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Religion and Rape Culture Conference

Negotiating the Silence: Sexual Violence in Israeli Holocaust Fiction

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Negotiating the Silence: Sexual Violence in Israeli Holocaust Fiction

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Dr Miryam Sivan

Miryam Sivan lectures at the University of Haifa. Her research interests include contemporary American and Israeli literature and literature of the Shoah, and she has written about authors such as Cynthia Ozick and James Baldwin. She is also a creative writer and has authored a number of short stories, a novel, Make it Concrete (to be published in April 2019, with another, Love Match, undergoing revisions), and a collection of short fiction, SNAFU and other Stories. The essay below is based on Miryam’s presentation at the Religion and Rape Culture Conference organized by the Shiloh Project in July 2018.

‘Do you remember the three girls that were taken out one night for an orgy? The Germans were drunker than ever. At dawn two of them crawled back, their bodies bruised all over. The third girl had been rolled up in a carpet, her long hair hanging out of one end, dragged into the garden, and set on fire. The drunken Germans stood and watched the hair, flaring up readily, and the smell of burnt flesh filled the rooms until the wind blew. One of the girls told us, before she was taken to the doctor and never returned, that the Germans had strangled her friend while violating her body. In the morning the other girl began to spew blood. She came to my room for shelter and showed me the fist marks on her lower abdomen.’

Savyon Liebrecht, ‘Morning in the Park among the Nannies,’ Apples from the Desert: Selected Stories     

To write about the Holocaust is to enter into dialogue with an extreme epoch of Jewish vulnerability and helplessness. Writing about sexual violence committed against Jewish women during the Holocaust highlights this. In fiction by Israeli writers Savyon Liebrecht and Nava Semel few details of these atrocities are spared. The sadism and perverse violence to which some Jewish women were subjected is exposed in their stories, making readers inadvertent ‘witnesses’ to this significant Holocaust accounting.

Israeli writers came to the Holocaust as a subject for their work in the 1980s. This rather late entrance reflects a predilection in Israeli society for creating psychological distance. There are a number of reasons for this: the depth of Holocaust trauma caused some degree of collective repression; there was a great need for post-war Jews, both survivors and those already living in pre-State Israel, to ‘normalize’; the heroic narrative of the New Jew returned to the historical homeland actively rejects the image of the diaspora Jew going passively to the slaughter; survivors were judged for having made it through the war ‘by any means necessary’. Today we recognize the injustice and immorality of this kind of victim blaming. But back then, in the first decades after the war, energies in the Jewish world were dedicated to rebuilding – and trauma was repressed, suspended.

There were exceptions, both in terms of individuals talking about their experiences and writers writing about them. A handful of Hebrew language novels published prior to the mid-1980s deal with the Holocaust – but these were small glimmers of light in what was otherwise a virtual black hole in Modern Hebrew literature about the Holocaust.

The forty year time-span may not be a coincidence. In the Bible, when the children of Israel leave Egypt, God understands that the impact of hundreds of years of slavery can not be washed away in one sea-crossing, no matter how miraculous. The generation born in Egypt has to die out and only their children and grandchildren, raised in freedom, can enter and take possession of the Promised Land. Hazal, Judaism’s traditional scholars, called the Egyptian-born Israelites Dor Hamidbar, ‘the Desert Generation’. Forty years of wandering in the liminality of Sinai constructed a new identity for their progeny.

A similar weaning away from diasporic exilic mentality occurred in 20th century Israel. The first generation raised in Israel, many children of survivors among them, lifted the veil of silence around the Holocaust. In 1985, exactly forty years after the war ended, Nava Semel’s collection of short stories, A Hat of Glass, was the first book of contemporary Hebrew fiction that deals with second-generation trauma. Its title story, ‘A Hat of Glass’, was also about sexual violence against women during the war. This story, this book, was too loaded for Israeli society to embrace it and Semel’s book received little attention.

