On Day 6 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign, we speak to Emma Nagouse, PhD student in the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS).
Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I’m Emma Nagouse and I am a PhD candidate in SIIBS (supervised by Katie Edwards and Johanna Stiebert) where I research the Bible and rape culture. I’m involved in local feminist activism, particularly as co-organiser of the Sheffield Feminist Archive and a Branch Officer for Sheffield UCU. Before joining SIIBS I worked in HE and studied Archaeology where I specialised in the archaeology of religious violence.
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
I have been a member of The Shiloh Project since its inception at a research day in Leeds and I am a contributor to The Shiloh Project blog.
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
My research focuses on how biblical and contemporary intersectional gender presentation (with a focus on class identity) facilitates rape and disbelief culture through reaffirming oppressive stereotypes and informing perceptions of rape gradations. I am focusing on the rapes of Dinah, Bathsheba and Tamar.
I have also authored a chapter for an upcoming volume on religion and rape culture edited by Katie Edwards, Caroline Blyth and Emily Colgan. In this piece of work I read Lamentations 3 alongside the best-selling novel and widely acclaimed TV series Outlander to suggest that the Man’s suffering in Lamentations 3 can be read as an expression of the trauma of rape. A (very) abbreviated version of this chapter can be found here.
I returned to University as a PGR student after working in various professional roles in HE. I was particularly influenced by my time working for Sheffield’s Widening Participation Research and Evaluation team – a task that really impacted me was working on a literature review about the experiences of care leavers in HE. I was deeply moved and troubled by what I read and, coupled with roles working for Sheffield Students’ Union, trade unions and the Sheffield Feminist Archive, I knew that if I was to return to HE as a student researcher, it would also be as an activist.
I feel very privileged to be able to focus my working life on interrogating rape culture, which I believe to be one of the most urgent and insidious social justice and public health issues facing contemporary society.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today?
The work of the Shiloh Project has much to add to wider scholarship around rape culture, particularly in terms of interrogating underpinning values which provide a scaffold to normalised misogyny. After all, biblical motifs are still regularly appealed to in public discussions around sex, gender and, inevitably, sexual violence. Whether we’re talking about Mary’s virgin birth, the temptation of Eve, Jezebels…
What is particularly exciting about this project, as mentioned by Katie in a previous post, is the breadth of expertise involved from both faith, non-faith, and international perspectives.
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
As the news cycle is constantly exploding with reports on sexual violence I’m pretty sure that this will be a very busy year for The Shiloh Project. I am currently very interested in the phenomenon of revenge porn (particularly after the experiences of Blac Chyna made waves online) and how this relates to wider rape culture – I’m working on a piece of research exploring revenge porn alongside enforced bodily exposure in the prophetic texts.
I’m also applying for funding for a project with the feminist poetry collective Verse Matters and an artist from the University of Brighton for a collaborative project creating poems and a piece of sculpture relating to abused biblical women. I took great inspiration from Caroline Blyth’s research on the silencing of raped women and a talk by Cheryl Exum on the potential of art to grant access to the perspectives of biblical women.
Of course, immersing yourself in this kind of research can be quite challenging – beginning to come to terms with the sheer scope of the problem and being given an insight into the experiences of those who have suffered dreadful abuses can be (at least for me) dizzyingly infuriating, painful and emotionally draining. It can also cause you to reevaluate experiences in your own life. For this reason, I’ve collaborated with wonderful colleagues in Research Services (Dr Kay Guccione and Sarah Bell) to set up a network for researchers who engage in traumatic or sensitive topics.
Having said that, I’ve previously spent a lot of my time as a student not feeling like I had much (or any) capacity to work towards change in areas which were important to me. Undertaking this work alongside such inspiring scholars and activists is truly galvanising.