This year, the Shiloh Project celebrates its fifth birthday. It all began back in 2017, when Katie Edwards, Johanna Stiebert, and Caroline Blyth got together to create a resource focusing on the interconnections between rape culture, religion, and the Bible. Armed with only a website and a great deal of enthusiasm, they started to invite contributors – academics, activists, and practitioners – to share their expertise about the religious texts, traditions and institutional structures that play a role in perpetuating and resisting rape cultures. Later that same year, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement was reignited on social media, its viral and worldwide spread testifying to the insidiousness and ubiquity of gender-based violence. #MeToo brought a surge of interest in and participation with the Shiloh Project, as well as kindling an especial urgency to its work and goals.
Since 2017, the Shiloh Project website has grown into a dynamic resource and repository of diverse perspectives and media. To date, there have been over 300 posts, with contributors hailing from diverse locations, including the United Kingdom, Aotearoa New Zealand, Botswana, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea, Bangladesh, the United States and Germany. This international flavour is echoed by the current Shiloh coordinators, who include Johanna Stiebert and Chris Greenough (based in the United Kingdom) and Emily Colgan and Caroline Blyth (in Aotearoa New Zealand).
Despite the miles that separate them, Johanna, Emily, Caroline (aka Caz), and Chris have always found that their work is most fruitful when they meet over Zoom to chat, make plans and share ideas. So, back in 2021 during one of the pandemic lockdowns, they got together and recorded a conversation where they talked about their motivations for being involved in Shiloh and their goals and visions for the project’s future.
This post captures their conversation, which we hope give the Shiloh audience a sense of the project’s journey – past, present, and future. Thanks to everyone who has supported us, written posts for us, and generally cheered us on (and up!) these past five years. Here’s hoping the next five are equally as fruitful for all of us.
Zooming about Shiloh: A Global Conversation
Emily: So Caz, start us off. How did the Shiloh Project begin? Was there anything in particular that sparked your desire to set it up?
Caroline: Shiloh grew out of conversations I had with Katie Edwards back in 2014. We were talking about two cases of widespread sexual violence against teenage girls – one in Aotearoa New Zealand, one in England – that had recently been in the news. The Roast Busters case in Auckland and the sexual exploitation case in Rotherham were similar because, in both instances, no one initially took the victims’ voices seriously. Multiple girls were reporting their sexual assaults to the authorities but they weren’t being believed, or assumptions were made about them (because of their age, gender and class) that led authorities to blame them for their own victimization. Katie and I both felt that this happens far too often, regardless of where we are in the world. Rape victims get blamed and shamed, rape isn’t taken seriously and perpetrators all too easily get away with what they are doing. So, we asked ourselves: what can we do about it? How can we use our work as biblical scholars to challenge public misperceptions about gender-based violence? In our academic research, we often drew attention to the many complex threads connecting religion, gender violence and rape culture. But we typically directed our work towards an academic audience, writing articles and books that probably only like-minded scholars would read. It felt too much like preaching to the choir. So, Katie and I began to plan ways to make our work more public-facing and accessible to a wider audience. A couple of years later, we brought Johanna on board and, early in 2017, she arranged a meeting with colleagues from Sheffield and Leeds who were also researching religion and gender-based violence. After a day of fruitful conversations and brainstorming, the Shiloh Project was born. From that point on, things became much easier, because now we were working as a team – a collective – rather than as individual researchers struggling to make our voices heard. I’m so glad we involved you, Johanna!