A year later, in 1986, David Grossman’s post-modern novel See: Under Love was published. This book also deals with the Holocaust and with first- and second-generation trauma, but its highly intellectual language and structure create emotional distance. Naturally, Grossman being a man helped his brilliant novel receive the attention it duly deserves. And naturally, Semel being a woman and dealing with sexual violence against women in the camps and frontlines, helped bury its publication under the habitual blanket of silence and denial.

Rape. Why is the literary treatment of this subject a litmus test for a community’s sense of vulnerability or, of its opposite, self-confidence? In Against our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, Susan Brownmiller’s groundbreaking academic study of rape published in 1975, Brownmiller describes how ‘[m]en of a conquered nation traditionally view the rape of “their women” as the ultimate humiliation, a sexual coup de grace. In fact, by tradition, men appropriate rape of “their women” as part of their own male anguish of defeat’ (31).

Added to the already heavy burden of shame that tragically haunts the crime of rape, within the context of war this common weapon proves to an already defeated nation that the frontline moves into homes sparing no one. Rape has come to represent literally, literarily, and allegorically the depths of an individual’s and a nation’s defenselessness.

For Jews this climactic powerlessness is seeded in the Bible. When Abraham takes his entourage down to Egypt (Genesis 12), he instructs his beautiful wife Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she is his sister (not his wife). For if she were to please Pharaoh he would have Abraham killed. Taking a man’s wife sexually was abhorrent. Taking his life to obtain a desirable woman was justifiable. Murder is, by implication, more acceptable than adultery.

And indeed, Sarah is taken into Pharaoh’s palace but, as midrash Bereshit Rabbah 41:2 explains, Pharaoh was struck with impotence and his lust for Sarah is never consummated. Ketubot 7:9 says leprosy or venereal disease prevented sex. And Tanhuma Lech Lecha 8 recounts that an angel struck Pharaoh every time he tried to touch Sarah. Of course the rabbis and scholars writing midrash would make all these ‘convenient’ claims. The obfuscation of rape is no modern invention.

The litmus test of vulnerability resides here, in this story (Genesis 12:10-20). The first precondition is exile. Once there, the woman is defenseless and her husband has no means to protect her, only deception – which may in the end save his life but does not necessarily spare her the trauma of abduction and rape. A similar story is repeated in Genesis 26: 7-11 when Isaac and Rebecca also leave Canaan and go south in search of water and food. They tell King Avimelech that they are brother and sister – again, so Isaac won’t be killed. These deceptions are, according to Arnold Eisen, a ‘lesson directed particularly at partisans of the diaspora – the sexual politics of homelessness are always demanding and at times devastating. The rape or near-rape of the matriarchs and their daughter Dinah are emblematic of the large set of compromises and violations to which the Jewish people stands exposed to as a stranger in strange lands’ (183).

By contrast, the language used to describe acts of rape in Canaan is usually plainspoken and direct. A strong example of this is when Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13:14:

 וַיֶּחֱזַק מִמֶּנָּה וַיְעַנֶּהָ, וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֹתָהּ ולא אבה, לשמוע בקולה.

‘But he would not heed her and being stronger tortured her, and lay with her.’

Gone are the euphemisms and obfuscations of exile.

Nava Semel and Savyon Liebrecht, daughters of mothers who lived through European labor and concentration camps, take on the sexual politics of exile. They begin filling in the silence plaguing their mothers’ lives, telling tales of women’s sexual abuse. These are traumas that their mothers witnessed and/or experienced. These are stories that reach back to Genesis and create a link with the disavowed suffering of Sarah in Egypt. For these 20th century women writers, the denial that smothered the subject of the Holocaust in their childhoods is compounded by the shame, guilt, and denial that haunts victims of sexual crimes.

