Broken Bodies: Trauma, Ruptures, and Theology

It was once believed that [traumatic] events were uncommon. In 1980, when post-traumatic stress disorder was first included in the diagnostic manual, the American Psychiatric Association described traumatic events as “outside the range of usual human experience.” Sadly, this definition has proved to be inaccurate. Rape, battery, and other forms of sexual and domestic violence are so common a part of women’s lives that they can hardly be described as outside the range of ordinary experience. And in view of the number of people killed in war over the past century, military trauma, too, must be considered a common part of human experience; only the fortunate find it unusual (Herman, 1992: 33).

So opens Judith Herman’s chapter on Terror in her influential book Trauma and Recovery. Writing in 1992, she could hardly have known how prescient her words would be nearly 30 years later. Trauma, it seems, is now a common part of human experience.

As a theologian concerned with human experience, particularly the embodied, material experience, I am aware that we are only just beginning to understand the impact trauma has not only on individual lives, but also on theology. The field of trauma theology is nascent but growing and finding its place somewhere in the intersection of practical and constructive theology. That is to say, trauma theology is interested in the embodied experience of people and in shaping theology that takes account of such experience.

It is from this intersection that my own research into trauma theology began. I was interested in the way in which the experience of trauma causes a rupture. Taking the experience of trauma seriously in theology means contending with the rupture it causes. For the constructive theologian, such a rupture is an ideal place to begin constructing something new. I think of it in terms of an earthquake. Trauma shakes the foundations of our theology; the devasted landscape it leaves behind is the place where we can begin to build fresh theology. Theology that is better able to withstand such a rupture.

Trauma is intimately connected to bodies and memories. The traumatic experience is profoundly individual and yet, almost all traumatic experiences share three things in common:

  1. Trauma causes a rupture in bodily integrity. You do not feel safe.
  2. Trauma causes a rupture in time. This is often seen in the frequent intrusion of nightmares and flashbacks.
  3. Trauma causes a rupture in cognition. You cannot readily articulate what has happened to you.

I wondered what would happen if we read theology through the lens of trauma. The most obvious place where bodies and memories come together, in Christian doctrine, is in the Eucharist. Here we are given a body, we are told it is flesh and blood. We are told to consume it in memory of Jesus. Whilst this is a very familiar activity, it is a ritual full of ambiguity. We often make the connection to the cross and yet I find this odd! The Last Supper happens before the crucifixion so when Jesus says “This is my body” and “Do this in remembrance of me”, he isn’t referring to his dead body, but his living one! So, eschewing the easy answers, I went in search of a traumatic theology of the Eucharist that was not only focused on the cross.

The early church had a wide range of theological understandings of the Eucharist. One of the most common was to understand the Eucharist as a generative act. In fact, these early liturgies drew their reference points from the Incarnation as often as they did from the crucifixion. The transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood was as likely to be paralleled with the experience of Mary at the Annunciation as anything else; something material and physical is transformed into something transcendent and divine.

Mary’s experience at the Annunciation is a traumatic one. Regardless of whether you consider her to agree to her impregnation or not, her body is ruptured to make way for someone else. That she is suddenly pregnant without the preface of intercourse, ruptures the usual timelines of reproduction – a radical discontinuity in the history of humanity. And the event escapes accessibility. Mary is perplexed and confused.

What happens when we read the Eucharist like this, when we understand the celebration of the Eucharist to be a non-identical repetition of the traumatic Annunciation-Incarnation event? It means we have to take human bodies seriously in theology. It means the Eucharist is as intimately associated with the broken female body as it is with a broken male body. We have to reassess what it means to be a priest, what sacrifice looks like, what Real Presence might mean. Trauma ruptures theology and leaves behind it a space for new theological constructions.

It is this theological construction that I undertake in my book Broken Bodies: The Eucharist, Mary, and the Body in Trauma Theology which will be published with SCM Press in November 2018.

