On Day 15, the penultimate day of the 16 Days of Activism, we talk to Dawn Llewellyn, Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies at the University of Chester.
Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I’m Dawn and I am Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies, in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester – I’ve been here for 7 years since finishing my PhD in Religious Studies at Lancaster in 2010. I teach and supervise in the areas of gender and religion, sociology of religion, gender studies, and qualitative methodologies and methods. My work is grounded in feminist qualitative approaches to the study of gender and Christianity: I’ve researched women’s religious reading practices and cultures in relation to literature and the Bible; I’ve also written on feminist generations, third wave feminism, the wave metaphor, and the disciplinary disconnections between feminist/women’s/gender studies and religion.
I’m currently examining women’s reproductive agency in Christianity. In particular, my research focuses on women’s narratives of choice toward motherhood or elective childlessness, and how women mediate and experience the pronatalism circulating through doctrine, scriptures, teachings and the everyday social practices of church life (no surprise, there’s *quite* a lot of pronatalism for women to mediate).
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
I was delighted and honoured to be asked to become a member when the Shiloh project began. It’s such an important conversation that Katie, Johanna, and Caroline and the team have brought to the fore because religious discourses do inscribe and re-inscribe the inequalities underlying gendered violence and rape culture.
At the moment, I’m very good at tweeting and retweeting about the Shiloh Project and SIIBS, and I have promised to write a piece for the blog! I’m really excited to be part of the work the Project is doing and will do.
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
As a feminist researcher in religious studies, I try in my teaching and research to analyse the ways religion, particularly Christianity, generates gendered injustice, and in particular, how women mediate and negotiate patriarchal and androcentric religious structures. In my previous project, I interviewed Christian and ‘post’ Christian women about the literatures that inspired and resourced their faith and spiritual identities. In the interviews, the women also discussed their biblical reading practices and disclosed their anger at the passages they understood to valorize violence against women. For some participants, this meant they left Christianity or at least turned to women’s writing as a substitute for the Bible – unable to read texts or belong to a tradition that sacralizes narratives that demean women. For others, they resist and reject the text they found problematic. Interrogating how women engage with the biblical texts, and Christian teachings, doctrines and practices is central to my research and teaching.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today?
Rape culture and ideology can be insidious; that’s part of its power. One way to dismantle its power and the shame and guilt it perpetuates is to name it, as we saw with #MeToo. During that campaign, I was really struck, moved, and enraged by the shared stories of my friends and colleagues who had experienced harassment in academia: at conferences, in meetings, when travelling, and at University or departmental social events. It was also painful to see how many social media posts by women about #MeToo started with a line or two saying that they didn’t think what they’d experienced was ‘serious’ enough to warrant mentioning; and the media backlash against those testimonies reveals, again, the prominence of gendered violence and its acceptance. In a secularizing society like the UK, in which religion has lost some of its influence for individuals, communities and institutions, it is too easy and simplex to think that religion no longer shapes cultural norms. The work that the Shiloh Project does – the blogs, the lectures, the projects, the seminars, the research – is important research that uncovers religion’s role in constructing and supporting rape culture.
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
The project’s themes and aims are helping me think more critically about motherhood and rape culture. Just as Christianity’s essentialist ideas about women’s bodies limit their roles to the maternal, essentialist ideas underpin sexual domination and violence. Generally, though, I’m looking forward to potential joint projects and questions that are already emerging, to being part of a such a fantastic initiative, and learning with and from such a fantastic bunch of scholars.
And I really need to write my blog piece…