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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 16: Susannah Cornwall

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Today’s activist is Susannah Cornwall.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter, UK, where I also direct EXCEPT, the Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology. In my current research project I’m working in partnership with the West of England National Health Service (NHS) Specialist Gender Identity Clinic on spiritual care for people transitioning gender.

Lots of people who transition find faith is a source of support for them, but others might face opposition from religiously-conservative family and friends, or worry that God will be angry with them for ‘rejecting’ their bodies. Trans and non-binary people frequently experience physical, emotional, spiritual and conceptual violence, including erasure in religious traditions that find it hard to conceive of gender as fluid.

My theological work on variant sex and gender also extends to intersex (variant sex characteristics), and I recently contributed to and hosted the first UK screening of a new documentary film, Stories of Intersex and Faith, produced by Megan DeFranza, Lianne Simon and Paul Van Ness, which follows intersex people of faith in the USA as they negotiate living in and educating their communities. This formed part of a series of events bringing together faith practitioners, academics, advocates and activists from groups such as Intersex UK, Liberal Judaism,  the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) Sibyls, and OneBodyOneFaith to network and make new plans for co-created research on sex, gender, sexuality and religion.

I’m also currently contributing to the Church of England’s major new project on sexuality, Living in Love and Faith, which is due to publish its findings in 2020. I regularly provide teaching and training on gender, sex and faith in schools, churches, and activist conferences, and through professional training for groups such as teachers, clergy and medics.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the coming year I will be doing further work on religion and transphobia, exploring how religious communities might interrogate their own traditions and recognize the diversities of accounts of human sex and gender that are within them. I’ll be working on a new book project on trans and Christian ethics and continuing to work with activist and advocacy groups. I’ll also be speaking on the importance of spiritual care for people going through transition at the forthcoming conference of EPATH, the European Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Religious traditions have enormous resources for overcoming homophobia, transphobia and gender-based violence, but need to get their own houses in order and recognize that they have often been part of the problem.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 15: Mathew Guest

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On the penultimate day of the UN 16 Days of Activism, we speak to Professor Mathew Guest.

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

I am a professor in the sociology of religion at Durham University, and have been on the teaching staff there for the past 14 years. Working in a department of Theology and Religion has meant I have several colleagues whose work engages with issues of ethical significance, but my own research has for the most part remained fairly dispassionate, focusing on a range of institutional contexts that frame religious identities within contemporary western cultures, especially families, congregations and universities. This changed in 2013 when I co-wrote (with my colleagues Sonya Sharma and Robert Song) a report on gender imbalance within departments of Theology and Religious Studies in UK universities. Researching the experience of women working as academics or as students within my own discipline opened my eyes to how embedded gendered disadvantage is within the academy. It’s one thing to appreciate this on an intellectual level; it’s quite another to hear the stories first hand. The report mapped patterns of disengagement by gender among students at undergraduate and postgraduate level, tracing experiences of alienation to structural problems that continue to inform the professional lives of women in Theology and Religious Studies as they progress from early career fellowships, to being a full-time lecturer, through to more senior appointments. It’s the work I’m most proud of, and has had real impact on challenging practices that disadvantage women in my subject area, although there’s a lot more work to be done.

It was listening to women’s testimonies about their experiences that led me to get involved in a campaign against gendered violence. Alongside my academic work, in recent years I have become more engaged in activist networks, driven chiefly by my convictions as a Quaker and a pacifist. A couple of years ago I became involved in the establishment of Tyne and Wear Citizens, an alliance of organizations in the north east affiliated with the national organisation Citizens UK. We use broad-based community organizing to identify challenges facing local residents and pool our resources to exert influence on those in power in order to bring about positive change. Two of our most vibrant and committed organizational members are Newcastle Central Mosque and the Islamic Diversity Centre, based in multi-cultural Fenham, in the west end of Newcastle. Religious-based hate crime is a serious problem in the north east, often targeted at Muslims or others presumed to be Muslims but who are simply dark skinned or cover their heads in public. This highlights how colour prejudice is a big part of the problem. Another major dimension is misogyny, as this is largely gender-based violence. In researching religious-based hate crime in the north east region, we learnt that many of its victims were Muslim women, especially those wearing the hijab or niqab, a common act of assault being the forceful removal of the face veil, although others had also been physically hit, spat upon and verbally abused, often on public transport. Whether driven by the cowardice of racist men too afraid to confront male Muslims, or by a perverse sense of entitlement to have dominion over women’s appearance, the experiences we heard about were unsettling and abhorrent. Unfortunately, they are not uncommon, and recent comments by public figures like Boris Johnson, presenting the veil as a dubious cultural oddity, risk validating existing prejudice and ignorance. In response, we launched a campaign to get hate crime addressed more seriously, particularly on public transport, where many incidents take place.