In Semel’s ‘A Hat of Glass’, sexual violence is not explicitly described. One reason is that the story’s narrator is not actually present when Clarissa, a former Feld-Hure, is summoned to the room of the ‘golden-haired officer, Brunhilde of the Black Forest’ (190), as the camp inmates jokingly refer to the German officer in charge of them. At only one point in the story is ‘the Brunhilde’ seen touching Clarissa in public and this is done in anger, because Clarissa has shared forest berries with the women on the factory floor. But what actually enrages ‘the Brunhilde’ is the concern and nurturing sympathy Clarissa reserves exclusively for her fellow inmates. The German officer may be able to use Clarissa’s body as she likes, but she has no control over her mind or heart: ‘She went over to Clarissa, took her by the shoulders and shook her with one power jolt. “Das ist meine Clarissa,” she said in a stiff voice. “Sie ist Mein.” “Mine, mine”’ (196). To remain alive Clarissa accepts being this woman’s sex slave, but she also uses her position to help her sister inmates.

One night the narrator asks Clarissa what the officer does to her and she recalls how suddenly Clarissa’s face contorted with a pain so intense that she recoiled. Then Clarissa reassures the younger woman that she was not being hurt. Yet the narrator knows better and says how other women used as sex slaves ‘had already thrown themselves against the fence to sever the frenzied memories. Others had turned into wild dogs, directing their humiliation and disgrace at women as yet unafflicted’ (191).

Savyon Liebrecht, too, creates a narrator who is only witness to, and not herself a victim of, sexual abuse. In ‘Morning in the Park among the Nannies’, the unnamed narrator sits among a group of women minding babies in a Tel Aviv park. She spent part of the war working as a seamstress in a house of sexual slavery. One morning, years after the war, she sees a new nanny with a small child in the park and recognizes her immediately as one of the more exquisite women from the so-called brothel. Watching her care for the young child, the narrator is transported back to those scenes of hell and addresses her in her mind: ‘How did you guard your soul in that place?’ (183). Like Clarissa in Semel’s story, this beautiful woman did not allow the torment to take hold of her. At least not in any externally visible way.

Liebrecht’s prose is graphic and direct. She does not airbrush away the particulars of the torture and literary close-ups are key to understanding women’s suffering. For Liebrecht ‘that creature, the Shoah survivor, has always been a sort of asexual. There was a reduction of gender subject […]. Specifically, I am talking about women, the experiences of women at that period. And it’s not only that, but – of women who were used, who were used for the pleasure of the Germans. I mean, a woman’s most feminine element, a woman’s eroticism’ was deliberately ignored for so long in the writing of the history of that period.

Liebrecht and Semel courageously take on the painful subject of sexual abuse of Jewish women during the war. They do so by describing it directly and unsparingly, without euphemism or indirect references. But it is not until Semel publishes The Rat Laughs (2001) that a first-person habitation of violent experience of sexual abuse during the Holocaust era occurs in Hebrew Israeli literature. This novel recounts the abuse of a five-year-old Jewish girl at the hands of the peasant family paid to hide her. In the first section of this mixed-genre work, the narrator, middle-aged now, like the narrators in ‘Hat of Glass’ and ‘Morning in the Park among the Nannies’, recalls her war time experiences. When her granddaughter prods her to tell her story she omits much more than she tells. In her mind though, she recalls a great deal and so once again readers become inadvertent witnesses to the horrors of the lightless potato pit where the child lives.

The use of euphemisms here for the continual rapes the five-year-old child suffers at the hands of ‘the Stephan’ as she calls the teenage son of the household, is understood as an expression of (grand)-maternal protection and do not constitute repression, or any deliberate white-washing of sexual torture. She simply cannot endure having her own granddaughter, herself still a child, think about the nightmare of her grandmother’s serial pedophilic rape. The child is spared; the reader is not.

In a later section of the novel, composed of small poems written in a child’s voice, in a verse entitled ‘Cradle Song’, the effect of the rapes is tangible and acutely painful:

There once was

a small Jewish girl

and she had

small Jewish hands

and small Jewish eyes

and a small Jewish mouth

and a small Jewish body

and a big hole (134).