I am currently working on an edited volume with Dr Katie Cross (University of Aberdeen) focused on feminist and trauma theologies. Trauma theology is a rare field of theology that is well-represented by women’s voices. Many of these theologians are clearly informed by feminist theology, if not overtly feminist, in their approach to the study of trauma. This isn’t surprising given that the issues of trauma are similar to, and intimately connected with, feminist issues—questions around power, control over the body, bodily integrity, activism, and narration of experience as liberative—to give just a few examples.

We are currently accepting proposals for contributing to the volume. Abstracts are due in 7th September 2018. For more information on how you can get involved, take a look at our website or get in touch with me at karen.o’

Karen O’Donnell is a Research Fellow at Durham University where she spends her time researching digital theology, trauma, and theological anthropology.


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‘Feminism and Trauma Theology’ project

To live in 2018 is to live in a ‘moment’ for feminist issues. Late last year, the #MeToo movement, originally founded by African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, became a viral hashtag when co-opted for use following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal. Through #MeToo, women from various industries, careers, perspectives and social backgrounds began to share their stories of trauma relating to sexual harassment or assault.

What has happened since has been unprecedented. The realisation that we do not live in an equal, post-feminist society has become inescapable. Slowly, it is being realised (albeit not without some resistance) that violence against women is, tragically, a far more pervasive and ordinary occurrence than ever understood.

The #MeToo hashtag is not the only social movement in which women’s trauma is being voiced. Say Her Name seeks to raise awareness for black female victims of police brutality and anti-black violence in the United States. There are ongoing protests by Sisters Uncut, who protest the cutting of services for women and gender-variant domestic violence victims in the UK.

Recently, the Repeal the 8th Campaign has taken place in Ireland, and we have heard stories of suffering related to oppressive reproductive legislation. Movements such as the Dahlia Project seek to care for women who have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM). Everyday Sexism is an intersectional online project, documenting experiences of sexism, harassment and assault.

In these movements, and in this wider moment, there is a turning point. The normalisation of systemic violence against women is being denounced. Those who have committed violent acts are being exposed and shamed in public view. In ways big and small, in politics and in pop culture, the violence women have experienced as a result of power imbalances is being acknowledged. Now, more than ever, a new story is beginning to take shape – one in which women’s experiences of trauma are being articulated in their own voices, and in their own time.

It is because we are on the opening pages of this new story that Karen O’Donnell of Durham University and I (Katie Cross, University of Aberdeen) find it so important to give voice to the many varied experiences of suffering that women face. As such, we are in the process of putting together an edited volume on feminism and trauma theology. The area of trauma theology highlights the ways in which studies in trauma have impacted and reshaped the central questions of the Christian faith. Some notable works in this area include those by Shelly Rambo, Serene Jones, Stephanie Arel, Musa W.Dube and Jennifer Beste.

Notably, all of these thinkers have either been informed by feminist theology, or are overtly feminist in their approaches to the study of trauma. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the issues surrounding trauma are similar to, and intimately connected with, feminist issues – those concerning power in both individual and societal contexts, control over the body and bodily integrity, and the narration of experience as liberative. Even so, trauma theology remains a small and underrepresented area.

We hope that our collection will provide a space in which to voice women’s experiences of suffering, abuse, and trauma from the perspectives of feminism and theology, and that it will speak to the new and unfolding context we find ourselves in.

If you are interested in contributing to the volume and being a part of this project, you can find information about our call for contributions on our website: The deadline for abstracts (of 250 words) is 7th September 2018, and these should be emailed to Karen and I are also happy to answer any questions or queries about potential pieces of writing. We look forward to hearing from you!

Author bio:

Dr Katie Cross is a newly-appointed teaching fellow in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen. Her doctoral work examined trauma and suffering through the lens of the Sunday Assembly’s ‘godless congregations’ in London and Edinburgh.

You can find her on Twitter at @drkatiecross.

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Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan: There is no Freedom until Women are Free

Today’s post is on the long-awaited repeal of the amendment of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which was achieved in the referendum vote this past May.