The testimonies I heard from Muslim women were truly shocking, recounting acts of disrespect, verbal abuse and physical violence. In some cases victims were too afraid to go to the police; in others, their reports were dismissed. Some felt supported by the authorities, but our campaign group felt too little was being done to address acts of religious-based hate on the region’s buses and on the Metro network.  So we arranged a meeting with representatives of the region’s main transport companies, and they too were faced with the testimonies of the Muslim sisters who had experienced some of the abuse we hoped they would want to address. They spoke with passion and conviction, and it was inspiring to see these two women – who I can now call friends – tell their stories to a row of white men in suits in a city centre boardroom. They spoke truth to power, and were visibly empowered as a consequence.

We were asking these representatives of the transport companies to work with us in devising a hate crime policy for the region, and they agreed. I believe the testimonies of the Muslim sisters were too powerful to ignore. That’s not to say our corporate colleagues didn’t need a little more encouragement, and so we organized a public demonstration – a celebration of our diverse Tyne and Wear community – in order to raise awareness of hate crime and demystify the hijab for those unfamiliar with Muslim traditions and what they signify.  This demo took place on 13th October. Entitled ‘Reclaim the Metro’, around 160 of us gathered at the Grey’s Monument in central Newcastle and listened again to the testimonies of our Muslim friends. In solidarity, we then all boarded the Metro and took a trip to Whitley Bay, where we enjoyed together a fine British tradition: fish and chips on the seafront. We also deployed an activist tradition very much at the heart of the Citizens method: we invited the media and got the event covered on BBC Look North. We also informed our colleagues from the public transport companies that the media would be covering the event, and that we could tell a story about how wonderful it is that they have responded to our concerns with a change in policy, or we could tell a story about how awful it is that they hadn’t. Their charter on hate crime on public transport – clarifying reporting processes, committing to training staff, and to working further with voluntary groups to tackle this urgent issue – was published just before the demo.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

Given my work with the local Muslim community, as well as current research I am undertaking about the experiences of Muslim students, I would really like to see more work done on engaging British Muslim women. Their voices often go unheard and their experiences are often grossly misunderstood. Unfortunately, secular feminist commentators do not always help, and the common equation of the hijab with gendered oppression is symptomatic of how certain women’s voices are often privileged over others. Let’s hear more from the testimonies of Muslim women.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

Well the hate crime campaign still has a lot of work to do. Our success in securing a hate crime charter does not solve the problem, although it was a pragmatic step towards creating safer public spaces in the region. We at Tyne and Wear Citizens need to ensure that the hate crime charter is adhered to and translates into practical solutions, like improved training for bus drivers, publicity to inform the public on what is religion-based hate crime and why it is not acceptable, and a system of accountability that joins up public transport providers with local police so that all incidents are properly followed up. I know that my fellow citizens at Newcastle Central Mosque and the Islamic Diversity Centre will be at the heart of this, and hope that Muslim women will feel safer and more secure in their communities as a result of the campaign.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 13: Rosie Dawson

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Today’s activist is award-winning journalist Rosie Dawson.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rosie Dawson, a journalist with a particular interest and expertise in Religion. Most of my career has been spent in radio and television for the BBC. Since going freelance earlier this year I’ve been able to diversify into print, podcasting and training. My specialism in Religion led to membership of the Religion and Theology panel for the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Research Excellence Framework (REF) and I’m enjoying seeing the exciting range of research being undertaken in UK universities. I’m also an Associate Research Fellow with the William Temple Foundation which seeks, through action and research, to understand the role that Religion plays in public life.  

I studied Theology at university – many years ago, and before Feminist Theology had made it onto any syllabus anywhere! But one summer afternoon I attended an extra-curricular lecture on it and it’s no exaggeration to say that that was life-changing.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

Like many others I have been energized and excited by the work that the Shiloh Project is doing. It seems to have been ready and waiting for the #MeToo movement to explode. I read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror when it came out in the 80s but it seems that there’s an opportunity now to spread insights about the Bible and rape culture beyond academia in a way that hasn’t beenpossible before. The conference organized by Emma Nagouse in July 2018 succeeded in bringing together academic and practical responses to rape culture. It was a wonderful day in which a community of women from a generous range of perspectives listened to and encouraged each other.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

I am working with members of the Shiloh Project and others  to see how its insights can be shared more widely in broadcasts, podcasts and print. That there is public appetite to hear these perspectives was demonstrated by the response to Dr Katie Edwards talk for BBC Radio 4 (The Silence of the Lamb) which won an award from the Jerusalem Trust. Other plans are afoot. Shiloh Project academics  are among those contributing to a podcast  series I have produced about the Texts of Terror which should be published early in Spring 2019. Do watch this space – and then please share, share, share!