Johanna: I’m glad too! Like you and Katie, mounting outrage was a big motivation for my involvement with Shiloh. I’ve studied gender-based violence in biblical texts since researching this topic for my PhD. Previously, however, I focused on Hebrew terminology and biblical texts as ancient documents in their original socio-historical contexts. My perspectives changed dramatically when I moved to Botswana in 1999, because I saw the Bible being used there much more urgently and proactively. In Botswana, the Bible was central to all kinds of conversations, including those around sexuality and sexual violence. It was the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic at that time, with rates of HIV infection and deaths from AIDS at their peak. The Bible was used to open discussions around HIV, its transmission and prevention, and the stigma surrounding it. This became central to my coming to see this ancient text as a text that is alive, relevant and formative in the present. Feminist biblical scholar Musa Dube, my colleague at the University of Botswana, was highly influential too. Her own work demonstrates the gendered dimensions and consequences of the pandemic, as well as how the Bible interfaces with them. What I learned back then has never left me. When I started working with Katie and you, Caz, I recognized that we had this shared goal of making biblical studies relevant to contemporary contexts.
Caroline: Your work in Botswana reminds me of another important factor that’s shaped Shiloh from the outset – its global focus. It was never just going to be a New Zealand and UK-based project. I like to think that our locations – one in the northern hemisphere, one in the southern, as far apart as they can be from each other – symbolize Shiloh’s efforts to encompass everything in between.
Johanna: Shiloh has been consciously and strategically international and multicultural from its inception. That’s because rape culture is a universal phenomenon. Of course, it manifests differently according to particular contexts and intersecting layers of oppression, but it’s a problem all over the world and, therefore, something that can bring international scholars, practitioners and activists together in resisting it.
Caroline: International, multicultural, and contextual – I think we always need to keep these three words at the forefront of our work with Shiloh. We have to keep looking beyond our own locations, identities and experiences.
Chris: That’s very true. When you are working with a subject such as gender-based violence – a subject that has so often been silenced, or is taboo and stigmatized – you always need to be committed to its contextual and intersectional dimensions. You always have to attend to voices from those who are multiply marginalized. I agree that this is key to the work we do with Shiloh.
Before I joined Shiloh as a co-director, I’d always been a supporter. But I had internal questions relating to my own male identity. I spent a long time reflecting, as a gay man, on the possibilities of my involvement: what can I actually do, or how can I be involved in this project, given that, as a man, I am part of this problem? But then, I began to wonder if I could offer some insights into sexual violence against men and LGBTIQ+ people. Men can be oppressors or victims, although their victimhood is often forgotten or left out of conversations around gender-based violence. Previous research has highlighted that male victims, like female victims, experience shame and stigma in multiple forms. Even the topic of male rape is surrounded in taboo, as it is often perceived to threaten dominant ideations of masculinity. Given that one in six men have experienced sexual violence or unwanted sexual attention, there are clearly not enough existing networks where men can discuss their abuse and seek support. When #MeToo became popular in 2017, men also began using the hashtag to disclose and platform their own status as victims, but they were critiqued for hijacking a space that some believed was created only for women.
This is part of the tension I wrestle with a lot when I think of Shiloh. I see it as a space that still has a lot of work to do and a lot of voices to attend to, but it’s a space that has always committed itself to offering a platform for multiple voices and multiple experiences. Sexual violence affects everyone. Toxic masculinity and patriarchy are damaging to women, but also to men, LGBTIQ+ people and so many other marginalized and minoritized groups.
Caroline: I completely agree, Chris. We need to be aware of the different ways people understand and experience gender-based violence, and to respect and make space for this diversity. As directors of Shiloh, we cannot (and ought not) ‘speak for’ all victims of gender-based violence, or assume that our own understandings of this violence can ever capture the multiple ways it impacts victims and survivors. I know that’s something you’re particularly aware of in your own research, Emily.
Emily: Yes, absolutely. During my PhD, I explored ecological interpretations of biblical texts, particularly Hebrew Bible texts. One of the things that became a central theme of my research was the strong connection between the bodies of women and the body of the land, and these bodies as sites of sexual violence. This biblical imagery can have a tangible impact on readers and can become part of the lived experience of communities that engage with biblical texts. The influence of these texts – particularly in relation to sexual violence – is real and ongoing. And this issue needs a lot more critical ‘mic-time’ in both the church and the academy.