The author is Clíona Ó Gallchoir, an academic in the School of English of University College Cork, Republic of Ireland. Clíona has expertise in Irish and British 18th and 19th century writing, Irish women’s writing, the writing of Maria Edgeworth, and the figure of the child in 18th century Ireland.

Clíona is also a former volunteer with VSO and has spent two years as a teacher trainer in Eritrea.

Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan: There is no Freedom until Women are Free

by Clíona Ó Gallchoir

 On 25 May 2018, Irish people voted by a significant majority (over 66%) to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, otherwise known as the ‘Eighth Amendment’. This notorious amendment had been inserted in the Constitution in 1983 in order to guarantee the right to life of ‘the unborn’: foetal life at all stages from the moment of conception was described as having equal status with the life of ‘the mother’.

When it became clear that the proposal to repeal the Eighth Amendment had been overwhelmingly endorsed, the reaction among the majority of Irish women was not just one of profound relief, but also of joy and celebration. Although some had counselled that the response to a Yes vote should not be celebratory, in the end the joy of women, many of whom had campaigned on this issue for decades, could not be contained. The decision of the electorate, including 65% of the men who voted, was seen as the final, decisive rejection of a regime in which the control of women had been at the centre of how the Irish state defined itself.

The repeal of the Eighth Amendment was about much more than the decision, finally, to legislate for abortion in Ireland. It was also about an end to a shameful history in which unmarried mothers and children were institutionalized and abused so that a mythical image of Ireland as a country composed of perfect, patriarchal family units could be maintained. The facts of sex and pregnancy outside of marriage were not – in fact, could not be – acknowledged in a state in which adherence to a rigid version of Catholicism was upheld as a key marker of national identity. The inconvenient evidence that life in Ireland did not correspond to this strict ideological pattern therefore had to be hidden, and the Church and State operated in tandem to ensure that this was the case.

Pregnant girls and women were sent either to Mother and Baby Homes or to Magdalene Laundries. Women were often forcibly separated from their children, who were in some cases illegally adopted, either in Ireland or overseas, in transactions that benefitted the religious orders concerned. In other cases, children were, in their turn, institutionalized in orphanages, industrial schools, and sometimes, in a disturbing cycle, subsequently in Magdalene Laundries.

The fate of some of these children was uncovered in 2014 by Catherine Corless, a local historian living in Tuam, County Galway. Her research, originally disputed and ridiculed, found not only a shockingly high mortality rate among the babies and young children in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, but also that the remains of potentially hundreds of children had been discarded in an unmarked mass grave, on a site on which a septic tank was later located. The total figure of bodies in this mass grave is as yet unknown, but a total of 794 children died at the Home and have no recorded place of burial.

This regime of institutionalization and incarceration gradually waned as the century progressed, but the last Magdalene Laundry did not actually shut until 1996. It is not hyperbolic to say that in the twentieth century women and children in Ireland who fell outside of the narrowly defined parameters of social acceptability were subjected to a form of state violence in the service of an ethno-religious identity.

In the most private and intimate ways, women’s bodies were controlled by a medical establishment that was dominated by Catholic teaching. Contraception was banned until 1980 (after which point it continued to be relatively inaccessible). The idea of women limiting their pregnancies or planning their families was so antithetical to the establishment that for decades, women in labour in some hospitals were subjected to the practice of symphysiotomy. This discredited procedure involves the breaking of the pelvic bones in order to facilitate childbirth, because caesarean sections were seen to present too high a risk for subsequent pregnancies, and might therefore be seen as a justification for birth control. There was no concern for the fact that the procedure left many women with lifelong chronic pain. The inclusion of the Eighth Amendment to the constitution in 1983 was therefore not an isolated occurrence, but part of a long history in which Irish women were treated as disposable, as acceptable collateral damage in an atmosphere in which ideology trumped reality.

The constitutional ban on abortion was however in some ways the most extreme form of ideological falsehood, and as the years passed, the gap between reality and ‘pro-life’ rhetoric became more and more difficult to sustain. In 1992, the case of a 14-year-old rape victim, who became the subject of an injunction preventing her from travelling to the UK for an abortion, exposed the full extent of the barbarism inherent in the constitutional ban.