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 12: Gerald West

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

 I am Gerald West, from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Since 1989 I have worked within the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research, a project which facilitates collaboration for systemic change between socially engaged and contextually ‘converted’biblical scholars and theologians, community-based organic intellectuals, and their local communities of the poor and marginalized. The Bible resides in the intersections of these sectors as a site of struggle (both death dealing and life facilitating). As a biblical scholar, ‘by day’ (as we say here), much of my contribution is in forging potentially liberative community-based participatory resources from biblical scholarship.

 Since 1996 we have worked explicitly in local African contexts on gender-based violence. Invited by a group of women to facilitate a series of ‘Contextual Bible Studies’ (CBS) on a range of gender-related contextual struggles, including gender-based violence, we began to develop a CBS on gender-based violence using the story of the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. We drew on the biblical studies work of Phyllis Trible, integrating it into the methodological processes of CBS. This ‘Tamar’ CBS has been used extensively ever since, within various South African contexts, across the African continent, and in many other contexts, wherever gender-based violence intersects with religious faith. This CBS also gave rise, again at the request of a local community, to the Tamar Campaign (in 2000), which in turn gave rise to a series of CBS on ‘Redemptive masculinities’. In 2007 the Ujamaa Centre began working with a version of the ‘Tamar’ CBS that focused on masculinity.

 Allied to and generated by this gender-based violence CBS work have been an array of CBS on HIV and most recently sexuality. Just as the formative work of the Ujamaa Centre on race and class (in the context of the struggle against apartheid) generated systemic analysis and action in the context of gender-based violence, so our gender work in turn generated systemic analysis and action in the context of the intersections between economic and hetero-patriarchal systems that perpetrate HIV infection and discrimination against LGBTIQ sexualities. An analysis of systemic injustices shapes CBS work. We work within the intersectional entanglements of systemic injustice.

 In was from within this trajectory of the Ujamaa Centre’s work that I became familiar with the Shiloh Project.

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

 An important contribution of the Shiloh project has been the notion of ‘rape culture’. Rape has always been systemic, but the prevailing individualized and moralized understandings of religious faith have tended to represent rape in these terms. Most legal systems tend to adopt the same orientation. The notion of ‘rape culture’ makes it clear that rape is a system. The rape of Tamar is a good example of this, with each of the male characters in the narrative constituting a ‘rape culture’. In our work on this narrative we offer resources that facilitate reflection on rape as systemic, so the Shiloh Project’s notion of ‘rape culture’ is a useful conceptual tool.

 Significantly, the Ujamaa Centre has used the notion of ‘rape culture’ (though not this particular phrase) for our work on Genesis 19. This text is the primary biblical proof-text for condemning ‘homosexuality’ in many African contexts, and so we have done a series of CBS work on Genesis 18-19. An aspect of our CBS work recognizes the ‘rape culture’ of Sodom, in which strangers were subjected to violent assault by other men. By recognizing and naming the ‘rape culture’ of Sodom our CBS has enabled participants to construct a counter discourse in which ‘the story of Sodom’ is not about ‘homosexuality’ but about Sodom’s inhospitable attitude to strangers, violently expressed through the (heterosexual) rape culture of the men of Sodom.

 In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?

 The work of the Ujamaa Centre is forged from within our day-to-day work with particular organized formations of the poor and marginalized. We work ‘from below’, and so will come to the Shiloh Project from this perspective, collaborating with the Shiloh Project from the emerging contours of African local contexts in the year ahead.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 12: Jayme Reaves

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Jayme Reaves (www.jaymereaves.com) and I am a public theologian, scholar, and activist working on the intersections between theology and public issues such as gender, race, peace/conflict, interfaith cooperation, and culture using the disciplines of feminist and liberation theologies.  I am also the newly appointed Coordinator for the Centre for Encountering the Bible and Short Course Programme at Sarum College, starting in December 2018.

In the earlier years of my professional career, I lived and worked in both the Former Yugoslavia and in Northern Ireland, seeking to ground my theology and commitment to peace and justice to practical application by working to support peacebuilding, conflict transformation, and reconciliation processes. In both the Northern Ireland and FRY contexts, I was struck by the interplay between hospitality and hostility, where both profound welcome and violent exclusion simultaneously co-exist, and where the project of a mixed society does not necessarily lead to living together well. That observation led to my PhD research which built a framework for understanding an interfaith theology and ethic of protective hospitality through providing sanctuary or refuge for the threatened other based on Hebrew Bible and Qur’anic textual studies as well as case studies based in Bosnia during the 1990s conflict.  That research was published in 2016 by Wipf & Stock and is titled Safeguarding the Stranger: An Abrahamic Theology and Ethic of Protective Hospitality. (www.jaymereaves.com/safeguarding-the-stranger).