In this novel, Israeli Hebrew literature redeems the lost experience of lived nightmare and treachery and violence. In these scenes any standard of moral security is rendered unstable. Here a first-person female narrator, reflecting on herself as a child, a complete innocent who does not even know enough to name the act of rape being perpetrated against her, inhabits the hell of sexual violence. Here the constraints of fear and insecurity fall away. Meaning lies in the power of deconstructing the biblical paradigm of obfuscation and telling directly and explicitly what occurred and how – to the best of the narrator’s ability. This draws and derives in no small measure from the process of normalized confidence and security: a people, a land, a language. It is no longer now from the position of exile that Liebrecht and Semel confront us. These tales are a reckoning, a filling in of the gaps, a determination to give voice to an important frontier in the ongoing study of the Holocaust – namely, women’s experiences in general, and women’s suffering at the hands of sexual predators in particular.

The fact that the language of composition of these narratives is Hebrew gives these tales of brutality and grief an added poignancy. Within the cadences and images of their sentences, in direct and unapologetic language for the sexual abuse endured, a sense of time compressed resonates. And the resilient thread that stretches from Sarah, Rebecca, Dinah, Tamar, and Esther, to countless unnamed Jewish women in Egypt, in Spain, in Morocco, Poland and Germany is pulled taut. Their voices are not part of the biblical canon. Their female progeny suffered silently in concentration and labor camps, ghettos, forests, and hidden shelters. Semel and Liebrecht, Israeli writers, are finally able to write the stories of this anguish, negotiating the silence, expanding the discourse, and insistently setting new terms.

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Religion as Gender Politics

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Abstract: Far from being an unintended consequence of those ideologies which are religions, the subordination of women may be central to their raison d’être. The form that religions (primarily the Abrahamic religions) have taken would seem to reflect (i) male splitting, and (ii) a desire to trump woman, quite possibly on account of an unresolved relation to the mother. Insofar as the raison d’être of religion is to constitute male as normative, while woman becomes ‘the other’, it is fascism. Male power and control over women is legitimised as only natural. We know control, rather than lust, to motivate sexual abuse. But sexual abuse is part of a wider scenario of male exploitation of women, with seemingly deep roots. To see religion in this light is vital.

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

Professor Daphne Hampson held a chair in Post-Christian Thought at the University of St. Andrews. In her retirement she is an Associate of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford. The author of Theology and Feminism, After Christianity, and editor of Swallowing a Fishbone?, she is at present writing a book Religion as Gender Politics.

Header image:  “Creation of Eve”, a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo [via WikiCommons]

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Research as Resistance: Survival strategies for researching violence

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Abstract: Feminist research into violence, within sacred texts, traditions and contemporary contexts, tends to be motivated by a desire to confront and challenge violence. This is certainly true of my own research into how dominant theologies of marriage function as risk factors in contexts of domestic violence.

This paper explores how being ‘research active’ can be understood as a form of active resistance. It suggests that this resistance begins with paying attention to forms of violence that have been normalised or ignored. Biblical scholar Gina Hens-Piazza argues that readers must be willing to name every occurrence of violence within a text; to fail to do so is to risk failing to name and resist violence encountered in everyday living. Secondly resistance requires commitment to a range of voices and methods of investigation, rather than reliance on tried and tested methods. In so doing, such resistance is creative, in reimagining both problems and solutions.

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

Rachel Starr is Director of Studies (UG programmes) at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, UK. She completed her doctorate at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (Protestant Institute for Advanced Theological Studies) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her book, Reimagining Theologies of Marriage in Contexts of Domestic Violence: When Salvation is Survival is published by Routledge in April 2018.

Header image: Ni una Menos (Not One Woman Less) march in Santa Fe, Argentina. 2018. Photograph by Agustina Girardo [via WikiCommons]

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“A man cannot in law be convicted of rape upon his own wife”: Custom, Christianity, Colonialism, and Sexual Consent in Forced Marriage Cases, British colonial Africa, 1932-1945

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The mid-twentieth century saw an upsurge in campaigns around forced and early marriage in British colonial Africa, as missionaries, feminist organizations, colonial officials, and African communities contested the terms of marriage and gender relations in colonial settings. The issue of sexual consent in marriage proved an important battleground on which these contestations were fought. This paper seeks to explore how differing notions of consent – those embedded in notions of African ‘custom’, articulated through colonial courts, espoused by European missionaries, and expressed by African women and girls, came into tension in such cases.