The response of the government at the time was to amend the amendment, giving women a constitutionally-guaranteed right to travel for abortion services, thus formalizing an extraordinary hypocrisy. It is estimated that 3,000-4,000 Irish women access abortion in the UK annually; meanwhile, however, importing and taking an abortion pill in Ireland is currently punishable by a sentence of 14 years imprisonment. The Ryanair flight to London, Liverpool or Manchester, and the illegally-imported packets of pills, taken alone at home in fear of the consequences, are the twenty-first century equivalent of the hiding of ‘fallen women’ inside the high grey walls of institutions.

Is it any wonder that Irish women wept, then sang and cheered when they realized that they no longer had to be the secret that Ireland kept about itself? They also wept for the memory of Savita Halappanavar, whose tragic death in 2012 was caused by the fact that doctors could not terminate her unviable pregnancy for as long as any foetal heartbeat was detected. By the time they realized she had developed sepsis, it was too late to save her. The Yes vote was a belated but necessary atonement for the fact that a woman who had come to Ireland to make her home and start a family had died, cruelly and unnecessarily.

This historically significant result comes at a time in which Ireland is developing a new relationship to its history, and in which some of the buried potential of Irish radicalism is being reclaimed. In contrast to the highly-conservative nature of the Irish state after independence, those involved in the campaign for Irish independence in the early twentieth century were also involved in trade unionism, in educational reform, in campaigns for women’s suffrage, in anti-imperialism more generally, and in campaigns for housing and health. Following independence, the aspirations for a nation and a state that gave a better life to all its citizens dwindled in the face of economic stagnation and political instability. The meaning of Irish independence shrank to a sterile assertion of national distinctiveness understood largely in terms of the identification of Irishness with Catholicism. As we have seen, in order to preserve the image of ‘Catholic Ireland’, women and children who did not fit its image were hidden, silenced and often brutally excluded from society.

But things are changing. In 2016, one of my neighbours in Cork city hoisted a green flag emblazoned with the words ‘The Irish Republic’: this, not the Irish tricolour, was the flag that was flown by the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. Around the corner, in another front garden, the ‘starry plough’ could be seen: this was the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, a republican socialist organization led by James Connolly, who was later executed for his part in the Rising. These flags represented a slightly subversive response to the the fact that the Irish political establishment had decided, initially tentatively, to celebrate the centenary of the Rising, which is traditionally seen as the foundational moment of the independent Irish state.

Since the outbreak of the Northern Ireland conflict (‘The Troubles’) in the late 1960s, celebrations of ‘physical force’ nationalism had become politically toxic, and official commemoration of 1916 was for decades extremely muted. In 2016, however, with the Northern conflict consigned to history, the government decided that it could safely lay claim to the historical tradition of Irish nationalism.

Something happened in 2016, however, that was entirely unexpected. Ordinary people and communities displayed enormous curiosity and enthusiasm for the history of the revolutionary period. Local groups organized lectures, memorial events, plays, parades and celebrations. But following nearly a decade of economic austerity and in the wake of an endless cycle of scandals about abuse and neglect of the vulnerable in church institutions, facilitated by the state, the enthusiasm of Irish citizens was not for the official version of history. The flags that were flown by my neighbours were a reminder that the Ireland that was created after independence was not the only Ireland possible – there were and there are other possible futures.

The sense of an aspiration for these new futures was already evident a year prior to the centenary celebrations, when the Constitution was amended by popular vote to guarantee marriage equality to same-sex couples. A document largely authored by the arch-conservative Eamon De Valera had been rewritten to reflect values of tolerance, equality and respect for diversity. The referendum result in 2015 was undoubtedly indicative of progress in terms of attitudes in Ireland, but it was also part of the movement to reverse the clerical control that had been imposed on Irish society since independence.

