16 Days of Activism – Day 4: Sarojini Nadar

On the fourth day of the UN 16 Days of Activism we profile Professor Sarojini Nadar. 

 My name is Sarojini Nadar. I hold the Desmond Tutu Research Chair and am Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Justice at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. The Desmond Tutu Centre seeks to broadly advance research which focuses on the intersections of religious and cultural studies and social justice. Within the 5 thematic areas of focus within the Centre lies a special emphasis on “religion and gender justice.” In this focus area we seek to foster critical research and civic engagement, which actively challenge the intersecting and systemic powers that produce and maintain the marginalisation and oppression of those who identify as female and queer. More specifically, this area of research focus seeks to explore how religion and culture operate with, and through, social institutions to determine and promote gendered discourses, beliefs and practices. This research produces important insights about gender based violence not least of all because religious discourses such as beliefs in male supremacy and female submission, promote gender-based violence.

 I am often taken aback at the dichotomy that people draw between activism and academia in our responses to gender-based violence. I want to be clear – this is a false dichotomy. As I have said elsewhere, my academic passion comes from my embodied experiences not just cerebral analysis.  I have learned that our most authentic academic work emerges when we call deep on our courage, and dare to share our deepest fragility; not as ‘navel gazing’ exhibitionism but because we know that when we share our vulnerabilities it develops solidarities across boundaries of race, religion and class. When we allow our bodies to determine our reflections we produce more profound analysis and this deepens, rather than weakens our theoretical reflections. My path to becoming a professor in the fields of gender and religion and researcher in the field of sexual violence was carved through deep personal reflections on how the futures of women and young girls are determined and shaped by religious and cultural norms, which dictate what, how and when she can make choices about herself.

 So my activism is my academic reflection and vice versa. This is why I often write opinion-editorial pieces which focus on current issues in South Africa, which I am happy to share on this site too.

 In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?

 2019 is the year I finish my book on sexual violence and religion. The topic is as broad as that because this book is over a decade in the making, and I have not been able to narrow it to a single focus. It is so deeply entwined with my own personal journey through a court rape trial and childhood sexual violence, that it has been one of the most challenging things to write…but this is the year that it gets done!

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 3: Jo Sadgrove

Today’s activist is Jo Sadgrove!

 Tell us about yourself.  Who are you and what do you do?

I am Jo and over the past 20 years I have developed a hybrid portfolio of work incorporating both practitioner and scholarly aspects. I seek to facilitate dialogue and transliteration across what are often very distinct ways of thinking, feeling and knowing. I am a Research Fellow in the Centre for Religion and Public Life at Leeds University and I have a job as Research and Policy Advisor at USPG, a 300-year-old Anglican Mission agency working in partnership with local churches around the world. With colleagues, we connect our overseas partners to global policy makers to ensure that their voices are represented in conversations about faith and community development.

My interest in questions of gender, faith and power emerged out of my upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican priest in a church which did not ordain women until 1994. My parents were passionate advocates for women’s ordination, and I was always aware that this was an important issue, but that didn’t alter the fact that I grew up in a church in which only men possessed ritual power. Looking back, it was probably exposure to the Church of England inhabiting itstheological colleges, churches, cathedrals and the strange semi-public spaces of vicarages and deaneries – that fostered my ethnographic interests. You live on the boundary between public and private when you grow up in a vicarage and there is a very permeable membrane between the family and the wider community.

When I was 18 I went to Uganda and spent time living amongst different communities of women. The contexts were diverse, ranging from the staff quarters of a large urban hotel to remote rural Roman Catholic convents. These intimate domestic experiences brought me face-to-face with starkly gendered issues of power, labour, economics, mobility, pregnancy and child-rearing, violence, embodiment and HIV. They also shot through any emergent assumptions I was developing about the ways that women can and do have agency within different patriarchal power structures. I learned more about western patriarchies and the ways that they constitute women’s bodies and imaginations refracted through the teachings of Ugandan women than I ever did in the context of my British education. These experiences radicalised my thinking, and I remain focussed on the ways that different worldviews be they ‘cultural’, ‘religious’, biomedical, rights-based both operate as entirely coherent epistemic totalities that need to be understood on their own terms,and intersect with and antagonise each other. It is in such antagonisms that the underpinning assumptions of different worldviews reveal themselves.