Because of my research around hospitality and activism towards more peaceful and just communities, I do regular workshops on hospitality as political practice, taking it from the realm of tea and biscuits and more in the realm of loving revolution where it belongs.  For me, hospitality is strong, brave, and fierce in its love and dedication to welcome; it is not weak and mousy, deferring and demure as it is so often portrayed.  I work with communities in both the US and UK on exploring the practice of providing sanctuary, equipping communities of privilege to understand their obligations to care for the stranger, to use their privilege to speak for and provide justice, and to understand that a ultimately a life of faith is a life of risk rather than comfort.  The Sanctuary Movement in the US – with those at risk of deportation taking refuge in religious and community buildings – is different than it is here in the UK at the moment, but the potential in the UK for direct, non-violent, life-saving action in resistance to state oppression towards immigrants is growing.  My activism, research, and experience calls me to support this movement in whatever way I can.

My work is driven by my activism, and I continue to be captivated and dedicated to the idea that a healthy, peaceful society is one that is proactive about the “other” (whoever that “other” is), caring about their needs, rights, suffering, and celebrations as our own and being willing to put ourselves and own wellbeing at risk for them.  My research, experiences, and faith has taught me the value of hospitality as a prevailing ethic for everything (or “ethic par excellance” in the words of Jacques Derrida), and I know communities who make that pro-activity towards hospitality for others a priority and see the difference it makes in their lives and in the world around them.  

In addition, my primary work with The Shiloh Project to date has centered around research being led by my colleague David Tombs at The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.  For years, his research has focused on the crucifixion and sexual violence, and in our project we are conducting workshops called “When Did We See You Naked?”(www.jaymereaves.com/naked) with churches and communities who wish to explore the Mark 15 text of Jesus’ trial, torture, and crucifixion in more detail, considering the ways in which Jesus is sexually abused by the multiple public strippings as well as understanding more fully the context of crucifixion practice within the context of Roman political oppression.  We know this work is important because it shifts the paradigm of the conversation in terms of victimization, blame, stigma, silencing, and guilt.  In this era of #MeToo, the time is ripe for interrogating our theology and liturgical practices to uncover the ways in which we have enabled and turned a blind eye to sexual abuse and sexualised violence in our religious traditions.

As part of my public theology work, I also co-host the Outlander Soul podcast (www.outlandersoul.com), which looks at reading the contemporary fiction Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon through the lenses of theology, religion and spirituality, and engages with its fans about the role it plays in their lives as a sacred text. Part of this work is driven by my own love and joy as a fan, but also by my dedication to making feminist and liberation theological methods more accessible.  In many ways, the podcast has served as “theology by the back door,” giving listeners a taste of particular approaches and perspectives that they don’t hear in their own religious communities, and the feedback we have received from some listeners saying how much it means to them that we are able to connect their love of Outlander to their spiritual/religious lives.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I think the work of The Shiloh Project is invaluable as I don’t know of anyone else in the UK who has both the same level of scholarship, activism, dedication to public outreach, and independence from religious structures that Shiloh does.  The Shiloh Project is, in many ways, a sum of its parts and all of us who are involved with its work are doing great work, but it helps to have a larger body to amplify our voices as one calling for gender justice and more inclusive, responsible religious communities and readings of sacred texts.  

Lately in my own personal journey and in smaller writing/research projects, I have been working to identify and address whiteness in my own feminism and the ways in which my activism may have inadvertently perpetuated white supremacy or silencing of women of colour.  In light of that – and because of my own need – I’d love for The Shiloh Project to provide more attention and resources for addressing the blind spots and assumptions of white feminism, supporting difficult conversations that need to happen around the intersections between race and gender justice.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the year ahead, I have a few collaborative projects fueled by my own activism that I think will contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project.  First, David Tombs, other colleagues, and I are planning to continue conducting “When Did We See You Naked” workshops in New Zealand, Australia, US, UK, Peru, and South Africa, and also expanding them to run in the Former Yugoslavia, where a context of systematized sexual abuse as an instrument of war was a reality for many.

Second, my colleague, Terry Menefee Gau, and I at the Outlander Soul podcast continue to be committed to using the Outlander series as a vehicle for teaching feminist theology and hermeneutics, while making dedicated efforts to name and discuss sexual violence, gender issues, and rape culture both in the series as well as in religious and secular culture.

Third, I have been in conversation with several feminist theologians, clergy, and activists recently about putting together a one-off or series of women’s events that speaks to their experiences and offers space for reflection around themes related to women’s bodies as well as the stories they read and tell.  I have no idea what shape that might take in the end – as it’s not just up to me – but it’s important for me to make sure that the work I’m doing is accessible and applicable to women’s lives both inside and outside of the academy and church.

Fourth, I am working in partnership with several organisations around training, equipping, and supporting networks dedicated to providing hospitality and working toward justice and reconciliation in their local areas.  My role as tutor and mentor is to ensure the needs and particular concerns of women and most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation are highlighted, as well as encouraging those networks to provide space for those same people to speak for themselves.