The 1937 Constitution was in many ways a concerted move to erase those elements of political thought that did not fit with De Valera’s conservative worldview: this was recognized and resisted by women such as Kathleen Lynn who had been active in the revolutionary period and who campaigned against the adoption of the new constitution. The campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment was thus not just a moving forward, but also a movement back, to reclaim the history of women who had imagined and worked for an Ireland that they hoped would bring equality for all.

For nearly 100 years, the idea of women’s equality in Ireland was abandoned in the interests of a particular version of Irish nationalism.  The fact that there were advanced feminist movements in Ireland in the early twentieth century was either forgotten, or dismissed as trivial. The recovery of that history was however evident in the popular campaigns with slogans in the Irish language: #TáForMná (‘Yes for Women’) trended on Twitter; people wore sweatshirts that proclaimed ‘Stand in Awe of All Mná’ (from Emmet Kirwan’s powerful poem ‘Heartbreak’); and an old slogan resurfaced: ‘Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan’ (‘No Freedom Until Women Are Free’).

The Repeal Campaign can be seen as a social movement that recalls some of the radical feminist and progressive ideas of the past, and that creates a new cohort of women engaging in activism and political campaigning, many of them for the first time. Because of this, although the euphoria of the result will fade, the campaign will resonate into the future.

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Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse

Katie Edwards and David Tombs’ recent article in The Conversation (23 March 2018) draws on the earlier article David Tombs, ‘Crucifixion, State Terror, and Sexual Abuse’, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 53 (Autumn 1999), pp. 89-109, available at Otago University Research Archive.

The article shows how reports of torture in Latin America reveal the role of state terror and prevalence of sexual abuse, and how these might help towards a closer reading of crucifixion.

Earlier this month Professor Linda Woodhead (University of Lancaster) wrote a comment piece for The Telegraph building on the work in The Conversation article. Read Woodhead’s piece here.

On March 31st 2018, CNN included David Tombs’ research in an article on Easter as a ‘#MeToo moment’. Read the CNN piece here.

On 5th April, the original article by Edwards and Tombs was translated into Indonesian.

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#HimToo – why Jesus should be recognised as a victim of sexual violence

Katie Edwards, University of Sheffield and David Tombs

The season of Lent is an invitation to the churches, and to anyone else who wishes to do so, to reflect on the disturbing story of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. It is one of the most widely known and often retold stories in human history. Yet despite being read and remembered so often, there is a part of the story which typically receives little attention and minimal discussion – the stripping of Jesus.

The #MeToo movement has highlighted the prevalence of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other sexual abuses experienced by women and girls in many different forms. It has also exposed the common tendency to deny, dismiss, or minimise the significance and impact of these experiences.

The stripping of Jesus

With this in mind, during this present Lenten period, it seems especially appropriate to recall the stripping of Jesus – and to name it for what it was intended to be: a powerful display of humiliation and gender-based violence, which should be acknowledged as an act of sexual violence and abuse.

The idea that Jesus himself experienced sexual abuse may seem strange or shocking at first, but crucifixion was a “supreme punishment” and the stripping and exposure of victims was not an accidental or incidental element. It was a deliberate action that the Romans used to humiliate and degrade those they wished to punish. It meant that the crucifixion was more than just physical, it was also a devastating emotional and psychological punishment.

The convention in Christian art of covering Christ’s nakedness on the cross with a loincloth is perhaps an understandable response to the intended indignity of Roman crucifixion. But this should not prevent us from recognising that the historical reality would have been very different.

This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record. If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo, and how they promote change in wider society. This could contribute significantly to positive change in many countries, and especially in societies where the majority of people identify as Christian.

Some sceptics might respond that stripping a prisoner might be a form of violence or abuse, but it is misleading to call this “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”. Yet if the purpose was to humiliate the captive and expose him to mockery by others, and if the stripping is done against his will and as a way to shame him in public, then recognising it as a form of sexual violence or sexual abuse seems entirely justified. The way that the stripping of Vercingetorix, King of the Arverni, is depicted in the first episode of the first series of the HBO series Rome is an example of this.

