettling and undeniable. In my home country, the U.S., for instance, it has recently been revealed that even when all things are comparable (education, training, number of years in work, etc.), African-descended women earn staggeringly less by retirement than their white female counterparts.[i] While there has been a great deal of discourse about the gendered pay gap – and there should be! – African-descended women are doubly discriminated against, and consistently left behind.

Not only are their work contributions valued less and paid less, but there is also other workplace discrimination: such as bullying and other exclusionary practices, including being refused opportunities for promotion, often a consequence of racial biases. African-descended women in the U.S. (to give an example from the setting I’m most familiar with) are significantly economically disadvantaged, as they are also the group who bears the heaviest student loan debt. This means that African-descended women are often precluded from wealth acquisition strategies, such as home purchases, and are also less able to help defray the cost of higher education for their own children, such as via home equity loans. In short, this creates a downward racial-gender spiral.

As an African-descended woman academic, it is concerning to me how invisible we are. A 2017 article, ‘Black Women Professors in the UK,’ shows that white women and women from certain other ethnic minorities are gaining some measure of presence and visibility in universities. But we represent less than 1% of the British academy. Figures in the U.S. are only slightly better.[ii]

While it is good to see diversity increase, with better representation by South Asian women, for example, as an African-descended woman academic, it is concerning to me that our invisibility persists. When we African-descended women are made invisible, so is our research and our writing. In the course of this, the public declarations of universities wanting greater inclusion, are overshadowed by the private resignation to a status quo which continues to deny our relevance and importance.

‘Misogynoir to Mishpat’ deliberately alludes to ‘Mishpat’, a biblical word, because much of the resistance to inequality is grounded in religious institutions, particularly within the Christian faith. Mishpat, ‘justice,’ is a term which occurs in the Bible over 400 times. It is the primary standard by which the Bible writers understood God to evaluate their faithfulness and righteousness as people of God.

Misogynoir is a portmanteau word which combines ‘misogyny,’ or ‘hatred of women,’ with ‘noir,’ which is ‘Black’ in French. The word is apt for me, because it refers openly to the recognition that women of African descent are prejudiced against and nearly non-existent when it comes to representation in the academic study of religions. In the UK, because the term ‘Black’ has often been expanded to include non-African-descended women (that is, ‘anyone “of color”’), the situation of erasure becomes even more acute and problematic.

Through M2M, we are working to cultivate a strong relationship with churches and community activists who share our concerns. There are many issues to address, from lack of representation in politics and higher education, to poverty and over-incarceration, to lack of mental health and other medical resources, and environmental racism – all of which plague African-descended women disproportionately. To give one example, in the U.S. approximately 70,000 Black women and girls are ‘missing.’[iii]This is a staggering statistic. It might point to other crimes: some may have run away from abusive relationships, others may have been kidnapped, murdered, or sex trafficked. But these women and girls matter. They belong to families and communities who feel their absence and need their loss to be acknowledged and addressed to make them feel whole again. M2M has worked to form partnerships with women in various countries including: Kenya, the Netherlands, Ghana, the UK, the US, France, and South Africa. We want to work with African-descended women in religious academia and religious leadership across the globe: women in the World Council of Churches, women who are local pastors, and lecturers and professors in biblical studies, theology and ethics. We are seeking to strengthen the contributions of them all.

2) What are your aims, vision and hopes for M2M?

@Dorret (15/365BLM)

Postgraduate students of color often wish to engage in research which amplifies their own backgrounds and cultures. But these students will disproportionately fail to complete their degrees, or go on to fail their viva. And sometimes – I would venture to say, often – this is because universities do not have qualified academics who can engage with, supervise or examine such research. An examiner may decide that a student is inadequate, because they, as examiner, lack knowledge of what the student has outlined in their research. This means that not only are academics of color under-represented but postgraduates of color also stay under-represented.

Our research network seeks to draw attention to such gaps, so that we can walk alongside and support postgraduate students, in particular African-descended women postgraduates. We can assist in creating mentorship and visibility for them – even when they do not have scholars of color in their institutions. We also want to ensure that the research agendas of African-descended students are supported, that they are hired in full-time tenured posts, and that their work is valued in the university system.

We are proactively engaged in the current funding cycle, with the intention of being able to provide such support. Currently, African-descended women (few as they are) are much more represented as independent scholars than as scholars in stable, permanent posts. This marginalization is exacerbated by institutions not considering them for, or not involving them in, significant grants, or in training on how to make an application for a grant. Moreover, such grants are often not even open to, or actively publicized among, independent scholars. Currently, programs like Marie Currie, for instance, which are highly competitive, in my view effectively bypass people of color without any accountability. This must stop.

Our new M2M website will amplify the voices of women of African descent who are religious leaders or scholars or students of religion and theology by: highlighting their achievements (promotions, PhD awards, new pastoral posts), sharing career and information resources (including publications, but also collegial opportunities, such as funding or grant writing possibilities) and disseminating teaching resources, such as ‘video shorts,’ of 3-5 minutes in length. Taken together, these will explain more about, promote, and celebrate African-descended women’s contributions to academia and religious communities. This will include the ongoing work of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (‘the ‘Circle’) and by womanist scholars.