Lastly, in my role at Sarum College, I very much look forward to working with internal and external colleagues to expand its reputation for innovation and supporting theological development that works toward gender justice and the common good. And, let’s be honest, I don’t really know how to operate any other way!  It’s great to finally have a supportive home for my work and an institution that is also dedicated to ensuring that learning goes beyond the walls of the academy to impact lives and communities in real, life-sustaining ways.

Website: www.jaymereaves.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JaymeRReaves

Twitter: @jaymereaves

 

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 11: Tat-siong Benny Liew

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Tat-siong Benny Liew, and I am currently Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies at the College of Holy Cross.  Holy Cross is a Jesuit liberal arts college located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA; however, I am not a Catholic.  

Although I have been living in North America for over 30 years, I was born in Hong Kong.  Since my father passed away when I was relatively young, my mother, who was strong and wise despite of having only an elementary education, basically raised me and my five siblings all by herself.  For both of my primary and secondary education in Hong Kong, I attended an Anglican school that is only for boys.  During most of those years and in that particular environment, I am sad to say that I had bought into many of the dominant and pervasive gender ideologies. When my eldest sister became a pastor of a local church, she experienced many discriminatory treatments that were based on gender; for instance, her district superintendent tried to tell her that the denomination would not provide housing for her because she could live with her family as a single and unmarried woman.  While homophobia was and is by no means absent in Hong Kong, I only witnessed it first hand after I moved to the USA to continue my studies.  

Besides learning from my own mother and my eldest sister, I am fortunate to have many wise and powerful female or queer teachers and colleagues who helped me gain a better sense and sensibility about various matters pertaining to gender.  My teaching and scholarship about religion in general and the Bible in particular have, as a result, always attended to gender-based dynamics and violence, as well as how they intersect with other identity factors and power differentials.  Both of the Bible courses I am teaching this semester, for instance, are cross-listed for the College’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program.  Without implying that my academic work is separable from activism, I have found it more and more important to become personally involved in public movements and protestsagainst discrimination and violence on the basis of gender.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

I like the term being used by the Shiloh Project: rape culture.  The word “culture” implies that one cannot look at the act of rape by itself; we must understand that a lot of things have happened before and around rape to enable the act.  Because of this, I would like to see more explicit and more intentional research and work being done on sexual invective and harassment.

I am thinking here of the recent work by David Shepherd.  Instead of focusing on the blatant horror against women in the book of Judges (such as the rape and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, or the violent capturing of women in Judges 21), Shepherd uses the explicit mention of Judges in the beginning of Ruth (Ruth 1:1) to point to the subtlerpresence of sexual harassment against a foreign, female worker such as Ruth in the fields of Boaz.  The fact that Boaz has to tell Ruth to always keep company with other women workers and to glean so only after the male workers are done, even though he has already told his men not to bother Ruth (Ruth 2:8-9), signifies that Boaz is cognizant of the pervasive danger and widespread threat against women workers and this is further confirmed by Naomi (Ruth 2:22).  Although Shepherd uses explicit violence against women to inform his reading of implicit harassment, one may see explicit violence and implicit harassment against women as mutually reinforcing phenomena.

Since we are talking about a culture that enables and condones rapes and other kinds of gender-based violence, I wonder if the Shiloh Project can develop an instrument (such as a survey) that can help institutions (such as faith communities and schools) to get a sense of its climate and culture regarding gender-based discrimination and violence.  (Note: I owe this idea to Sarah Shectman and Seth Sanders of SBAllies.)

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the coming year, I plan to be involved in campus activism that seeks to address sexual harassment and violence within my ownCollege community, including emphasis on preventive measures (such as campus-wide education to increase awareness) and institutional accountability.  These important efforts are once again about changing a culture: institutional culture.  I also plan to teach again a course on “Sex, Money, Power, and the Bible” to help students explore how our readings of the Bible may figure and reconfigure our understandings and practices of sex, money, and power in both helpful and harming ways. Finally, I will continue to research and write about gender violence as a biblical studies scholar.

   

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 9: Adriaan van Klinken

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Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do? 

Hello you all! Thanks for the invitation to be part of the Sixteen Days of Activism campaign on the Shiloh blog! The Shiloh project addresses critical issues I’m deeply concerned and care about, so I’m really excited to be associated with it. My name is Adriaan van Klinken and I teach Religion and African Studies at the University of Leeds. Much of my work focuses on issues that speak to the interests of the Shiloh project: religion, gender and sexuality in contemporary Africa.