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

Rhian Elinor Keyse is an AHRC-funded PhD student at the Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter. Rhian’s doctoral research focuses on imperial, international, and local responses to forced and early marriage in British colonial Africa, 1920-62. Rhian completed her BA in History at Cambridge before moving to Oxford to pursue an MSc in African Studies. She has recently held a Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress, as well as a Global Humanitarian Research Academy Fellowship. She is also an experienced activist and practitioner in the gender-based violence sector.

Header image:  Conference artist Lily Clifford talking Rhian Keyse through the creative response to Keyse’s research.

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“My prayers weren’t being answered”: The Intersection of Religion and Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Abstract: Funded by the Wellcome Trust, this paper draws on a thematic analysis of an online qualitative survey (n=143) and 25 follow up semi-structured interviews with adults who experienced CSA/CSE to understand and explore how religion has affected their recovery. While some found comfort in religion the majority of those who were religious as a child, had rejected organised religion as an adult, despite often retaining a sense of spirituality.

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

Claire Cunnington is a Wellcome Trust funded Doctoral Research in the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield. Her PhD title is “From Victim to Survivor: What actions do survivors take to redefine their identity when recovering from Child Sexual Abuse?” This research takes a salutogenic approach to recovery from child sexual abuse (CSA) and involved a qualitative survey followed by in depth interviews with adults who have experienced CSA/CSE to identify useful actions they have taken to improve their health and wellbeing. She is interested in the influence of religion on individuals recovering from CSA.

Header image: Creative response to Cunninton’s talk produced by Lily Clifford at the Religion and Rape Culture Conference. A glass collage.

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“The Evil Sirens”: Evangelical Christian Culture, Pornography and the Perpetuation of Rape Culture

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Abstract: The current waves of feminism (or tapestry strands per Professor Liz Kelly’s analysis) are particularly divided on whether pornography can be a sex-positive tool for women’s empowerment or whether it continues to be the “common erotic project of destroying women”. Unsurprisingly, evangelical Christian culture’s engagement with pornography remains ignorant of any feminist analysis of pornography. This presentation will explore the nature of evangelical Christian culture’s engagement with pornography, its focus on the male pornography consumer as the victim of the “pornography siren”, and the centring of male consumer’s feelings within the response to pornography.

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

Natalie Collins is a Gender Justice Specialist, and works to enable individuals and organisations to prevent and respond to male violence against women. She is the Creator and Director of the DAY Programme, an innovative youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme. She organises Project 3:28, is a co-founder of the UK Christian Feminist Network, and founded the Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse campaign. She has written a Grove Book on “Gender Aware Youth Practice”, is publishing a book with SPCK on Christians and domestic abuse, and is currently doing a Masters in Integrative Theology with London School of Theology.

Header Image:  The Sirens, Wilhelm Kray 1874 [via WikiCommons]

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For Such A Time As This? #UsToo: Representations of Sexual Trafficking, Collective Trauma and Horror in the Book of Esther

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Abstract: The book of Esther is hard to place in terms of genre. Some proposed genres include historical narrative, Persian court chronicle, diaspora novel, hero’s tale, romance tale, carnival tale, each of which orients the reader’s focus toward certain elements of the text. Often, the application of these genres obscures the trauma and horror woven throughout the book. The genre of horror focuses on emotions of dread, fear, and tension. Moreover, common elements in the horror genre are fear and shame. In this paper, I argue that there are representations of horror and trauma throughout the book of Esther. Specifically, this paper examines the collective trauma and horror of sexual trafficking experienced by the female collective in the second chapter.

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

 

Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar is native of Jacksonville, Florida. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Division of Religion at Drew University in the area of Hebrew Bible (Biblical Studies and Early Christianity). Ericka is currently working on her dissertation titled “Trafficking Hadassah: An Africana Reading of Collective Trauma, Memory and, Identity in the Book of Esther.”

