Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I’m Dr Meredith Warren and I work on early Christian and Jewish literature and culture. I also lead the research theme on Embodied Religion at SIIBS, which explores the ways that religion is expressed on and through the body, bodily performance, and bodily experience. I’m currently working on a book that uses the sense of taste as a lens to view the transformational aspects of food and eating.
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
I’m a member of the Shiloh Project based at the University of Sheffield. I’ve written a blog post on rape and the Book of Revelation, which is a specialism of mine. Katie and I also lead a module in the School of English called Texts of Terror, which is a level 3 class that examines the horrific in the Bible, especially divinely-ordained or divinely-sanctioned violence against women, slaves, and ‘the Other’ broadly defined. I’m particularly committed to not letting the New Testament off the hook for its participation in this trope, since all too often people seem to assume that the New Testament is all about peace and love, ignoring not only the peace and love abundant in the Hebrew Bible but also the very violent aspects of the message of Jesus.
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
For me, the Shiloh Project influences how I teach texts with rape or assault. I’m just finishing up a semester teaching Foundations in Literature: Biblical and Classical Sources, in which an ancient text from Homer or from the Bible or from Ovid is paired with a contemporary text that explores similar themes or characters. These sources are full of sexual assault and other types of violence, and I think the Shiloh Project shows students that pointing these examples out and talking about them and challenging how later authors represent them is something we can do as scholars – we don’t have to ignore these uncomfortable and distressing scenes in literature and we don’t have to accept what they imply about gender.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today?
Again, being able to bring these discussions out into the open is so important in destroying a culture in which it’s shameful to talk about gendered violence. By writing academic pieces, blog posts, lectures, and leading seminars, we’re demonstrating to our colleagues, our students, and to the public that we can and we need to take a close hard look at the texts and ideas that are taken for granted as foundational to our society. The Bible has been used to justify sexual violence and coercion and we can’t ignore that, even if we are under the (in my opinion mistaken) impression that we live in a post-Christian society.
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
I’m particularly interested in challenging scholarly readings of ancient texts as ‘not about rape’ because ‘things were different back then.’ I recently finished a book chapter, for my forthcoming book, on the Persephone myth, in which Hades kidnaps his niece Persephone to rape her. Ovid recounts one version of the myth, and within that there are two accounts of Persephone’s experience, one told by the narrator and one told by Persephone herself. I was shocked when I researched this that some scholars assumed that Persephone’s version, where she explicitly states that she was taken against her will, should be discounted; there was a prevalent assumption in scholarship that Persephone was lying about her experience in order to seem pure. The recognition of how pervasive rape culture is, and how much it has influenced academic readings of ancient texts, has inspired me to go back to Ovid and think through the other divine rapes, which is a project I hope to work on when my current book is finished.