In recent years, my research has focused on the role of religion in the politics of sexuality in Africa, addressing the violence that is exercised – often in the name of religion – on sexual minorities. Much of that violence is discursive: through language and verbal expressions, LGBT people are demonised, denied their citizenship and human rights, and excluded from the families, communities and societies they are part of. Violent speech is deeply harmful in itself, and it is particularly painful when such speech comes from believers and religious leaders who claim to speak on behalf of God. Yet violent speech has severe consequences, not only for the mental wellbeing of the people subjected to it, but also for their social, economic and material wellbeing. Most recently in Tanzania, the governor of Dar es Salaam called upon citizens to report LGBT people to the authorities – referring to the country’s Christian and Islamic moral values. Ten alleged gay men on the island of Zanzibar were subsequently arrested and subjected to anal examinations – a direct violation of their bodily integrity – while many other members of the community live in fear. Obviously, such violence against sexual minorities is informed by socio-cultural and religious norms of gender, in particular masculinity (a theme I’ve worked on extensively in the past), and the patriarchal and heteronormative ideologies underpinning it.

It’s important to keep in mind that in as much as religion is a source of violence against sexual minorities in Africa, it also appears as a site of empowerment. I have just completed writing a book about the use of Christian language, imagery and symbols in LGBT activism in Kenya. As part of that project, I conducted fieldwork with a Christian LGBT community in Nairobi – an African “gay church” – and it was fascinating to observe how they creatively engage Christian belief as a source of affirmation, liberation and transformation.

Although I’m hardly able to make time for volunteering work, I do believe in the value of critical and engaged scholarship as a form of activism. Much of my work has been with local LGBT communities in Kenya and some other parts of Africa, and I try to take seriously the participatory nature of that ethnographic research method called “participant observation”. That comes with its own challenges, but it means that I try to build long-term relationships that are based on trust, friendship and reciprocity. The biggest compliment I received from one of my Kenyan research participants was that through my research I had become an “ambassador” of his community. He then commissioned me to not only share the struggles he and his community members are going through, but also their achievements so far and hopes for the future. In my book I write about the power of storytelling – both for the people and communities telling their stories, and for those hearing them. Indeed I hope that through research and writing I can help African LGBT stories of sexual violence and sexual empowerment (in the broad sense of both words) to be documented and shared.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

The Shiloh Project is already doing an amazing job in carving out a space for discussion and thinking about the problem of violence in relation to gender and sexuality, and as often driven by religious thought and practice. I’m genuinely impressed by the vision of the project and the energy that you have put in it – kudos to everyone involved, in particular to my wonderful colleagues and friends Johanna Stiebert and Katie Edwards! With the risk of broadening the scope of the project too much, I would like to see a broad conception of sexual violence to be explored and engaged in the project. I’m glad that recently the blog has paid attention to the question of male rape, foregrounding how not only women but also men can be violated by toxic forms of masculinity. Yet violence in the area of sexuality also comes in many subtle ways, and having real life effects on a wide range of people, including within LGBT communities. As a gay man myself, I’m personally concerned about, and affected by, the salience of heteronormative and hegemonic notions of masculinity within the male gay community – a community in which men of colour, so-called “effeminate” men, and men living with HIV often encounter discriminatory and stigmatising behaviours. These issues are not usually incorporated under the term “rape culture” narrowly defined, but they reflect deeply rooted violent modes of thought and practice in the area of sexuality.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

In the year ahead, I hope to make use of the publication of my earlier-mentioned book in order to break the silence on some of the issues I have just touched upon. I am also in a process of developing new research: one project with Ugandan LGBT refugees based in Kenya, and another project addressing questions of sex work, religion and activism in Africa. Both projects have the potential to explore new terrains of sexuality and violence, and to foreground the importance of intersectionality (an approach that acknowledges that sexuality is intersected with other categories and structures of power, such as gender, refugee status, social class, etc). I really look forward to working with some of my colleagues at Leeds, such as Johanna Stiebert and Caroline Starkey, on these projects, and to sharing it with members of the Shiloh project. As my research participants in Kenya keep reminding me, another world – a world that is not misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic is possible. I’m excited to be associated with the Shiloh project that is based on the notion that academic scholarship, in collaboration with other communities of practice, can help advocate that cause for a more just, respectful and humane world.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 7: Kathryn Barber

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Today’s activist is Kathryn (‘Kate’) Barber, whose important research informs on right-wing religious ideologies. We underestimate these toxic ideologies at our peril.

Tell us about yourself!

I’m Kate Barber, a mature PhD student at Cardiff University, studying in the Centre for Language and Communication Research. I am back behind a desk after seventeen years as a lecturer in Further Education and Higher Education institutions and nearly twenty years since I was an undergraduate doing my Law degree. As much as I miss teaching, I am really enjoying the academic challenges that PhD study presents and having the chance to meet others involved in interesting research. I’ve also been able to participate in projects such as Assuming Gender, a multidisciplinary student-led project based in Cardiff, which examines issues relating to gender in contemporary society.