I currently teach biblical studies at Trinity Theological College in Auckland, and I have always been keen to incorporate issues of gender and sexual violence into my teaching. At Trinity, our culturally diverse student cohort tends to be fairly conservative, both socially and theologically. Many belong to faith communities that embrace traditional gender roles and hierarchies, which can, in turn, normalize and sustain various forms of gender-based violence. Rates of sexual violence and family violence in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific are extremely high, but for many of our students, discussion around this issue is culturally and theologically tapu (or taboo). This raises some thorny questions about how to talk about it in the classroom. How do I, as a Pākehā, challenge such violence while still being sensitive to my students’ investment in their cultural and theological traditions? To what extent can I invite students to critique the traditional underpinnings of their own cultures, particularly when I do not belong to those cultures? These questions remind me that issues of colonization and marginalization constantly intersect with discourses of gender-based violence. I am conscious of the fact that I always run the risk of ‘colonizing’ my students’ own cultural contexts; at the same time, however, I try to empower them to join me in the quest to scrutinize our own cultural traditions with integrity, and to acknowledge that all of our cultures and communities are, to some extent at least, complicit in sustaining the discourses that enable gender-based violence to flourish.
Johanna: That’s such an important goal – but a really difficult one to achieve! How did you set about making it happen?
Emily: Because most of my students are, theologically, quite conservative, they take the Bible very seriously; it’s not just their ‘course textbook’ but their sacred scripture too. In this context, the Bible can function as a safe point of entry into difficult conversations about gender-based violence: if the Bible talks about it, so can we. It’s similar to what you said, Johanna, about the Bible’s use in Botswana during the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We use the biblical text as a springboard to confront issues that are prevalent in our own communities. And the work of Shiloh equips me with the skills to facilitate these classroom conversations. I really love that Shiloh has a commitment to bring together multiple voices and perspectives on issues of gender-based violence, and is constantly attempting to bridge the gap between the academy and grassroots communities. In particular, I appreciate Shiloh as a forum that wrestles with the issue of gender-based violence in all its forms, while recognizing the nuances of context and holding space for marginalized voices. I see this as a key aim of Shiloh – to start difficult conversations and make them accessible and meaningful to our students, colleagues and wider audiences, whatever their own relationship with the Bible and religion.
Johanna: I agree. In my experience, something meaningful and poignant can sometimes grow from such ‘difficult conversations’, and people can talk about their experiences of rape culture using the Bible as a medium, a sort of ‘common language’.
Chris: My own academic engagement with the Bible has always been an important part of my research, because I recognize it has been and continues to be used to weaponize so many issues around gender and sexuality. I’m interested in the sociological impact of what the Bible does in everyday life. Many people – including believers – have never read the biblical text (or, at least, haven’t read a great deal of it!) but are still aware of the ways it is used to subjugate people on the basis of their gender or sexuality. The Bible has been weaponized to justify hostile theologies and positional statements from religious authorities about women, people in LGBTIQ+ communities and other minoritized groups. And that makes me determined to explore the Bible’s present and future influence in order to undo some of the harm that’s perpetrated in its name.
Caroline: I agree, that’s such an important part of our work in Shiloh, and something we need to keep developing. As you said earlier, Chris, there’s still a lot of voices that we need to give more attention to. Like you, I’m keen to expand our focus on the ways that religious texts and teachings impact people who belong to LGBTIQ+ communities. It’s a topic we’ve covered in some of our Shiloh posts and other projects, but we need to do more. We often focus on the negative side of this conversation – the harm done to queer people by religious institutions and teachings – yet there are some really constructive and restorative projects out there too that we can also raise awareness of. I’m thinking of the brilliant activism of groups like LEGABIBO and The Nature Network, which you’ve written about for the Shiloh blog, Johanna, as well as research by scholars such as Adriaan van Klinken (2019), who writes so evocatively about the Kenyan church as a critical location for queer Kenyan Christian activism and transformation.
I also want to keep encouraging more international contributions. But I’ve noticed that our posts about gender-based violence in the global South often get lower viewing figures than those with a British or North American focus. And that is such a massive shame, because gender violence in the southern hemisphere is surely just as important. Yet it’s often left out of scholarly conversations, as well as wider public discussions, among audiences in the global North.