Living in Ugandan communities in the 1990s when many were dying of HIV exposed to me the high costs of the misunderstandings between (western) biomedical approaches and the ethos of Ganda community life. The former is premised, amongst other things, on economically independent atomised individuals who perform particular types of health-seeking behaviour. The ethos of Ganda community life is underpinned by social interconnections and respectability, which position men and women differently and can heavily disadvantage women in the negotiation of their own protection from HIV.

My doctorate analysed sexual and religious youth identities in a Pentecostal community in Kampala in the context of the HIV pandemic. I then went on to work on debates about homosexuality in different parts of the Anglican Communion. This project incorporated a period of time working with Gerald West at the Ujamaa Centre which afforded me my first experience of Contextual Bible Study work, something of which I am only now beginning to understand the importance and value. Eventually I left full-time academia in a desire to work more closely with local communities, the context in which I find myself doing my best learning and thinking, and I got a job undertakingresearch with USPG.

In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?  

My work with USPG bridges the worlds of research and policy. With colleagues in the UK and South Africa I have recently engaged in a piece of research to map and analyze the Anglican Church in Southern Africa’s (ACSA) responses to sexual and gender-based violence, in particular following the death of Anene Booysen in 2013. The next year will see us disseminating this work alongside our international partners to a variety of different audiences, beginning with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March.

On 2nd February 2013, 17-year-old Anene Booysen was gang raped and disemboweled in the small town of Bredasdorp, Western Cape, South Africa. Anene was found by a security guard at a construction site near to her home and she later died in hospital from her injuries. This brutal rape and murder horrified the country and re-focused the attention of leaders as to the catastrophic consequences of violence for women and girls in South Africa. At the time of the murder, ACSA’s development arm Hope Africa and staff in False Bay Diocese (in which Bredasdorp is situated)were engaging in community-based work around gender justice. Hope Africa was also part of theinternational We Will Speak Out coalition of Christian-based NGOs, churches and organizations against gender-based violence. The murder of Anene generated a number of responses on the part of the Anglican Church engaging different constituent groups.  Survivors of rape and sexual violence were brought together for counselling, peer support and to speak out about their experiences to raise national and international awareness. A number of Christian students at Cape Town’s universities have been involved in Contextual Bible Studies engaging questions of gender using the Tamar Campaign resource. A series of masculinity workshops have engaged men in the Western Cape to think about their own experiences of violence in childhood and reflect on the ways that patterns of violence have been replicated in their own lives, in the lives of their communities and in the churches.

The experiences of those engaged in this work, have revealed a number of things to me about where and how the church both facilitates and mitigates gender parity and abuses of power. When we (and development practitioners) talk about working with ‘the church’ and its leaders we need to think critically about where we locate and identify them. We need to incorporate into our understandings the many different spaces in which groups experience themselves as members of the church and through which ‘the church’ looks and feels very different. The space of Sunday worship, we heard,is a context in which it is very rare to hear anyone talking about gender-based violence, despite the fact that congregations are dealing with it daily. Due to contextual social pressures, parish priests are frequently unwilling to open up conversations that might alienate them from congregants and in turn jeopardize their stipends. On the other hand those who have experienced the masculinities workshops perceive the church to be offering unique homosocial spaces in which men can think and talk about their experiences in ways that are inconceivable in any of the other socialenvironments in which they find themselves. The church here has offered something unique and valuable – a reflective space in which to talk about the violence of apartheid, the violence of childhood and how that violence had, for some, been carried into adult relationships and parenting. Wellness groups for women offer a space of psychosocial support in which women can share the troubles and threats that they face daily, not just in relation to themselves, but also those of the children within their communities. Contextual Bible Study groups using the story of Tamar have opened up discussions between male and female students at local universities as to the complexities of negotiating the differing gender norms of ‘culture’, the Bible and the rights-based constitution. These Bible studies have enabled male and female students to critique the church as lagging behind society, to evaluate the challenges and opportunities of western rights based frameworks and to question the nature of ‘cultural’ authority as embodied by the elders ‘back home’.