We will post monthly profiles of women. Please see our profiles for Mitzi Smith and Esther Mombo! We also have a new M2M blog series: ‘Conversations in Race, Gender and Religion’ (the call for contributions is here) where we examine our intersectionality more closely. We ask, for instance, ‘In what ways can women in Kenya find synergy with women in Sheffield, England? How might their goals differ? How are their goals compatible?’ And this is just one example of what we hope to grow and nurture into a richly diverse resource.

By balancing these needs of religious leadership and academic religious thinkers with community objectives, I hope we will make a significant difference in the lives of African-descended women and girls.

3) The Shiloh Project is focused on intersections between ‘rape culture’, ‘religion’ and ‘the Bible’. There are some synergies with M2M, particularly given the shocking vulnerabilities of Africana (that is, African-descended) women to gender-based and other forms of violence, including in biblical texts and in religious or religiously influenced communities, right up to the present. How can we support each other’s projects and endeavours? 

It’s true that we have a bit of intersection. There are many social issues that womanist scholars, for example, seek to address – and women who emerge from vulnerable communities frequently emphasize wanting to increase the agency of members of their communities.

Historically, Black American women, as one example, have struggled against ‘Christian’ assumptions of the sexual availability of the Black female body. In other words, women and girls who are African-descended, were regularly raped with impunity. Yet, the rhetoric created was that slave holders were ‘bewitched’ by these vulnerable people. White men could rape Black women and girls without being criminalized for it. Instead, the victims were blamed. Christian theology was not guiltless in this.

During the Antebellum, pregnant Black women thought to ‘require’ severe beatings, could be and were beaten, and sometimes beaten to death. A hole was dug into the ground and the woman was placed over the hole with her belly inserted into the ground. This was done to ‘protect’ the soul of the unborn child while the woman’s flesh was beaten from her body, her blood soaking the ground around her.

In Christian teachings, there is sometimes this ‘Platonic’ assumption that ‘the spirit’ and ‘the flesh’ are antithetical to and separate from each another. So, according to this, the body can be destroyed and the spirit spared. But the assumption that a person’s spirit is not aggrieved at the evil of destroying that same person’s flesh, as if we can physically torture the body without causing trauma to the person’s very spirit…

I must visit Toni Morrison’s Beloved to tease this out a bit further. Baby Suggs, a character in the novel, walks with other African-descended people into a clearing in the woods. This is significant, because the woods were frequently regarded as ‘wilderness,’ or as a ‘wild and dangerous’ sphere of uncivilized society.

Baby Suggs preaches a sermon in that forest which tells the members present to revalue their flesh. She encourages them to take every inch of who they are, and to find something there to love – and to love it fiercely. Black beauty was all but an oxymoron to most in 19th century America. To be beautiful, lovable, intelligent, human was to be white. But Baby Suggs encourages people to create a new theology of self love which renounces the hatred espoused by the dominant majority culture.

With that in mind, women who have been abused need to touch those harmed and swollen joints, the discolored limbs, and love themselves. Those who have had body parts torn and bloodied through rape and other forms of assault, must practise looking at themselves, touching and loving themselves. Just as Baby Suggs encourages her congregants to touch the spaces between the grooves of fleshly abuse, so also we, in M2M and Shiloh, need to encourage people to touch and reclaim all those spaces which were stolen. And, like Baby Suggs did, we need to encourage people to love their bodies, hearts and minds.

In fact, M2M can be summed up in this way: Black women from every land and every religion, are summoned to come and kneel at the altar of self acceptance. We want to encourage all of them to love themselves fiercely – body, mind and spirit. And, for those who are academics, we urge them to share that love of mind and spirit in their research and writing. We will walk alongside you. We only ask that when your legs get strong, you do not run away, but you turn to your left or your right, and you walk alongside someone else. As you stand with us, we also will stand with and support the amazing work of the Shiloh Project.

Indeed, we may kneel as hundreds, but we will stand as tens of thousands.

Thank you, Dr Nash. Thank you for telling us about your important work. We look forward to watching M2M grow and thrive.

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Dr CL Nash recommends the following sites for further reading:

‘Black Then,’ a website to address American Black History, here

‘Black Women’s Experiences in Slavery’ (chapter 2), here

‘Word to the Wise: African American/Black Women and Their Fight for Reproductive Justice,’ here


[i] See the Pew Research Center, which reports the staggering pay differences that can add up to in excess of $1M by the time of retirement. You can see more here and also look at this reference about Black women’s lack of fair pay. For another perspective, see also here. For more statistics on the sharp disparities along color lines, see also this.

[ii] Dr. Nicola Rollock indicates that there are only twenty-five Black female professors (see here). According to her research, this is due to such issues as Black women being bullied, feeling forced to work harder and, ultimately, being drained when working as academics. The Guardian supports her findings. See ‘Black women must deal with bullying to win’, here.

[iii] For more information on the missing Black women and girls in the U.S., please see this reference by the Women’s Media Center. Also, please see the Black and Missing Foundation (here), which also explores the issue of Black Americans missing – an under-reported phenomenon. Because a portion of those missing are presumed to be sex-trafficked, there are activist groups, which are also monitoring and aiding with that situation. Check out Black Women’s Blueprint as one example (here).

@Dorret (15/365BLM)

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