Johanna: I’ve noticed that trend too: when we’ve posted on topics related to the global South, the number of views is often way down. I think we need to do more to bring attention to that. Call it out. Say to people, ‘Why do you stop reading if you notice that the post is about Kenya or Australia? Get out of your echo chamber!’
Caroline: Yes! Given that Shiloh was always intended to be a site of activism as well as academic discussion, we should be calling attention to this relentless prioritizing of the global North – it’s something I’ve really become so very aware of since moving from Scotland to Aotearoa. And sure, Shiloh also needs to do more to grow our southern hemisphere audiences, but that doesn’t detract from northern disinterest in southern issues. It’s not a zero-sum game! We need to push back at this prioritizing of the global North and challenge its deeply harmful legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy.
Chris: I love that image of us all pushing back! I’ve always seen Shiloh as a site of resistance – against rape culture and gender-based violence, and all the ways that religion might be complicit in perpetuating them. But we should also push back at academic work – including our own – that’s not yet done enough to tackle the various gendered injustices so prevalent in contemporary life. The critical nature of our work involves finding threads that trouble us – we pull on these threads in order to create holes, and that helps us see what has been covered up or obfuscated in our own and others’ work to date.
Johanna: I think that class is another of these holes we can uncover, Chris. It’s a further facet of people’s identity that’s often side-lined, or that people choose to ignore because they don’t see it as relevant to them. Or when it is spoken about, it’s often done from a position of privilege that fails to recognize the massive implications of class on people’s lives, particularly women’s lives. Shiloh needs to step up in terms of its engagement with issues of class, because it is relevant.
Another area I became more attuned to after being asked to review a book by Julie Faith Parker (2017) is childist criticism, which points out how the Bible marginalizes children and children’s perspectives. There is, of course, a lot of work being done (finally!) on the abuse of children, but this topic still needs and deserves much more attention from religious and theological perspectives, particularly given that so much child abuse has been perpetrated within religious communities.
Emily: The impact of religion and rape culture on children and teenagers is definitely something Shiloh needs to keep talking about. Young people can be acutely affected by these issues, especially in religious institutions and communities, where they are typically low in the ‘pecking order’. Their voices are not always listened to and their agency isn’t recognized. This is particularly true in religious communities that endorse discourses of sexual purity and modesty.
Caroline: That’s so true. You and I have both done research on this topic, Emily, focusing on evangelical Christian ideologies of purity and modesty. What I find striking is the way that these ideologies operate to scaffold rape culture. I saw that all too clearly in my study of evangelical teen girl Bibles (Blyth 2021), and you’ve identified it yourself within evangelical ‘self-help’ literature marketed to young women (Colgan 2018). It’s a topic that quite a few of our contributors have covered on the Shiloh blog, but it deserves even more attention.
Emily: It does, and for good reason. One of the things that struck me when I started working on this issue was the overwhelming amount of evangelical ‘self-help’ literature that’s out there, all of it offering advice and guidance on how to be a ‘godly’ woman. But for many Christian women, these books have been hugely influential, often in negative ways. The authors invariably have a strong commitment to hetero-patriarchal ideals, which they support by citing problematic biblical texts, such as Hosea’s controlling relationship with his ‘unfaithful’ wife Gomer (Hosea 1–3). These wildly popular books essentially justify women’s subservience and surrender to male power and authority. They provide the raw material for cultures in which coercive control and sexual violence are normalized, even sacralized.
Johanna: Your mention of Gomer reminds me that women’s sexuality is so often problematized in religious texts and traditions, not to mention in academic work. I’m shocked how regularly academics and academic publications – in passing and without any critical reflection – say damning things about ‘prostitutes’, often drawing on harmful stereotypes about sex workers’ ‘depravity’ or ethical questionability. The casualness of how it’s done is embedded in rape cultures, which socialize us to become inured to horrendous acts of violence against those considered so marginalized that they almost become dehumanized – not ‘one of us’. And this, in turn, makes it easier to blame them for their own victimization – just as Gomer gets blamed for hers – as though they ‘had it coming’, or were ‘asking for it’ due to their ‘immoral’ and high-risk ‘lifestyles’.