There are no easy analyses here and no coherent narratives. The intersections of ‘Biblical’, ‘cultural’ and rightsbased norms for gender in South Africa, as everywhere else, are highly complex and varied – mutually reinforcing in certain spaces and highly antagonistic in others. I see the same contests in related work that I am doing within the Church of England around institutional power and sexuality. Across the generations people are struggling with shifting patterns of authority, processes of individuation and the implications for gender norms and the socialization of men and women. I see my own challenge and role in this work as dual and somewhat contradictory; to listen to and amplify the voices that are working hard to redeem the church as irredeemably patriarchal at the same time as broadcasting ever more loudly the critique of all institutions that use their power to marginalize and stratify. We need to remain vigilant and recognize the violent patriarchal biases in the cultural, social and institutional worlds which we inhabit, whilst exploring how norms can be challenged and faith groups can open up distinct spaces of solidarity in which hegemonic gendered worldviews can be resisted.

All this work aside, I actually feel that the most important thing I will continue to do is engage conversations with men and women about gender and power in the home, at the school gate, in the pub, in interactions with colleagues and students and in all of the social contexts in which I find myself. I have benefitted immeasurably from a powerhouse of older female mentors who have gently challenged and steered me through and around my own blind spots. They have helped me to recognize what I might be negotiating as a woman and as a mother and offered me different ways of thinking about what it is to be a feminist in such a challenging set of institutional structures – the church, the university, motherhood. I am supremely grateful to the women whom I meet from around the world who have spent their lives challenging unjust structures and taught me much about how to use my privilege to do my part.

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16 Days of Activism – Day 3: Anna Rowlands

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m Anna Rowlands and I am an academic based at Durham University, UK. I work in the area of Political Theology and have been involved for the last ten years in researching refugee policy and forced migrant experiences. I got involved with this following a life-changing experience volunteering at an immigration ‘reception’ centre near where I was living (at that time) in the South East of England. I was volunteering in a personal capacity, helping with chapel services, visitingdetainees and seeking to offer some human contact with the local community. I was deeply affected by this experience and as a result became involved in grassroots community organizing, working eventually alongside the 2010 coalition government seeking an end to the detention of children and families for immigration purposes. This was a – not altogether successful – experience of learning how to bring together my academic interests in theological ethics, activism and public policy work. Nonetheless, what I saw and heard convinced me that migration is, and will continue to be, one of the key social realities and challenges facing our generation.

Over the course of the last decade immigration has become a massively politicized issue in Europe and North America and new conflicts have caused massive displacement of peoples. Religion, religious belief, and faith-based humanitarian action have become central to the ‘story’ of contemporary migration, as well as to the increasingly political ‘story’ we tell ourselves about migration and the nation-state. I am currently pursuing two main projects addressing questions of religion and forced migration the first is a 4 year AHRC/ERSC funded project that we have called ‘Refugee Hosts’ ( We are looking at conflict displacement from Syria into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and the role of local communities in refugee ‘hosting’. Often this hosting can involve previous generations of refugees hosting a new generation of refugees. Our Principal Investigator (lead researcher) for the project Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has written widely on the gender-based challenges facing refugees, and our project administrator is pursuing groundbreaking research on the experience of LBGT refugees. We have a great project blog on our website if you want to read more, and also some incredibly powerful poetry written by our poet in residence Yousif M. Qasmiyeh.

Credit: Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh

My second main project is UK-based and is a partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service. I’m investigating the experience of asylum seekers in the UK who face destitution, some of whom have also experienced immigration detention as part of their claims process. I’ve interviewed around 30 people who work for and are part of JRS’s day centre for people living in destitution. We’ve talked about the human ‘goods’ (public, private, common) that those seeking asylum see as most important and the ways in which systems either support or frustrate the pursuit of these goods. I asked no formal questions about religion or faith in the interviews, however, all but one interviewee mentioned religion as a key source of resilience and meaning that had sustained them during their asylum process. For many interviewees faith had been tested, changed, found anew, lost and refound. Above all interviewees told me about the ways that their faith traditions offered them texts and narratives that spoke directly to experiences of violence and trauma. The most commonly cited text was Jeremiah 29: as one interview said, echoing many others who cited the same passage, ‘God has a plan for our welfare, a good plan, but it is a plan with unexpected ends.’ Others noted that they were drawn to the Psalms, that they felt they had walked through the valley of death, seen what evil looked like but also known that the presence of God was real for them in this most violent of spaces. The resilience of religious belief itself was a key finding. The interviews had striking echoes of the writing of feminist and self-described indecenttheologian Marcella Althaus Reid who noted in response to her own forced migration experience that she had come to find reading the Psalms as akin to reading ‘letters from our mothers.’ The interviews have also highlighted the extent to which asylum destitution is a profoundly gendered experience, with many women subjected to sexual violence and coercion in order to survivematerially. Women also report the disturbing and difficult ‘choices’ they find themselves making in order to feel more secure whilst living on the streets and sleeping on night buses, attempting to minimise the risk of sexual violence. This work will lead to the publication of a public report on the impact of destitution on the freedom those seeking asylum have to pursue human ‘goods’.