The scene highlights the vulnerability of the naked prisoner who is stripped and exposed in front of the assembled ranks of hostile Roman soldiers. The power and control of Roman power is contrasted with the vulnerability and forced submission of the prisoner. The scene also hints at the possibility of even greater sexualised violence which might be in store.

Combating Stigma

Jesus’ gender is central to readers’ seeming unwillingness to recognise the sexual abuse to which he is subjected. Analysis of the gendering of nakedness by Margaret R. Miles demonstrates that we view male and female nakedness differently. In biblical art in the Christian West, Miles argues that the naked male body represents glorious athleticism representing spiritual as well as physical suffering.

Sexual abuse doesn’t form part of the narrative of masculinity inherent in representations of Jesus. Naked women, however, are immediately identified as sexual objects. Seeing a woman being forcibly stripped, then, might be more recognisable as sexual abuse than the stripping of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. If Christ was a female figure we wouldn’t hesitate to recognise her ordeal as sexual abuse.

Some present day Christians are still reluctant to accept that Jesus was a victim of sexual violence and seem to consider sexual abuse as an exclusively female experience.

We may not want to dwell on the disturbing indignity of crucifixion for the whole year, but it is not right to forget about it completely either. The sexual abuse of Jesus is a missing part of Passion and Easter story retellings. It’s appropriate to recognise Jesus as a victim of sexual violence to address the continuing stigma for those who’ve experienced sexual abuse, especially men.

Lent offers a period in which this stark reality of crucifixion might be recalled and connected to the important questions that movements like #MeToo are raising for the churches and for wider society. Once we acknowledge the sexual abuse of Jesus perhaps we’ll be more willing to acknowledge sexual abuse in our own contexts.

Katie Edwards, Director SIIBS, University of Sheffield and David Tombs, Howard Paterson Chair of Theology and Public Issues

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Interview with Samantha Joo, founder of NGO Platform

Today in the third installment of our occasional series profiling lesser-known NGOs we speak with Samantha Joo about Platform, the organization she founded. Platform is directed particularly at mentoring and empowering women in the Asian and Pacific Islander community. This is a new NGO and can use our full support and networks to get much more widely known. Spread the word!

Tell us about your NGO and your own role!

While I was teaching at Seoul Women’s University, I encountered a number of bright young women, mostly Christians, who felt lost. They wanted to serve God but didn’t know how. They did not want to pursue the limited options they had in the Korean churches – pastor’s wife, choir, women’s Bible study, etc. So I initially encouraged them to study abroad at theological schools in the USA but this option was an unobtainable luxury. And also, upon graduation, many of the students were again limited to academia or ministry, both extremely competitive and definitely not for everyone. This is when I began to think about a center for women to explore unique ways in which they can use their talents to serve God. But then I was too busy with teaching, advising, publishing, and working on another NGO in Korea. I did not have the time, resources, and energy to start a new organization. I just didn’t want more responsibilities at that point in my life.

When I quit everything and removed myself from everything familiar, I began subconsciously to re-evaluate my priorities. What is my ultimate life goal? This was and is still not an easy question to answer. However, I remembered the desire to develop a center to mentor passionate women. Yet taking a nebulous vision and making it into an actual organization is not a straightforward path. I experienced a year of major setbacks and another year of organizing headaches – scrambling for directors and volunteers, discussing potential names, formulating and reformulating the vision/mission statements, and doing the paperwork.

It was not until the third year of starting the NGO that I was able to set up concrete plans. Without pay and putting one’s own money into an organization was kind of scary. No one actually knows what will happen. Yet there was a calm center in the midst of the maelstrom. Maybe because I absolutely believed that there is a real need to invest in people, especially women, to become effective leaders for social justice. I guess it didn’t matter whether I succeeded or not, whether I humiliated myself or not. It was a worthy cause.

So what is our organization all about? Platform’s mission is to mentor women in the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) communities (for now) to become leaders for social justice. Whereas the mission statement of the nonprofit organization is directed at the API community, our first event, the Spring workshop (‘Visualize into Reality: Workshop for Emerging Leaders’ – 21–23 March 2018) is actually open to everyone.