Chris: I agree, there is so much work to do around the marginalization of sex workers, and, coming back to what you said earlier, Johanna, this is connected to class too. Sex work is work – it is work carried out by the working classes. It is wrapped up in the machine of the economy, capitalism and class. As people who are committed to activist work with marginalized groups, we have to recognize that we often stand in a place of privilege and that will impact our research and our activism.
Johanna: I’m glad you mentioned activism, Chris, as I’d like us to talk about Shiloh’s activist goals. I spoke earlier about our sense of outrage at various gendered injustices, and the way that it inspires us to use our academic training both actively and for activism. We all bring to this our different approaches. For me, activism often begins with conversations focused on texts I’ve studied, which then draws my attention to gender-based violence, and, from there, onwards to fuller understanding and resistance. I believe in the benefits of grounding action and activism in critical understanding and research.
Chris: I think our role as academics gives us such an important platform as activists. One of the methods I work around is life story narratives – these are powerful accounts of people’s realities, which provide a robust counter-narrative to misplaced and harmful ideologies. Most importantly, we research and teach about issues that are not just speculative, theoretical or abstract, but lived, embodied and that matter to people today. I’ve said it before, but I would love to see the day when my work becomes completely irrelevant because social change has been effected.
Emily: That’s such an important point, Chris. The issues we are working with can tangibly impact the lived experience of people in our communities. Reframing our work as ‘activism’ was a significant shift for me. I’ve always been very conscious of the critique that, as academics, we sit navel-gazing in our ivory towers while contributing little of use to those ‘in the real world’. This shift helped me reconceive my work as a (small) contribution to the fight against rape culture and gender-based violence, and this work/activism extends to the classroom too. Many of the students I work with are training for leadership in Christian communities and, as leaders, their voices will carry authority and the theologies and biblical interpretations they affirm will have real-life implications for the people in their congregations. Part of my duty as an activist–academic is to help students become aware of the issues related to gender-based violence and the role that Christian leaders (often unwittingly) play in perpetuating harmful theologies that enable violence to flourish. But this work is more than just raising awareness. It’s also about equipping students to challenge these harmful theologies themselves, so that their communities are safe and welcoming for people who feel vulnerable and marginalized. Shiloh contributors both inspire me in this work and provide invaluable resources for me to use in the classroom.
Caroline: I’ve always tried to use my writing and my teaching as ways to ‘do’ activism – I want to start conversations and debates, rather than shutting them down. Dialogue is the only way that things can change for the better. So even if my work just gets people thinking, or begins conversations, then that’s a start.
Johanna: Yes, debates and dialogues are so important. Shiloh has kept an activist focus through our efforts to bring different interest groups together and open ourselves to alternative viewpoints we may not have engaged with before.
Chris: Shiloh replaces ‘silo’!
Johanna: Exactly! It’s a work in progress, but we try to foster new collaborations, such as the Shiloh workshop we held in Leeds back in April 2019. Our participants included academics who were researching religion and gender-based violence, as well as community practitioners working for organizations that support people impacted by such violence. It was so inspiring having everyone in the same room, sharing their expertise and learning from each other. The workshop facilitated meaningful conversations and ways of working together towards a common goal.
Emily: Caroline and I hosted a similar Shiloh workshop in Auckland in July 2019. We invited academics, religious leaders and frontline practitioners. One of the things we wanted to address was the fact that there is often a deep and mutual suspicion between secular community organizations and religious institutions. Secular organizations (often rightly!) view religious institutions as enabling and sometimes perpetrating gender-based violence, whereas religious institutions may be wary of secular organizations because they aren’t always familiar with (or respectful of) religious beliefs and practices. For me, one of the best outcomes of the Auckland workshop was that we were able to break down some of those suspicions and foster an open engagement with the important work that everyone in the room was doing.