Header Image: “Esther before Ahasuerus” by Artemisia Gentileschi (c. 1628–1635) [via WikiCommons]

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How to make a ghost: A collaborative approach to finding Dinah

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Abstract: Since October 2017 Lily Clifford and Emma Nagouse have been collaborating to produce a body of artwork based around narratives of rape in the Bible. By focusing on Dinah, Clifford and Nagouse have used their complementary skills and knowledge to create several artworks dealing not only with Dinah’s rape, but cultural responses to Dinah, and rape culture more broadly.

In this presentation, Clifford and Nagouse talk through Clifford’s portfolio of artwork – you can view or download this here.

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

Lily Clifford is an artist and arts facilitator who is currently working towards her MA in Inclusive Art at the University of Brighton. Lily started working with clay in 2008 and studied at University of Sunderland to gain her degree in Glass & Ceramics. Lily makes art about women, religion, and stories – she uses paint, textiles and found objects. Follow Lily on Twitter.

Emma Nagouse is a PhD student at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) researching rape culture in the Bible and contemporary society, focussing on gendered constructions of believability. Emma is an active member of The Shiloh Project and is Chair of The Sheffield Feminist Archive. Follow Emma on Twitter.

Header image: “Dinah, before” by Lily Clifford. Acrylic and cardboard, 2018.

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The Religion and Rape Culture Conference: A Summary

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The first Religion and Rape Culture conference was a huge success. We welcomed over 50 delegates from 6 countries and were treated to 14 fantastic research papers from a range of academics, research students, practitioners, artists, activists, and members of religious groups. The aim of the day was to explore the many intersections between religion and rape culture, and how religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

Click here to see videos of our research talks

The conference opened with a powerful keynote address entitled “Rape by any other name: Cross-examining biblical evidence“ from Professor Cheryl Exum (Emeritus Professor, University of Sheffield). Professor Exum presented delegates with a survey of rapes in the bible, and demonstrated in her talk the ways in which commentators often work overtime to elide this violence. Professor Exum ended her address with a challenge to biblical scholars to make rape a visible issue in the discipline. Professor Exum continues to be an inspiration to staff and students in Biblical Studies, and is responsible for carving out a space for Sheffield as a leading place for feminist biblical interpretation.

After a short break, our first panel convened who explored “Biblical Perspectives” of rape culture discourses. This panel, chaired by Dr Johanna Stiebert, was well received, with thought-provoking papers from a variety of disciplines:

Lily Clifford (Inclusive Arts MA, University of Brighton) & Emma Nagouse (PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield): How to make a ghost: A collaborative approach to finding Dinah

Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar (PhD Candidate, Drew University):  For such a time as this? #UsToo: Representations of sexual trafficking, collective trauma, and horror in the book of Esther

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris (Principal, Leo Baeck College): This may not be a love story: Ruth, rape, and the limits of readings strategies

Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar discussing her research with a delegate.

As well as presenting on this panel, we were thrilled to welcome Lily Clifford from the University of Brighton as an artist in residence for the conference, who crafted creative responses to each of the presentations as they unfolded. We were delighted that this was received so warmly by delegates and our presenters – who were each able to keep their artwork.

Lily working during the conference

Our next panel,  “Theology and Thought” was chaired by Dr Valerie Hobbs and included papers which explored some of the ways in which Christian discourses and ideologies have engaged with rape culture, both historically and in contemporary contexts. These were fantastic papers, and while some of this content was challenging to listen to, they served to bring focus to how important and timely this research is.

Natalie Collins (Gender Justice Specialist, SPARK):  The Evil Sirens: Evangelical Christian culture, pornography and the perpetuation of rape culture

Claire Cunnington (PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield): “My prayers weren’t being answered”: The intersection of religion and recovery from childhood sexual abuse

Rhian Elinor Keyse (PhD Candidate, University of Exeter): “A man cannot in law be convicted of rape upon his own wife”: Custom, Christianity, colonialism, and sexual consent in forced marriage cases, British colonial Africa, 1932–1945

Rhian Elinor Keyse and Lily (conference artist) discussing Lily’s artistic response to Rhian’s research paper

After (a delicious) lunch, we picked things up again with our “Method, Critique and Discourse” panel chaired by Dr Meredith Warren. This was an interdisciplinary panel which explored the various ways rape culture is expressed politically by both oppressors, and those who seek to resist it. This was a fascinating session that inspired a lively panel discussion.