We have seven facilitators and one consultant who have developed and will be leading the workshops. We are at present marketing the event but since the organization is new, it has been challenging to find funding and to get people to register for the workshops. But, again, I believe we will get over this obstacle just as we have been able to surmount other difficulties. And I should say that I am not by nature an optimist but a realist.

The Shiloh Project explores the intersections between, on the one hand, rape culture, and, on the other, religion. On some of our subsidiary projects we work together with third-sector organizations (including NGOs and FBOs). We also want to raise awareness and address and resist rape culture manifestations and gender-based violence directly. We’re interested to hear your answers to the following:

How do you see religion having impact on the setting where you are working – and how do you perceive that impact? Tell us about some of your encounters.

My religious background, Christianity, has direct impact on my work. My Christian values have informed my vision for social justice and the way I live my life. For me, the incarnation of Christ, being present for the marginalized, ultimately embodies the very essence of what it means to be a Christian.

Initially, I wanted to make Platform into a progressive Christian organization. I had looked at many of the programs at theological schools and seminaries. Based on my analysis of these programs, I thought Platform would be a great complement. It would provide practical steps for non-ministerial students to explore the nonprofit sector. But I wanted people from all religious and non- religious backgrounds, too, to be able to participate in the events. The diversity of the participants is important because it will enrich the workshops. Therefore, I decided to make the organization non-affiliated with any religious organization.

We have marketed our event to nonprofit organizations and universities, but I personally have targeted theological schools/seminaries, churches, and other progressive Christian organizations. Nothing concrete has yet developed out of this marketing strategy. However, I intend to form partnerships with theological schools, especially Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO). I have purposefully avoided the more conservative/evangelical schools and organizations. From my perspective, it is better to focus on institutions that may potentially be receptive rather than waste energy on places where our mission would possibly be problematic.

How do you understand ‘rape culture’ and do you think it can be resisted or detoxified? How does the term apply to the setting where you are working?

 I think any environment that does not value women equally with men has the potential to condone rape culture in which women are devalued and objectified, making them potential victims of unwanted sexual advances. The reason why I started the NGO was the failure of churches, especially those in Korea and Korean-American communities, to provide equal opportunities for non-straight men. In valuing only certain men, they allow others to be devalued and, in consequence, mistreated and/or violated. Such denigration applies also to women. I have heard male pastors denigrate women from the pulpit and seen them relegate women to menial tasks. I have also experienced firsthand belittling microaggressions. Rather than become a haven for the marginalized in society, churches have often encouraged and actually become perpetuators of rape culture. Unfortunately, I am aware of too many episodes in which churches have tried to ignore, hide, or outright silence the cries of survivors.

Given the prevalence of this rape culture, I believe we need to resist especially within the church. This may be an impossible task since patriarchy has its foothold in most churches, conservative or progressive. But if we empower more women in roles of leadership whether in politics, churches, or nonprofit organizations, we begin to set a different tone. Women cannot be devalued; women should not be objectified. In our organization, women are the directors and facilitators. They are models for other women but also for men who come to value the leadership of women.

 How does your project encounter or address gender-based violence and inequality?

 Interestingly, four out of our eight facilitators for our Spring workshops are at present working for domestic violence organizations. There are probably more domestic violence organizations in API communities than any other type of organization. This is not, I think, because there is more domestic violence in API communities. Rather, the specific needs of API (regarding language, culture, history, tradition, etc) are not being met by more generic domestic violence organizations. There is an urgent need to address the concerns of API domestic violence survivors. By sharing their own experience in API domestic violence organizations, facilitators will give insight into the hidden world of battered women and children, as well as into the male perpetrators who are also in some ways victims of their culture. Not all participants will be interested in serving this community, but they will definitely be exposed to stories that will likely transform the way in which they understand domestic violence. I know I have been transformed through our initial discussions about the workshops. I have tremendous respect for these facilitators who encounter domestic violence on a daily basis but still have the fortitude to return to work. They are our communities’ heroes.