Caroline: For me, the highlight of that workshop happened during the lunch break. I was chatting to Miriam Sessa, who is the manager at the national office of TOAH-NNEST (Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together). I admitted to her that, after hearing about the vital work being done by practitioners on the ‘front line’, I felt completely humbled and overwhelmed, anxious that Shiloh simply wasn’t doing enough. But Miriam reminded me that no one can do everything in the battle against gender-based violence. It needs to be a team effort, and Shiloh was earning its place on the team by raising awareness of the relationships between gender-based violence and religion. We were bringing something unique to the table that practitioners find valuable. It was really reassuring for me to hear that from her.
Emily: Another positive thing about that Shiloh event was the involvement of three students from the university’s Thursdays in Black group. Thursdays in Black are hugely active on campus, raising awareness of rape culture, offering advice and support to student victims of sexual violence and pressuring our university leaders to do more to tackle campus rape. They are a perfect example of how we can be both practitioners and academics. I really valued these students’ voices in our Shiloh workshop, because students’ perspectives are often missing in academic discussions about rape culture and gender-based violence. And I know it’s been Shiloh’s mission since the outset to include student voices.
Johanna: That’s so important, not least because most university campuses have a big problem with rape and sexual harassment. For all the ‘blah blah blah’ about how progressive, diverse and inclusive we are in higher education, too little the fuck happens when gender-based violence is called out in our midst. We’ve probably all encountered students who tell us they’ve experienced sexual assault or harassment on campus, but when they try to report it, no one takes them seriously, or authorities stonewall them or try to brush it under the carpet. We’ve also likely encountered colleagues who have a ‘bit of a reputation’ with students, yet nothing gets done about it. And we’re complicit in maintaining the silence ourselves, because it’s so entrenched in academic culture that it’s practically become the norm. Shiloh needs to be more outspoken about this too – more proactive in calling out gendered violence within the academy and fostered by the academy.
But like you say, Caz, I, too, often worry I’m not doing enough and feel overwhelmed because the problems are so big. I agree with what Miriam said to you at the Shiloh event: as academics, we can give what we can, even if it feels small and inconsequential, but we always need to remember that it matters. We’re highly trained at conducting research, decoding texts and making complicated things more accessible. It may seem too cerebral, or not practice-based enough, but it can surely still play a role in our activism, sometimes an important one, not to mention being a good use of our work time. If our work is publicly funded, we can and we should make it work for the common good.
Caroline: Totally. We have to serve as critic and conscience of the society we operate in as academics. We have to be public intellectuals, taking our research into the community and listening to community members about issues that have previously been ignored or silenced. And I think that Shiloh helps us achieve this.
Chris: Yes, as activists and public intellectuals, the things we do on a daily basis are emotionally charged activities. We’re not abstract researchers who go into a lab and objectively analyse our data. The work can be emotionally draining, especially when we are dealing with sensitive issues. The reality of gender-based violence sits with us even when we’re not ‘at work’. When we’re in the ‘thick of it’, things can get really difficult, but, in a sense, that’s the fuel to keep going. If it matters and has an impact on us, it will matter to others too.
Emily: I agree, Chris. My teaching in this area is not just an academic exercise – it’s about equipping people (myself included) to live and act (out) in the real world.
Johanna: Students tend to respond well to our activist focus, because it’s often so relevant to their own lives and communities.
Chris: That’s the same with me. I recently taught a course on the Bible in the modern world, and most of the students focused in their assignments on sexual violence, purity culture and/or LGBTIQ+ criticism, because they recognized the impact that these topics have on their everyday lives and the world around them.
Emily: I’ve had a similar experience. I’ll often have an ‘open topic’ class, where students are able to choose what we discuss. Almost without fail, they will choose to focus on sexual violence, purity culture or queer interpretations of difficult biblical texts. They are desperate to engage with academic perspectives in these areas and to take their learning back into their own communities. So I try to teach them the skills and confidence to foster conversations and push back against the silence that often surrounds issues of gender and sexuality in their communities and churches.