These experiences of moving between research, activism and policy have proved – perhaps inevitably – messy, non-linear and even at times tense processes. But I remain convinced of their necessary co-belonging.

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UN 16 Days of Activism – Day 1: Professor David J.A. Clines

Activism comes in many guises. Today’s activist is Professor David J. A. Clines. David is one of the giants of biblical studies. He is one of the foremost scholars of the study of Biblical Hebrew, Greek and Latin, and is thoroughly adept in very many of the approaches to biblical criticism, as well as stunningly knowledgeable about the long history of biblical interpretation. Again and again, David has found new, innovative and sometimes provocative ways to shed light on biblical texts. His voice is singular and significant – in biblical scholarship and well beyond, for all willing to think critically and responsibly about the texts of the Bible and the contexts in which these texts emerged and exerted influence. David has also been a mentor to many scholars and students, which includes several members of the Shiloh Project. 

1. I am David Clines and am still Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, despite retirement 15 years ago. I am an Australian, who left home for further study in Cambridge, after completing my first degree in Sydney. I have taught in Sheffield for all of my career. My research focus throughout has been on the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), its language, interpretation and especially its ideological commitments (which are often obscured or unacknowledged).

My Shiloh-type interests include: many papers aimed at uncovering the (mostly unnoticed) masculinity of the Bible (e.g. ‘The Scandal of a Male Bible’, The Ethel M. Wood Lecture for 2015, available here), and, recently, my publications profiling violence in the Hebrew Bible. My linguistic study reveals that there are, on average, 7 instances of or references to violence on every page of the Hebrew Bible. I maintain that this includes references to  ‘marriage’ (because marriage strikes me as always an act of violence in the ancient cultures reflected in biblical texts) and ‘circumcision’ (which I regard as constituting male genital mutilation).

2. My main future contribution to the aims of the Shiloh Project will be in my capacity as director of Sheffield Phoenix Press: SPP will publish both monographs and collections of essays by numerous people involved in this important project.

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What’s Rape Culture Got to Do with the Book of Ruth?

Today’s post is by Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, Principal of Leo Baeck College in London, where she also lectures in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), with a particular interest in the Megillot (the Scrolls, which comprise the books of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther). The book of Ruth is the second of the Megillot and widely celebrated as a women’s book and pastoral idyll. But how apt is this characterisation?

What does the book of Ruth have to do with rape culture? Surely the book of Ruth is little more than a rural idyll, a romantic novella, the slightest of short stories. Everyone in the story seems so kind to each other. It’s the stuff of rather old fashioned Hollywood films. [At least ones from 1961. You can watch the whole film, The Story of Ruth here.]

What could any of that have to do with rape?

Yet Wil Gafney writes about the book of Ruth precisely in the context of rape, where she points to the use of the Hebrew root n.ś.’ in Ruth 1:4. Reading this root in relation to its usage in Judges 21:23, Gafney writes that n.ś.’ should be translated in both of these situations as ‘rape marriage’. She also argues that Ruth’s relationship with Naomi amounts to ‘sexploitation’. Naomi, as a now childless and older widow, exploits Ruth’s youthful, fertile body alongside sexual stereotypes about foreign (Moabite) women in order to ensure fertility for Naomi’s clan and secure Naomi’s own wellbeing. Ruth is suffering from a version of Stockholm Syndrome, so enamored of her mother-in-law and without anywhere else to turn, that she is easy prey for Naomi. Ruth is a sexually exploited, trafficked woman, whose story has been dressed up as a romance by the majority (Israelite) culture, who benefit from her treatment.[1]

The first time I read Gafney’s article, I was stunned. How could this charming little story, which I’ve read for years both as part of my sacred scriptures and of the annual observance of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, be the same story that Gafney was describing? How had I missed these undertones to the story? Like Molly Ringwald recently commenting on watching The Breakfast Club with her daughter, I wondered how I could ever read this text alongside my own nearly teenage daughter again. What messages would I be imparting to her, let alone my students?