Kathryn Barber (PhD Candidate, University of Cardiff): “Rape is a liberal disease”: An analysis of alternative rape culture perpetuated by far-right extremists online

Dr Rachel Starr (Director of Studies: UG programmes, The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Research): Research as resistance: Survival strategies for researching violence

Professor Daphne Hampson (Associate of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford): Religion as gender politics

Questions being taken by the Method, Critique and Discourse panel
A rapt audience listening to Dr Rachel Starr’s presentation on “Research as resistance: Survival strategies for researching violence”

Our final panel, “Media and Culture” was chaired by Dr Naomi Hetherington and included papers which explored how rape and rape culture discourses are presented in literature and artistic contexts. We couldn’t have hoped for more engaging talks to round off the day’s panel discussions.

Mary Going (PhD Candiate, University of Sheffield): Mother Zion, Daughter Zion, Witch Zion: An exploration of Scott’s Rebecca

Dr Miryam Sivan (Lecturer, University of Haifa): Negotiating the silence: Sexual violence in Israeli Holocaust fiction

Dr Zanne Domoney-Lyttle (Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Glasgow): The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing sexual assault and rape narratives in biblical comics

The Religion and Rape Culture Conference was closed by a fantastic keynote address from Associate Professor Rhiannon Graybill (Rhodes College) entitled “Fuzzy, messy, icky: The edges of consent in biblical rape narratives and rape culture”. Graybill’s research brought feminist literature problematising the notion of consent to bear on biblical stories of sexual violence and rape, as well as the ways in which we as feminists read and respond to those stories. Graybill asked what a serious critique of consent means to a feminist biblical hermeneutic of sexual violence, and in response,  explored how feminists might engage with these texts beyond the position of mourning or recovering. We were thrilled to host Professor Graybill, and her insightful research has continued to be a point of discussion since the conference. We’re so excited to continue to work with Professor Graybill through The Shiloh Project.

After a break, there was a drinks reception where everyone was invited to view our research posters. Authors who were in attendance were invited to speak for one minute about their poster. Topics included: Consenting Adults? Faith formation’s less-than-immaculate conception of consent (Catherine Kennedy, University of Sheffield); Preaching Texts of Horror: How Christian Pastors teach about Dinah, the Levite’s Concubine, Tamar, and Potiphar’s Wife (Dr Valerie Hobbs, University of Sheffield); A Climate of Taboo: Trauma and the graphic novel Blankets (Hugo Ljungbäck, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee); Veils and ventriloquists: How do creative interpretations depict narratives of trauma for those who remain voiceless? (Lily Clifford, University of Brighton); “Life made no sense without a beating”: Religion and rape culture in US Girls’ In a Poem Unlimited (Liam Ball, University of Sheffield), and The girl needs some monster in her man: Rape Culture, cis-male allyship and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ashley Darrow, Manchester Metropolitan University and Emma Nagouse, University of Sheffield).

What kept coming up in discussion was pedagogical questions on how these challenging topics should be taught in educational settings such as universities and colleges, but also in religious settings. It became clear that academics, teachers, practitioners, and activists alike all craved more tools when it comes to how to teach, research, and facilitate discussions around these urgent and important issues. Perhaps a topic for a future conference…? You can see some of the online interaction from the conference by searching for #ShilohConf18 on Twitter.

It was a powerful, energising and galvanising day – and, on a personal note, I was thrilled with the huge amount of interest we received from a cross-section of people from a wide variety of sectors and community groups, and the level of extremely positive and encouraging feedback we received from participants.

We would like to take this opportunity to extend our warmest thanks to WRoCAH for funding this much-needed conference. We look forward to continuing this important work and making the most of the inspiration, networks, and new friends which were made at our first conference.

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