Something that I’ve found really helpful in terms of integrating Shiloh into the classroom is the highly accessible and creative ways that we disseminate our discussions of rape culture and religion using a variety of media. We have short ‘bite-size’ blog posts and longer written pieces, as well as poems, interviews, book reviews and art. I think this is a real strength of Shiloh. We’re not ‘dumbing down’ the topic so much as making it easier and less intimidating for students to engage with, all the while encouraging them to make their own research both accessible and creative. We want them to be public intellectuals too.
Johanna: The Shiloh Podcast has been another way we’ve tried to make academic work more accessible. It developed from an earlier podcast called #SheToo, which was commissioned by the Bible Society. Both podcast series feature journalist Rosie Dawson, who is terrific at ‘digging into’ complex ideas and getting researchers to lay out the steps in their arguments clearly and concisely.
Caroline: The Shiloh Podcast has been a fabulous way to engage with scholars whose opinions and faith perspectives are, at times, quite different from our own. I mentioned earlier that one of Shiloh’s goals is to foster these conversations and debates. Mind you, I’m also aware that we – as co-directors of this project – have always had a strong sense of where to draw a line in the sand that we will never, ever cross. We will never be an uncritical platform for religious views that promote or condone intolerance to already vulnerable and minoritized communities. We will never entertain discussions that promote patriarchal ‘values’ or that minimize (or even deny) the insidious damage caused by rape cultures. Dialogue and debate are so important, but we need to know when to say, ‘No. That’s not good enough. Your beliefs and ideologies are actually hurting people’. We won’t give them a platform.
Johanna: Yes, being inclusive does not mean ‘including everyone uncritically, no matter what they believe or say’. But that doesn’t stop us engaging critically with multiple viewpoints, even those (or particularly those) we strongly disagree with, or believe to be deeply harmful. For instance, we need to understand better some of the current outputs by evangelical Christian groups. There are some very powerful voices in these groups who profess to interpret the Bible ‘properly’, or who make claims about ‘what the Bible really says’. They have a lot of financial and political support that gives them a huge platform, and their literature is widely disseminated. As part of the research for my next book project, I’m currently reading some hideous publications, all free online, promoted by the deeply conservative Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I’m trying to unpick the bullshit in these publications, taking the arguments apart to show how screwed up they are. That’s an important thing we can do on Shiloh: to talk back to this toxic nonsense and offer a counter-narrative. Because publications like these can be profoundly damaging to real people’s lives – those who’ve been assaulted, or who have had an abortion, or who identify as LGBTIQ+, or who are in abusive marriages. Mind you, I’m aware that not everyone who reads our Shiloh blogs and publications will agree with us about this.
Caroline: You’re so right. We’ve had our fair share of critics along the way, people who find our work ‘disrespectful’ or ‘unbiblical’, particularly when we’re pointing out the violence inherent in certain religious texts or teachings.
Chris: Sara Ahmed says, ‘when you talk about walls, you come up against walls’ (2017:148). And I’ve experienced that myself. I’ve been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse because of my work on LGBTIQ+ and religious identities. This links exactly to what you said, Caz, about drawing a line in the sand. It’s not about erecting boundaries or gatekeeping, which happens so often in the academy, but it’s about self-preservation against the horrible abuse that we and others face because of the discourses we critique. It’s also about protecting our contributors’ voices. The work we do with Shiloh is ethical – we don’t spotlight abuse for sensationalist purposes or to create controversy. We always ensure that contributors want to share their experiences or stories with us, and hope that, if we create a safe and inclusive space, people will be drawn to it, assured that we’ll treat their stories with respect and care.
Caroline: So, a final question before Zoom fatigue sets in. We’re currently living in a pandemic world, and likely will be for some time to come. With this in mind, is there anything about Shiloh that has become particularly important?
Chris: Collaboration, for sure. Shiloh allows for collaborative working and research – we’re a community committed to fostering conversations and supporting one another. This rubs against the traditional aggressive competitiveness that can be found in the academy. This pandemic has made me realize that working collaboratively is much more fruitful.
