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CALL FOR PAPERS – Special Journal Issue: The Bible: Transgender and Genderqueer Perspectives

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Call for papers: Special Edition of the Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (JIBS)

The Bible: Transgender and Genderqueer Perspectives

Television shows, news articles, and social media sites are currently crammed with conflicting discourses about transgender (trans) and genderqueer identities. Some of these discourses affirm the authenticity of trans and genderqueer people, while many others attempt to undermine or deny this authenticity. Biblical scholars have begun to explore these conversations, asking how Bible traditions might be read and interpreted in light of trans and genderqueer lives. In this special issue of JIBS, we invite contributors to join this important conversation, focusing specifically on the Bible and biblical scholarship as potential sites of resistance against transphobia and genderqueer intolerance. Topics can include (but are not limited to):

Trans and/or genderqueer hermeneutics: interpreting the Bible through a transgender and/or genderqueer reading lens;

Transfeminism and biblical interpretation;

Biblical interpretation as a source of (or source of resistance against) transphobia and genderqueer intolerance;

Biblical interpretation at the intersection: how biblical traditions can speak to trans and genderqueer identities alongside class, race, ability, and sexuality.

Biblical engagements with indigenous trans and genderqueer identities, including takatāpui, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, fakafifine, akava’ine, vakasalewalewa, palopa, aikāne, faafatama, fakaleiti, māhū, palopa, tangata iratāne, whakawahine, hijra, and Two-Spirit.

Submissions should be between 4000 to 10,000 words.

All submissions will be subject to the usual blind peer review process.

Send proposals to Guest Editor Caroline Blyth (c.blyth@auckland.ac.nz) by 28 February 2019. Deadline for completed submissions 30 June 2019.

We will not accept submissions that are complicit in any form of transphobia or genderqueer intolerance. The senior editorial team of JIBS strongly affirm the full authenticity and humanity of all trans and genderqueer people.

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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 14: Deborah Kahn-Harris

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Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 
a. Name: Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris
b. Job: Principal, Leo Baeck College, London, UK (www.lbc.ac.uk)
c. As Principal of Leo Baeck College (LBC), I run the only institution training rabbis for progressive (non-Orthodox) rabbis in the UK and one of only two such seminariesin Europe. I have overall responsibility for the institution, which includes everything from budgets to teaching to managing staff and most points in between. I teach a yearlong course on the megillot – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther – with a particular emphasis on contemporary methodological and hermeneutical approaches. My personal academic research is focused on feminist interpretations of biblical texts, finding ways of incorporating classical rabbinic hermeneutics with feminist hermeneutics and reader-response theory to create modern midrash. In my teaching practice I am particularly keen that students should draw connections between the ways we read the biblical text and the impact these readings have on our communities. In the context of the Bible and sexual violence, I aim to help students discover and uncover the ways in which biblical depictions of sexual violence might shape both our personal and communal attitudes and approaches to dealing with this issue in the lives of real people.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  
a. During the coming year on the academic front I hope to continue to be able to write about issues relating to the Bible and sexual violence. On the vocational front, I am committed to continuing to ensure that LBC students have training on sexual violence, how to support congregants dealing with sexual violence, and, in particular, to run further workshops (a workshop was already run in the 2017/18 academic year) on the MeToo movement. From a personal perspective, I have recently become a member of Jewish Women’s Aid and hope to find more ways of working with JWA to support their work in the Jewish community.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 13: Fatima Pir Allian

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Today’s activist is Fatima Pir Allian, spokesperson for Bangsamoro women in Mindanao (the Philippines).

(For information about the long struggle for peace and the establishment of human rights in Mindanao, see here. The roots of the conflict lie in large part in the discrimination against the minority Muslim and indigenous population of Mindanao.)

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

I am Fatima Pir Tillah Allian but friends and family call me by my nick-name: Shalom. In 2005, after a stint as a college instructor at the Mass Communications Department of the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City, the Philippines, I joined the development world as an NGO worker.

I belong to and represent a group of women called Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro (Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro). Our work and mission is:

1. To provide a venue for Bangsamoro women for a progressive interpretation of Islamic teachings on gender, women’s rights, peace and development.

2. To influence decision-makers in policy development towards more spaces for women in law,religion, culture, and institutions.

3. To provide technical assistance to network members and their communities on issues related to the network’s advocacies.

4. To link the Muslim women of Mindanao through the network to other like-minded women’s organizations and to the rest of the Muslim ummah.