 I’ve been studying in Cardiff for three years now as I did a part-time Masters degree here in Forensic Linguistics before starting my PhD in 2017. During my MA, I looked at linguistic issues relating to anti-Muslim hate speech, sexual violence and harassment, rape myths, and consent in rape cases. Many of these themes also feature in my PhD research as I am currently looking athow rape and sexual assault is reframed by far-right extremists on websites and personal blogs, and how this relates to political and social radicalization. My study involves conducting a corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis on extremist online sites which intersect networks associated with the Alternative Right and those that belong to what’s known as the Manosphere (a group of sites that promote men’s rights and issues but which often includes extreme misogynistic and anti-feminist discourses). Interwoven among these networks are numerous sites that tap into extreme right-wing religious ideologies such as those associated with Christian Identity and sites run by groups identifying as Evangelical Christians and Christian Fundamentalists. By looking at how rape and sexual assault is reframed and how narratives about sexual violence on these sites are used, I’m aiming to analyse if and how the ideologies of these different groups overlap and how counternarratives can be constructed to challenge these online discourses.

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today?

In my opinion, The Shiloh Project is doing invaluable work in bringing discussions about religion and rape culture to the fore, especially in the way it challenges representations of sexual violence in media and within a diverse range of communities. Importantly, the project encourages collaboration between scholars, from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, who are similarly motivated to challenge sexual violence and rape culture. The Religion and Rape Culture Conference in July 2018 was the perfect example of this and offered a supportive environment within which several issues were explored by an inspiring group of academics.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

The next year involves a lot of data analysis for me but I will be following The Shiloh Project with interest as well as writing a post for their blog and getting involved in some interesting initiatives I heard about during the July conference. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to contribute some insights into the influence of extreme right-wing Christian groups on the rape culture perpetuated by far-right extremists online.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 6: Rachel Starr

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, my name is Rachel Starr and I teach biblical studies, gender and theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. Queen’s is ecumenical and we have students exploring theology, discipleship and ministry from Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal churches.

 It would be hard to say what subject I enjoy teaching most, but I love the energy and creativity of the Masters module on global theologies and migration. Faced with the scale and complexity of migration today, we need more theological resources to help us respond to and receive from migrants. In addition, it is important to make visible the migration of traditions and communities of faith throughout history. The work of Argentine theologian Nancy Bedford has been invaluable in exploring the particular experience of Latin American women migrants and the violence they encounter along the way, as well as naming the multiple forms of resistance and strategies of survival they employ. A powerful example of communal resistance to the death-dealing structures and monstrous borders that confront many undocumented migrants is that of Las Patronas, a group of Mexican women who cook and carry food to the tracks where each day trains carrying hundreds of migrants pass by (watch here).

 I completed my doctorate at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I learnt much from organizations such as Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Humanos, spending time with local women’s groups that sought to resist and challenge both domestic, and more public forms of, violence. My book, Reimagining Theologies of Marriage in Contexts of Domestic Violence: When Salvation is Survival (Routledge, 2018) explores how Christian accounts of marriage are often static and idealized, failing to take account of violence and gender inequality within relationships.

 The work of Latin American women theologians and activists continues to inspire and challenge me. Doing theology in another language is a means of resisting dominant theological traditions and ensuring we don’t rely on familiar readings of texts and traditions. Last year, I spent a month in Central America, meeting with theologians and activists working on a range of interrelated issues: increasing access to reproductive health care, a life-or-death issue for women in Central America; facilitating debate around masculinity and violence; and challenging street harassment. The image of birds flying in front of the cathedral in the Nicaraguan city of León speaks to me of how even then most static religious structures are in constant and dynamic relationship with lived experience and movements for change.  

 How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?

 The creativity, commitment and community generated by the Shiloh Project seem to me to be important resources for challenging gender-based violence. At the conference last summer, the creativity of the presentations and discussion reminded me of the gift of collaboration between academics and artists, and how creativity is often a source of resistance to violence and oppression. The passionate commitment around naming and shaming violence within the biblical texts and within our own lived contexts was energizing. In particular, I was struck bythe naming of Abraham as a rapist (see a blog post about this paper by Zanne Domoney-Lyttle here). Why is Abraham (and Sarah’s) abuse of Hagar not identified as sexual violence? It reminded me how fiercely faith communities seek to protect the male ‘heroes’ within the biblical text, and how difficult it can be to name what is clearly stated in the text. Finally, the conference enabled me to connect with other scholars and activists working to challenge gender-based violence. The welcoming and supportive atmosphere of the conference reminded me of how important I had found similar networks, such as the Catholic women theologians’ network, Teologanda, of which I had loved being part while living in Argentina.

 In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

 I’m currently working on a new edition of SCM Studyguide to Biblical Hermeneutics (2006), co-written with David Holgate. The revised edition will deepen and develop material on how we read the Bible attentive to multiple identities and contexts, as well as exploring resistant readings of the text, drawing on the work of scholars such as Phyllis Trible and Oral A. W. Thomas. Inspired by Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar’s presentation at the Shiloh Project’s Religion and Rape Conference (see a blog post on this presentation here), we ask what kinds of stories do we allow the Bible to tell? And making further use of the work of Gina Hens-Piazza, we suggest ways of seeing, denouncing and resisting violence present within biblical texts and their interpretation. Hens-Piazza’s commentary on Lamentations, part of the new Wisdom Commentary series, is a powerful testimony to the importance of resisting the violence of the text.