Emily: Yes! Collaboration and collegiality is hugely important, particularly at the moment, and pushes back against the traditional academic model, which is based on individual achievement and success. It is so life-giving, as an academic, to be part of a collective that shares, supports, inspires, energizes, encourages and empowers.
Johanna: True collaboration is what it’s about, not about getting an edge over anyone. It’s a beautiful thing.
Caroline: It certainly is. Throughout my time working in higher education, I’ve always been told that collaborations have to be structured around hierarchies. Someone needs to be in charge, and they alone direct the research, the outputs, and the funding. Yet, right from the outset, Shiloh grew out of a small group of academics who just wanted to work together as a team. No agendas, no egos, no hierarchies. And, at the start, no funding either! Over the past four years, Shiloh has grown into a project that’s included hundreds of voices and reached thousands of readers and listeners. There’s a lesson to be learned there about what we can achieve if we don’t follow traditional academic models of research.
Johanna: Isn’t there? Just talking about our work, doing our best, and sharing energizing, exciting and ever-developing conversations – it’s so motivating. We’re back to that idea of dialogue and collaboration – it’s essential.
Caroline: I think it keeps us all going. Particularly at the moment.
Emily: Yep, it’s a lifeline. I really hope we keep going, and getting better at it as we go.
Chris, Johanna, and Caroline: Amen to that.
Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press.
Blyth, C. (2021). Rape culture, purity culture, and coercive control in teen girl Bibles. Abingdon: Routledge. (Routledge Focus: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible.)
Colgan, E. (2018). Let him romance you: Rape culture and gender violence in evangelical Christian self-help literature, in Rape Culture, Gender Violence, and Religion: Christian Perspectives, edited by Caroline Blyth, Emily Colgan, and Katie B. Edwards, 9–26. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gavey, N. (2013). Roast busting and the revival of misogynistic sexual culture. Sexual Politics Now. Available online: http://www.sexualpoliticsnow.org.nz/roast-busting-and-the-revival-of-misogynist-sexual-culture.
Greenough, C. (2020). The Bible and sexual violence against men. Abingdon: Routledge. (Routledge Focus: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible.)
Jay, A. (2014). Independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, 1997–2013. Rotherham: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. Available online: https://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/download/31/independent-inquiry-into-child-sexual-exploitation-in-rotherham-1997—2013.
Parker, J. F. (2017). Valuable and vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Elisha cycle.Brown Judaic Studies.
RespectEd New Zealand. (n.d.). Statistics: Sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand. Available online: https://respected.org.nz/get-involved/statistics/.
UN Women. (2011). Ending violence against women and girls: Evidence, data and knowledge in Pacific Island countries. 2nd ed. Suva: UN Women. Available online: https://www.api-gbv.org/resources/dvfactsheet-pacificislander/.
van Klinken, A. (2019). Kenyan, Christian, queer: Religion, LGBT activism, and arts of resistance in Africa. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.
van Klinken, A., Stiebert, J., Brian, S., & Hudson, F. (2021). Sacred queer stories: Ugandan LGBTQ+ refugee lives and the Bible. Rochester, NY: James Currey.
 We made a transcript of our Zoom conversation, then edited out all the ‘ums’, ”yeahs’, ‘y’knows’, and places we got side-tracked. The Zoom transcript was hilarious to edit. Thanks to our various regional accents, errors abounded. Some of the authors’ favourites included: ‘To be an emo’, ‘Do you want to start men up’, ‘shame trousers’ and ‘I am over you all’ (that last one, coming near the end of a two-hour Zoom conversation, may have been an accurate transcription).
 The term Pākehā is used in Aotearoa to signify a range of political and ethnic identities. It is being used here to refer to inhabitants of New Zealand who are of European descent.
 The Nature Network and LEGABIBO are two groups based in Kenya and Botswana respectively, which offer support to LGBTIQ+ people.
 See also van Klinken, Stiebert, Brian, and Hudson (2021).