5. To understand and document the condition and position of Muslim women in Mindanao and other areas in the Philippines.

Since 2012 we have been working with, consulting and documenting narratives and recommendations from a number of women, men and youth community leaders on peace process related issues between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

One of the important parts of the agreement is to document narratives and recommendations of the Bangsamoro people as part of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s (TJRC) output (2015). Nisa Ul Haqq fi Bangsamoro was part of the team that documented the historical injustices, legitimate grievances and marginalizations of the Bangsamoro people, such as through land dispossession and human rights violations. But we are also focused on the ways forward in terms of healing and reconciliation.

In addition, we also respond to emergency situations by providing gender-sensitive humanitarian assistance to both human-induced and natural disasters. In whatever ways we can, we respond to the needs of women, including needs that arise from gender-based injustice and violence.

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

Personally, my hope is to continue contributing to the work Nisa is doing. I am committed, too, to strengthening our advocacies in responding to the needs of the community. Empowering the marginalized is not an easy task. The need to continue the engagement with the marginalized, the invisible members of the community, who are disproportionately female, is pivotal in ensuring thatthey, too have a platform and are heard. Utilizing a lens that is sensitive to both gender and the advancement of peace in the process of policy formulation with decision makers, serves moreeffectively to address the lived realities of marginalized groups, whether they consist of women, men, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or any disadvantaged groups in our society. Responding to the needs of the community, means that the community is consulted and part of the process as we do our planning. That is one way to empower communities. People sometimes think that we know what they need but actually we always need to be ready to learn from them. The communities serve as our classroom. There is so much to learn and we appreciate the exchanges and the kinds of connections we form. Communication, exchange, a willingness to learn from all – that is how I hope to advance the aims and goals of the Shiloh Project.

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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 10: Miryam Sivan

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

My name is Dr. Miryam Sivan and I am a fiction writer and lecturer in literature at the University of Haifa in Israel. I am originally from New York City and it was growing up on the ‘tough’ city streets that caused my feminist consciousness and inevitable recognition of male predation to be formed. For decades I was involved in Holocaust stories and the silence around sexual violence inflicted on Jewish women during the war always seemed ‘off’ to me. I am not a historian so I did not research primary archival sources to unearth the violence that did occur, but as a literary critic I focused on the threads of this violence as seen in testimonial literature and fiction. My article on the Polish-Israeli writer, Yehiel Dinur, whose early novels were concerned with sexual predation in the concentration camps, was included in Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. Published in 2010, decades after the war ended! it was the first scholarly volume that dealt with the topic. For many years I have been an Advisory Board member of Remember the Women Institute, dedicated to “including women in history since 1997,” including the exposure and dissection of gender based violence. In 2014 I published a short story collection, SNAFU and Other Stories in which one story, “Traffic,” deals explicitly with this kind of violence. In 14 short vignettes I ‘expose’ scenarios in the various religious and ethnic communities of Israel where women’s bodies are violated not in exceptional ways but in socially ‘common’ ways.  In Israel where there is no separation of religion and state, outdated and misogynistic religious laws still govern women’s lives to a frightening degree.

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 Shiloh Project is engaged in important and wonderful work. I think your range of articles is extensive and highly informative.

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

In April 2019 my novel, Make it Concrete, will be published in New York. It is a story about a woman who ghostwrites Holocaust memoirs while her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, will not talk about her war time experiences. To avoid ‘spoilers’ I won’t give any more details, but I can say that sexual violence and its repercussions play a critical role in the unfolding narrative drama.

I will continue to include in my curriculum, particularly in my Literature of the Holocaust course, literary texts that deal openly with sexual violence. In my Israel Stories course (both these courses are in the International School of the University of Haifa – with students from many countries) we read texts and watch films that directly show how religious Jewish law blatantly and unapologetically discriminates against women.

In addition, I am working on a screenplay about a sexual predator and the atmosphere of male privilege which is part and parcel of patriarchal religions and the societies they are a part of will be highlighted and critiqued.  

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 8: Antonia McGrath

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Today’s activist is Masters student and NGO co-founder Antonia McGrath.