With Dulcie Dixon Mckenzie, Director of the Centre for Black Theology at Queen’s, I recently developed a new module for the Common Awards programme, entitled Intersectional Theologies (see here). While the notion of intersectionality has been part of academic discourse for some time, there has been less attention within theology to the complexities of identity and dynamics of power. A particular hope is that the module will generate theological resources appropriate to contemporary British contexts. This module has the potential to be used by any of the nineteen theological institutions working with Durham University as part of Common Awards. At Queen’s, this module will help students make deeper connections between earlier modules focused on Black Theology and on Theology and Gender.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 5: Rachel Muers

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Today’s activist is theologian and Quaker Rachel Muers.

Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rachel Muers, a UK-based academic theologian working at the University of Leeds. My specialism is in modern Christian theology and ethics. I’m very fortunate to be part of a group of scholars at Leeds who approach questions about contemporary religion from many different academic perspectives, and I’ve learned an enormous amount by co-teaching and conversing with these colleagues and with a diverse group of students over the years – especially when we can also bring in our shared commitments to social justice, as with a new course on human rights and religion. I’ve taught courses on theology, religion and gender, and have written on issues of feminism and theology.

Given the history of my subject, I’ve always spent a lot of time reading, and writing about, great works by great men from centuries gone by. I don’t think scholars always realise the cumulative effect that such an experience can have; as women we get the message, on some level, that we’re not really meant to be in this conversation, or at least that we showed up really late.Although I’ve been enthusiastic about feminist theology since I was a student, it still felt like I was breathing new fresh air a few years ago when I finally had a project that let me quote and cite lots of women from history as theological authorities. It was a book on Quaker theology, and since I’m a Quaker it was partly also the pleasure of spending time with ‘foremothers’. Given half a chance, I’ll enthuse at length about the formidable seventeenth-century English women – from all social classes – who were preaching in public and travelling enormous distances, conducting furious theological debates in print and in person, and facing down everything that was thrown at them for their infringements of religious norms – especially gender norms.

People who know me will tell you I’m passionate about a lot of things. One of them is promoting my academic subject, in schools and universities and to the general public; I hope to have more opportunities to do that over the next couple of years as president of a UK learned society. I’d love there to be more spaces where more people feel confident enough to join in with seriouscritical discussion of religion – and I think that’s a feminist issue, because the alternative tends to be that ‘shouty men’ in positions of authority dominate the conversation.

I’ve recently become a co-chair of the Women at Leeds Network, which organizes events and networking opportunities for women across the whole (very large) institution – women academics, research students, professional and managerial staff, technical staff. The greatest power of the network, as I see it, comes from putting women from different contexts in the same room for the first time, and letting them discover connections between their experiences, their challenges and their insights. It’s not exactly revolutionary in itself, but it’s probably the way a lot of change starts.

How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today?

Working on the World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order commission, with a genuinely international group of theologians and church representatives, has made me more aware both of how important it is to keep talking about gender justice in Christian theology – and how difficult it can be, when in some contexts even the mention of ‘gender’ is heard as an attempt to impose some sort of Western liberal agenda. The Shiloh Project is enormously valuable here both because it’s hosting an international conversation where diverse voices are heard, and because – with the focus on rape culture – it makes it very clear why these questions matter across the world, why gender justice isn’t optional or trivial.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

One of my academic writing projects at the moment is a chapter on ‘war and peace’ in modern Christian theology. As a Quaker I’ve always been interested in bringing critical questions about power, violence and nonviolence – including about the links between violence and economic and social injustice – closer to the centre of theological conversation. And I’m increasingly struck, not in a good way, by how much the language and imagery of warfare shows up in theological texts, even when war isn’t the theme. Invading, conscripting, overpowering, conquering are all just fine, apparently, if they are God’s actions. I don’t think you need to be either a pacifist or a feminist to worry about what effect it has within a religious community when the symbolic space is dominated by images of male power. The other thing I’m noticing is that the way questions about ‘war and peace’ are often framed, in theological ethics, leaves gender-based violence out of the picture. Violence only seems to become interesting for ethics when it’s organized groups of men against men; not only rape as a war crime, but the enormous scale of gender-based violence in ‘peacetime’, receives much less attention. I want to ask what that says about the academic conversation, but also what effects it might have in practice.

I’m looking forward to teaching the human rights and religion course again, and – as part of that – working with my colleagues to get students talking and thinking about the complex relationships between religion and violence against women. I’m going to try to keep up with my commitment to read, cite and ‘lift up’ women’s scholarship.

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