For years, I have taught the book of Ruth both as a message about hesed, the traditional way in which the story has been read in Jewish communities, and more excitingly, I thought, as a straight ally to the LGBTQi community, as a story that celebrates a positive role model of love between women in the Hebrew Bible. For years I have given out Rebecca Alpert’s and Celena Duncan’s work on lesbian and bisexual readings (respectively) of Ruth as required reading for my students training for the progressive rabbinate alongside an article by Hugh Pyper, which posits a homosexual Boaz.[2] All three have become firm favourites among my generally liberal-leaning trainee rabbis.

These articles, the stories they uncover in the text, were the ones I wanted to tell, to pass on to my children, my students, and my community. We are not the first humans in history to have found models of family life that fall outside the bounds of the nuclear family; why couldn’t Ruth’s story be one about a polyamorous family or a lesbian couple and their close gay male friend building a family together? In a time when liberal religious communities are working hard to be inclusive, that’s the story I’ve wanted to share.

But Gafney’s article unsettled me and, not only me, but my students as well. One student went so far as to suggest that Gafney should be ashamed of herself for writing her article. Largely my students have been highly resistant to Gafney’s reading, refusing to believe that n.ś.’ might actually mean ‘rape marriage’.

Yet not one of my students has ever turned up for class having done the philological work required to refute Gafney’s argument (which they are all more than capable of doing). They have returned time and again to Ruth’s declaration of commitment to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17 as proof that the story depicts a relationship of mutual love, without ever asking themselves whether this passage is a dialogue or a monologue. They simply have not wanted to believe the possibilities that Gafney’s reading opens up.

Much of Gafney’s argument centres on questions of consent, beginning with her translation of the root n.ś.’, which has many meanings. But it’s only rarely used in relation to marriage. Aside from Ruth, the only other examples of n.ś.’ relating to marriage in the Hebrew Bible are in Judges, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles.

The passage in Judges describes an act of abduction – the unmarried men of the tribe of Benjamin are instructed to go to a festival in Shiloh and when the women come out dancing, they are told to capture a woman and forcibly carry her off to marry. Rape-marriage seems like an accurate description of what is happening here. In Ezra and Nehemiah the root refers disparagingly to foreign women exclusively, but says nothing about whether the women were forced into marriage. Ezra and Nehemiah use the root pejoratively, but that doesn’t necessarily equal rape marriage. In Chronicles the root neither indicates rape nor does it seem pejorative. The linguistic evidence, therefore, for defining n.ś.’ as ‘rape marriage’ is mixed.

From a narrative perspective, Ruth 1: 4 is such a slight verse that there’s little to glean from it. In v. 3 Naomi’s husband dies and she is left with her two sons. In v. 4 the sons are married to Moabite women and remain in Moab for some ten years. In v. 6 both sons die and we learn only that Naomi is left without either sons or husband. The matter of whether Ruth or, indeed, Orpah consents to marriage with Machlon or Chilion is of no interest whatsoever in the Bible.

So does n.ś.’ mean rape marriage in Ruth 1:4 or not? Can we meaningfully judge whether Ruth is coerced into her marriage with Machlon? From the linguistic and narratalogical viewpoint, I think that at best we can say maybe, but the evidence is slight.

What about other issues of consent in the book of Ruth? Does Ruth have a meaningful choice about staying with Naomi when she returns to Bethlehem? Ruth’s speech in Ruth 1: 16-17 is evocative for many readers, but does it reflect an actual choice on Ruth’s part? For instance, does Ruth actually have a ‘mother’s home’ Ruth 1:8 to which to return? Does Ruth love Naomi and, if so, is that love reciprocated?