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

 My name is Antonia McGrath and I’m a Masters student of International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and one of the founders and directors of a small non-profit organization called educate. that works to support community-driven educational projects in Honduras.

 educate. was founded by myself and an incredible friend of mine called Lisa after we both spent a year living and working in Honduras. I was working in a small aldea on the outskirts of a city on the north coast in a home for ex-street children, and Lisa in a coffee-growing town as an English teacher at 9 rural public schools. In Honduras, we witnessed not only extreme poverty, violence, and some of the highest levels of economic inequality in Latin America, but also the ways in which some of the NGOs and development organizations in the area worked in ways that were very top-down, where they imposed projects without local leadership or anyappreciation of the cultural context – and sometimes even without an existing need. In a TEDx talk I gave almost two years ago now, I highlighted some examples of my experiences with these kinds of issues.

 For us, starting educate. was not only a way to support some of the communities we had lived and spent time in during our year in Honduras, but a way to work to subvert the idea of ‘aid’ and to allow Honduran individuals and communities to approach us and gain support for their own projects. We work with incredible teams of teachers and educators, community leaders, and people from other grassroots organizations, running projects that are really built from the ground up. For example, we run a scholarship programme through local public high schools; we have supported the starting of community-run libraries at public schools in both rural and urban areas; we funded the start-up costs of an animal therapy mental health programme at a children’s home; and we currently finance a community-run nutrition centre that is gaining increasing self-sustainability through an adjacent farm project. Outside of this more practical work on the ground, we also workto promote discussion about decolonizing the ways in which aid and development are thought about and practised.

 While our focus on education doesn’t directly address the Shiloh Project’s themes of rape culture, religion and gender-based inequalities and violence, these are topics we do heavily engage with within our work. Especially when discussing projects and working with our team in Honduras, the ways in which our work relates to themes of gender (in)equality is something we think very deeply about. Our scholarship programme for example, through its support of several incredibly passionate and driven young women from underprivileged backgrounds, is helping provide opportunities for women to study at the university level – something that, while not entirely uncommon, is still dominated by men and especially by those from privileged backgrounds. This scholarship programme, through the women it is supporting, is definitely helping to break down the cultural norms and stereotypes surrounding who ‘should’ be taking up these spaces at university.

 One of our scholarship recipients, who is studying industrial engineering, has recently taken a womensstudies class as an elective, and the last time I met up with her we had a long conversation about her experience studying in what is a heavily male-dominated programme. Though she felt confident in her own abilities to succeed, she said she was often faced with scepticism from her male classmates who would ask her why she was studying such a difficult subject that was ‘meant for guys’.

 Despite all the ways in which the Honduran culture ofmachismo (sexism) affects women, recently I’ve also been thinking more about the ways in which adolescent boys and young men in Honduras can also be socially excluded based on cultural concepts of masculinity. Honduras has a huge problem of gang violence, and the image of the young male in Central America, and particularly in the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) is of a strong, tough andoften-violent gang member. I think these images and stereotypes can cause young men to become extremely socially excluded, which only heightens the likelihood of them being pushed into criminal groups. I worry about some of the young boys I know who spend a lot of time on the streets, because there are so few opportunities made available to young men, especially in marginalized and often violent urban areas, that don’t involve crime. Of course young boys on the streets join gangs – it’s a family, it’s protection, it makes perfect sense. But it’s also a huge problem. At educate., we’ve been working to make sure that our scholarship programme, which has so far only attracted young women, is also actively promoted amongst young men, so as to ensure that they are not being unintentionally excluded from this opportunity. I think empowering young women is essential, but in Honduras I also see a definite need for more opportunities being made available for young men.

 Honduras has been in the news a fair amount over the past year or so, though not for the most positive ofreasons. In November 2017, protests broke out across the country after a stolen presidential election. I was in Honduras at the time, and was stuck on my friend’s farm for over a week as roads were blocked with barricades of burning tyres. Now, with the migrant caravan traveling north through Mexico, Honduras has been in the news again. A friend of mine, whom I met when he was on hunger strike protesting government corruption inHonduras in 2015, is part of the caravan, and he’s documenting it through his photography on Facebook. I’ve been working with him to put together articles and photo essays for educate.‘s website to raise awareness from a more Honduran perspective, because most of the news about it focuses on a very US-centred view of the caravan.

 Many of the female migrants in the caravan are fleeing from gender-based forms of violence. The rate of femicide in Honduras is unprecedented, and other kinds of violence against women are hugely widespread as well. There are countless Honduran women who leave as a result of this domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, even attempted murder. It’s something that isvery present in everyday life in Honduras. There was a 17-year-old girl in the village where I used to live who lost her hand after a man tried to rape her and, when she resisted, he attacked her with a machete. This was just a few months ago, when I was back in Honduras most recently, and she was taken to the hospital in the back of a friend’s truck with her mother. As far as I’ve heard, they weren’t able to properly re-attach her hand. Her family is incredibly poor; her father couldn’t even afford the bus to the hospital to go and see her. I’ve been trying to reach out to the family to see if we can support them, but it has been hard to make contact.