How could those interested find out more about your NGO? How can people contribute and where will their money go?

People can go to our website ( or our FaceBook page to learn more about our organization. They can make a donation on the website or through our GoFundMe page. We are actually trying to create ten scholarships for low-income students to attend our Spring workshop (March 21-23, 2018).

What kinds of posts would you like to see on The Shiloh Project blog and what kinds of resources that come into our orbit would be of value to you?

 I ultimately believe that stories transform people. Facts, stats, and data are important but they do not impact or change people. They make people more knowledgeable but they do not give access to the inner world of real people. Stories move people; they affect them on a visceral level. So I think personal stories from all around the world would be very valuable.

Read Samantha’s article ‘Counter-Narratives: Rizpah and the “Comfort Women” Statue’ here.

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The Guardian Comment is Free: Jesus, Silence and the Rotherham Abuse Scandal

Shiloh co-lead Katie Edwards has a powerful opinion piece in The Guardian of 21 March 2018. A longer version features in her Lent Talk for BBC Radio 4 (8.45pm) on the same day. A shorter version was repeated in Radio’s 4 Pick of the Day on Sunday 25th March 2018.

This piece gets to the heart of some of the topics central to the Shiloh Project: namely, how biblical texts can be used, usually very selectively – in this case highlighting the silent Jesus of Matthew to the exclusion of the vocal Jesus of John – in modern contexts – in this example Rotherham, which was at this time one of many locations throughout the UK where girls and women were being groomed for sexual abuse and exploitation and silenced when they tried again and again to report their abusers – with toxic effect.

The role of religion and the Bible is complex and ambiguous, as this personal account makes painfully clear.

See the advance review from The Times for details:


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DEADLINE EXTENSION- call for papers

Many of our members (including our conference organising team) have been on strike over the last month as part of the UCU (University and College Union) industrial action over USS pensions. Over 60 universities in the UK are involved. Members of UCU continue to be on action short of a strike.

We are extending the call for papers deadline for our Religion and Rape Culture conference to 5pm March 29th.

See updated call for papers:

We are thrilled to announce our keynote speakers will be Professor Cheryl Exum and
Professor Rhiannon Graybill.

The Shiloh Project is a joint initiative set up by staff from the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland (NZ) researching religion and rape culture. We are proud to announce a one day interdisciplinary conference exploring and showcasing research into the phenomenon of rape culture, both throughout history and within contemporary societies across the globe. In particular, we aim to investigate the complex and at times contentious relationships that exist between rape culture and religion, considering the various ways religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

We are also interested in the multiple social identities that invariably intersect with rape culture, including gender, disabilities, sexuality, race and class. The Shiloh Project specialises in the field of Biblical Studies, but we also strongly encourage proposals relating to rape culture alongside other religious traditions, and issues relating to rape culture more broadly.

This conference is open to researchers at any level of study, and from any discipline. We invite submissions of abstracts no more than 300 words long and a short bio no later than 5pm March 29th. Please indicate whether your submission is for a poster or a presentation. We particularly welcome abstracts on the following topics:

Gender violence and the Bible
Gender, class and rape culture
Visual representations of biblical gender violence
Representations of rape culture in the media and popular culture
Teaching traumatic texts
Methods of reading for resistance and/or liberation
Sexual violence in schools and Higher Education
Religion, rape culture and the gothic/horror genre
Spiritualities and transphobia
Familial relations and the Bible

For more information, or to submit an abstract, email


This event is supported by AHRC and WRoCAH.

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Booking and CFP for Religion and Rape Culture Conference, 6th July 2018

Booking is now open for our Religion and Rape Culture Conference. Places are limited so book your ticket fast!

Please note that we have small travel bursaries to contribute to travel costs for UK students who wish to attend the conference. These bursaries will be awarded on a needs basis, and speakers/those with poster submissions will also be prioritised.

The deadline for submission of proposals for our Religion and Rape Culture Conference is fast approaching! Get your proposals in by 19th March 2018. See the CFP below for more details.

Email for more information.

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