Our tenth interview to mark the 16 Days of Activism is from Emily Colgan.
Emily is a Lecturer in Theology at Trinity Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand. Her research focuses on the relationship between the Bible and contemporary social imaginaries, asking about the degree to which the ideologies contained within biblical texts continue to inform communities in the present. Emily is particularly interested in ecological representations in the Bible, as well as depictions of gender and violence. Emily has written chapters in Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements (Sheffield Phoenix, 2015), The Nature of Things: Rediscovering the Spiritual in God’s Creation (Wipf and Stock, 2016), The Bible and Art: Perspectives from Oceania (Bloomsbury, 2017), and The Oxford Handbook on Bible and Ecology (Oxford University, forthcoming). Most recently, Emily has co-edited a multi-volume work with Caroline Blyth and Katie Edwards entitled Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion (Palgrave, forthcoming).
Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
I’m Emily and I lecture in Biblical Studies and Theology at Trinity College in Auckland, New Zealand. In my research, I am interested in the relationship between the Bible and contemporary social imaginaries, particularly the degree to which the ideologies contained within biblical texts continue to inform communities in the present. My work to date has focused on ecological representations in the Bible, as well as depictions of gender and violence in this text.
What’s your involvement with The Shiloh Project?
I first heard about The Shiloh Project through my friend and colleague, Caroline Blyth. Together with Johanna Stiebert and Katie Edwards, Caroline established this hugely important project, creating an inclusive community which promotes research into the phenomenon of rape culture and religion. I was super keen to be part of this exciting initiative and so enthusiastically signed up as a member. I believe the work of this community extremely urgent and I feel very privileged to be involved.
How does The Shiloh Project relate to your work?
I have long been interested in feminist interpretation of the Bible, but my interest in rape culture, gender violence, and biblical texts really took shape as I wrote my doctoral dissertation. As part of my research I explored the sexual and gendered metaphor of land as woman in Jeremiah, arguing that this text encodes a sexual logic based upon a heterosexual binary which polarizes a masculine, penetrative God and a feminized, emasculated Land. The more I explored the Jeremianic rhetoric of rape, which relates to both women and land, the more I came to realise that this very same rhetoric continues to characterize discourse around women and land in the present day. From here I became acutely interested in the role of the Bible as a foundation upon which contemporary rape-supportive ideologies and belief systems are built.
Since then, I have had the privilege of working with Caroline Blyth and Katie Edwards on a multi-volume work entitled Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion. These books draw together a wide variety of methodological approaches and hermeneutical lenses to critically explore the complex and multifaceted relationships that exist between gender violence and various religious traditions. My own research for this volume focused on rape culture, gender violence, and evangelical Christian self-help literature. Although this was a completely new area of exploration for me, I found it fascinating (and deeply troubling) and would love to do more sustained work in this area.
How do you think The Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to discussion about gender activism today?
Given the horrific levels of gender violence in societies around the world, and the all-pervasive presence of rape cultures that sustain such violence, the task of The Shiloh Project to interrogate and disrupt rape-supportive discourse, particularly in the context of religion, is an incredibly urgent one.
For me, the most important thing about The Shiloh Project is that it is not interested in research for the sake of research; the scholarship of its members is more than just an academic exercise. We live in a world where sexual violence, family violence, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia have become a lived reality for many people. Such violence is often (explicitly or implicitly) endorsed by faith communities and religious traditions. The Shiloh Project is deeply invested in the lived experiences of real human beings, and in standing against gender violence in all its manifestations, this research community endeavours to bring about positive change for those whose lives are adversely impacted by this violence.
What’s next for your work with The Shiloh Project?
As I noted above, I am really keen to continue my research around rape culture, gender violence, and evangelical Christian self-help literature. As someone who was not brought up in an evangelical tradition, I was unaware of how popular this literature is, particularly amongst young Christian women. What concerns me about this literature is its affirmation of traditional gender roles and the potential violence associated with such hierarchical relationality. I am hoping to work on this project with Caroline Blyth, one of the directors of The Shiloh Project. One of my hopes for our research in this area is that it will be accessible to readers beyond the academy – potentially, the same readers who engage with Christian self-help literature. I am so grateful to The Shiloh Project for providing a platform where this might actually be possible.