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 that the Shiloh Project is doing on religion and rape culture is hugely important. Rape culture is an especially pertinent topic at the moment, what with the whole #MeToo movement and prominent cases of sexual assault taking centre stage in international news. It’s a topic that absolutely warrants further discussion. I think its also vital to continue promoting diverse perspectives on these issues, and I think the Shiloh Project is doing a great job of that.

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

 As I mentioned, we’re trying to broaden the reach of our scholarship programme to continue providing opportunities for young women and men in Honduras to study beyond high school. This is a life-changing opportunity for the young people we support, and has far-reaching consequences within their families and broader communities as well. At present, we are supporting young women studying in very male-dominated fields (medicine and engineering), and we’re hoping to be able to support some young men as well. I think the role that these scholarship opportunities can play in creating role models for young people of all genders within their own communities is a way to work towards breaking down the gendered stereotypes that are so prevalent in Honduras without those values being externally imposed.

This picture shows a young student in one of the libraries supported by educate.

 In an upcoming project for educate. where we are working with several rural primary schools to start libraries, ideas surrounding stereotypes and the importance of representation have come into play in our discussions once again. Something that has been important for us while working with the teachers in Honduras to put together lists of books for the libraries has been ensuring not only that the chosen books are culturally relevant and of course in Spanish, but that there are books that challenge traditional gender norms. For young girls as well as boys, I think it is important that the stories that they are exposed to are ones where they can see diverse representations of themselves. We’re trying to get hold of Latin American children’s books that show powerful women, people of various gender identities, and people from different cultures and ethnicities (within Latin America and even within Honduras, there are numerous ethnic groups).

 We’ve just launched an Amazon Wish List campaignwhere people from anywhere in the world can directly purchase a book for one of these libraries. When you purchase a book, it gets sent directly to us and we will sort and transport them to each of the schools in July 2019. Each community is currently working to plan their library space and will come together to paint and set up the library before the books are brought in. All of these libraries are being designed and constructed by teachers and community leaders and will provide literary resources to a total of over 500 primary school childrenin rural areas of Honduras. We’d love to have people get involved by purchasing a book (or two!) here:https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/dl/invite/catEvAE

 Antonia is a previous contributor to the Shiloh Project.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 8: Emma Tomalin

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

My name is Emma Tomalin and I am Professor of Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds. A major focus of my academic career has been upon better understanding the role that religious traditions play in what we might broadly call ‘development’ in the Global South.  This local level research is contextualized against the backdrop of the neglect of/poor understanding of religious dynamics amongst the secular global elites who control development cooperation and humanitarian aid. The marginalization of the consideration of religious dynamics from mainstream development and humanitarian processes is particularly worrisome for women, since an important underlying factor in their discrimination – patriarchal tendencies within religious traditions – remains either obscured or essentialized in analyses of gender inequality that inform global development policy. Either religious dynamics are seen as irrelevant or are viewed as the major cause of inequality: these are perspectives that are unhelpful in forming the kinds of alliances with local faith actors that are in my view essential to rooting out inequality and discrimination against women and girls.

It is clear that patriarchal views within religions play a role in shaping gender divisions that exacerbate the likelihood of women and girls experiencing gender-based violence and trafficking. However, it is also clear that many faith actors play a crucial role in challenging gender inequalities within religious traditions and also provide support and advocacy for women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence and trafficking. I have been fortunate to become involved in a number of research project that address these issues and that aim to better understand the role of local faith actors in perpetuating and challenging gender inequality in their traditions, and then feeding those findings back to a secular global development audience. I have worked with Buddhist nuns in Thailand who are campaigning for the ability to fully ordain as bhikkhuni in order to challenge the negative perception of women as a lower rebirth than men, which can exacerbate their acceptance of domestic violence or the inevitability of entering the sex industry (see this free publication for work in this area). More recently, I have become involved in two projects around religion and anti-trafficking, one focusing on the UK and one with a global reach.

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

In fact, I hope that the Shiloh Project can help me! We are currently carrying out a scoping study for evidence on the role of local faith actors in anti human trafficking and modern slavery for this project, and are looking for individuals and organizations to submit case studies of their work in this area or other materials. Please see here for how you can contribute.

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