Each year I ask my students if the book of Ruth passes the Bechdel Test (originally for films). The rules of the Bechdel Test are as follows: ‘(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.’  This test helps frame our discussion of Ruth and Naomi’s relationship with each other, particularly around the matter of reciprocity.

Looking at Ruth 1: 8-19, in Ruth 1:8-9 Naomi addresses both Ruth and Orpah. In v.10 Ruth and Orpah reply, followed by Naomi’s response in vv.11-13. But Naomi speaks of husbands, sons, and marriage (all in a strictly patriarchal, heteronormative fashion), thus failing to pass the Bechdel test. In v.15 Naomi, experiencing that Ruth continues to cling to her, simply encourages Ruth to return home. In vv.16-17 Ruth commits herself very vocally to remaining with Naomi. In vv.15-17 we find no mention of husbands, sons, or marriage, but can these verses really be seen outside the context of vv.8-14?

More tellingly, we also find no verbal reply from Naomi to Ruth’s speech. Verse 19 simply states that Ruth and Naomi went to Bethlehem together. Naomi’s silence following Ruth’s speech seems to imply that she consents to Ruth accompanying her, but it tells us nothing about whether she reciprocates Ruth’s feelings. The Bechdel Test was designed to assess whether female film characters have an independent life outside of their relationship to male characters. In asking whether Ruth loves Naomi and whether Naomi reciprocates, part of what we are asking is whether Ruth and Naomi are capable of having a relationship of any sort outside of the patriarchal and heteronormative society in which the story is set. Naomi’s silence in v. 19 is a yawning gap in the text, but we must at least consider that Naomi does not reciprocate Ruth’s feelings.

If that is the case, what are Naomi’s motivations in acquiescing to Ruth’s desire to return with her? Does Naomi prey on Ruth’s vulnerabilities to gain access to fertility, and hence, status for herself? Is Naomi trapped, too, by the constraints of a patriarchal society? Can she both genuinely care for Ruth and at the same time be guilty of exploiting Ruth’s fertility? What would that mean for Ruth’s consent? How much of Naomi’s motivations would Ruth know or fully understand? What could consent mean for either Ruth or Naomi in a situation where they are both so potentially restricted in their choices that choice has little meaning?

The text of the book of Ruth is concise. The questions I have asked are not easily answered, because the text provides us precious few clues to determine the motivation of the characters. We must infer much and what we infer will undoubtedly at least in part stem from the perspectives we bring with us as readers.

I have wanted Ruth to be a role model for the acceptance of difference in Jewish communities, because that is a cause close to my heart and my theology. Equally, I have no personal or direct experience of sex trafficking. I am conscious, therefore, that my reading of Ruth has been shaped by my own theological imperatives.

My discomfort with the idea of Ruth being a story of sexploitation and human trafficking is not because these themes are absent from Ruth, but because they do not fit the story that I have wanted to tell. Equally, these themes are not such an obvious or straightforward read from the text. They are present in the questions I have been asking and rely on the answers we give, which depend to some large extent on our own imaginations.

The meaning of n.ś.’ is not as clear cut as Gafney would have us believe, but nor is her reading impossible. The exact nature of the relationship between Ruth and Naomi is not easy to pin down, but instead multi-layered, intersectional, and ambiguous. Rather than either/or, it may and/and – both affection and abuse and both limited by the nature of biblical circumstances.

[1] Gafney, Wil 2009 ‘Mother Knows Best: Messianic Surrogacy and Sexploitation in Ruth’, in Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Tina Pippin (eds), Atlanta: SBL, pp. 23-36.

[2] Alpert, Rebecca 1996 ‘Finding our Past: A Lesbian Interpretation of the Book of Ruth’, in Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story, Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer (eds), New York: Ballantine Books, pp. 91-96.

Ducan, Celena M. 2000 ‘The Book of Ruth: On Boundaries, Love, and Truth’, in Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible, Robert E. Goss and Mona West (eds), Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, pp. 92-102.

Pyper, Hugh 2013 ‘Boaz Reawakened: Modelling Masculinity in the Book of Ruth’, in Interested Readers: Essays on the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David J. A. Clines, James K. Aitken, Jeremy M. S. Clines, and Christl M. Maier (eds), Atlanta: SBL, pp. 445-458.

