This paper was the closing keynote address for The Religion and Rape Culture Conference.

Abstract: This paper explores the fuzzy, messy, and icky boundaries of “consent” in biblical rape narratives and in rape culture.. More specifically, I want to bring feminist literature problematizing the notion of consent to bear on biblical stories of sexual violence and rape, as well as the ways in which we as feminists read and respond to those stories.. Consent, including such formulations as “affirmative consent,” “enthusiastic consent,” and “consent at every stage,” has played – and continues to play – an important role in attempts to respond to sexual violence.. However, the emphasis on consent has also engendered feminist and queer critiques. Notions of consent assume a fully self-present, self-controlled, and able subject: the very sort of subject that feminist and other postmodern critique has aptly criticized.. Discourses of consent ignore the ways in which, in Sara Ahmed’s words, “A feminist account of gender as a social relation might need to include analysis of how women willingly agree to situations in which their safety and well-being are compromised” (Willful Subjects) or in Wendy Brown’s formulation, “Consent …functions as a sign of legitimate subordination” (States of Injury).  Such feminist critiques of consent vie uneasily with feminist readings of biblical rape texts, which often seek to recover women’s voices, or at least to commemorate their stories (Phyllis Trible famously punctuated her Texts of Terror with gravestones for four of patriarchy’s victims: Hagar, Jephthah’s daughter, Tamar, and the Levite’s concubine; all but one the victims of sexual violence).. But if we take this critique seriously, what happens to a feminist biblical hermeneutic of sexual violence? I will explore this question via a wandering itinerary through the biblical rape texts, beginning with Tamar, Dinah, and the Levite’s concubine, and then moving to consider what I will call border cases.. My central concerns are (1) how can a feminist hermeneutic of sexual violence respond to feminist and queer critiques of consent discourse, (2) what might we learn from observing not simply the paradigmatic  “rape plots”(Susanne Scholz) or “rape narratives” (Frank Yamada) but also what I will call the “icky, messy, and fuzzy edges” of both rape stories and consent discourses? (Of course, this icky, messy, and fuzzy space is also the space named by rape culture, at least in one formulation of the term.) Thus I will turn from the rape plots to the icky, messy, and fuzzy narratives found elsewhere. Finally, I am interested in (3) what postures feminists might adopt toward these texts beyond the position of mourning or of recovering.

This talk was delivered at the 2018 Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Click here to see more videos.

Dr Rhiannon Graybill received her MA and PhD from Berkley, University of California and is currently Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Program Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Rhodes College, Memphis. Dr Graybill is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible whose work brings together biblical texts and contemporary critical and cultural theory. Her research interests, on which she has written prolifically, include prophecy, gender and sexuality, horror theory, and psychoanalysis and ancient Near Eastern literature.

Some of Dr Graybill’s current teaching includes modules on The Bible and Social Justice; The Bible, Sex and The Body; and LGBTQ Biblical Interpretation. She is the author of Are We Not Men? Unstable Masculinity in the Hebrew Prophets (published by Oxford University Press, 2016). Dr Graybill’s upcoming monographs include “The Cannibal Bible” and “Eve Take The Wheel: Queer Feminist Readings of Biblical Women”, they are also working on a commentary to the book of Jonah with Steven L. McKenzie and John Kaltner. Dr Graybill is currently on the editorial boards for both the Review of Biblical Literature and Biblical Interpretation.

Header image: Slime [via pixabay]

Tags : biblical studiesConsentFeminist criticismfeminist researchQueer StudiesReligion and Rape CultureReligion and Rape Culture conference

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