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The Shiloh Project: An Update

With the highly successful Shiloh Conference not long behind us, now seems a good time to reflect on the Shiloh Project’s activities and to celebrate how much has been achieved.

The Shiloh Project was conceived at a research day hosted by the Centre for Religion and Public Life of the University of Leeds on 13 January 2017. This was a small gathering attended by Emma Nagouse, Valerie Hobbs, Katie Edwards, Johanna Stiebert, Jessica Keady, Caroline Blyth and Nechama Hadari. A few months later the Project was launched officially and since then it has grown and flourished.

One focus of the Project is its lively blog and Twitter activity. With in the range of 80 contributions to date, the blog is a hub for exploring the intersections between rape culture, religion and the Bible. While contributions on the Bible authored by academics predominate, there are also pieces on how lived religion has impact on matters of contemporary concern and relevance (such as on access to women’s health care in the USA, or on the referendum vote in Ireland), as well as on lesser-known NGOs tackling different forms of gender-based violence (such as in the form of human trafficking, or harming women of Asian and Pacific Islander communities, vulnerable children in Honduras or women in forced marriages). Some contributions are in the form of interviews or poems or visual works of art. The blog is a dynamic resource and repository of diverse perspectives and media and we look forward to receiving and profiling many more voices and perspectives and genres.

Another outlet for the Shiloh Project has taken the form of public lectures, which were presented in all of the UK, Botswana, New Zealand and Germany.

Moreover, there have been publications, notably a three-volume series focused on rape culture and religion exploring intersections from all of international, Christian and biblical perspectives. The volumes were edited by Caroline Blyth, Emily Colgan and Katie Edwards. Next, we are hoping to announce a monograph series dedicated to this important topic (look out for announcements here!)

The Shiloh Project is also at the centre of several successful grant applications, which will see projects emerging and doing good work in Botswana and Lesotho (funded by the AHRC), Yorkshire (funded by the White Rose Consortium) and Ghana (funded by the Worldwide Universities Network). More applications are in the pipeline and the Shiloh Project will also be working with Saima Afzal on a project just funded by Lush charities (watch this space for more information!)

If that wasn’t enough The Shiloh Project research has also been profiled in international media this year, including work by David Tombs on #HimToo Jesus, Jayme Reaves and David Tombs on Jesus and sexual violence, Katie Edwards on Jesus, silence and sexual abuse and Emma Nagouse on the Bible and rape culture. We’re in discussions to do more radio and TV work so check the blog if you want to stay updated on our progress!

The Shiloh research day and conference organised by Emma Nagouse in Sheffield on 5–6 July were a tremendous success. The conference venue was filled to capacity and the quality and diversity of presentations was notable. We will be profiling the work of several contributors in the weeks to come (again: watch this space!)

All of this was only possible through collaboration. The Shiloh Project is so vibrant and so dynamic because very many people from all over have shared their energies, expertise, passion, and guidance. Thank you to all who have been and who continue to be a part of this! We couldn’t do this without all of you and we look forward to welcoming more contributors, readers, participants, and facilitators.

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Germaine Greer: from feminist firebrand to professional troll

Former celebrated feminist turned public polemicist Germaine Greer is no stranger to controversy. In fact, the author seems to court the headlines, especially when promoting a forthcoming book.

You may remember when Greer made transphobic comments in the run-up to the publication of her 1999 book The Whole Woman. She’s reiterated these opinions many times in the years since. And then in 2003, she claimed she’d be accused of paedophilia while promoting The Beautiful Boy – her lavishly illustrated book about “why boys have always been the world’s pin-ups”.

Now Greer is preparing for the publication of her latest book, On Rape – with a series of troubling observations on #MeToo and sexual (non-)violence.

Professional provocateur?

Greer started her promotional campaign earlier this year when she opined that the rise in representations of sexual violence on TV was due to women’s enjoyment of watching other women being sexually assaulted and that women fantasised about being subjected to sexual violence.

She followed this up with comments on the #MeToo movement, which include her claims that women raped by Harvey Weinstein were “career rapees” who “spread their legs” to get movie roles.

In an interview with Fairfax Media in Australia, Greer said:

What makes it different is when the man has economic power, as Harvey Weinstein has … if you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.

Courting controversy

Greer’s comments to promote the publication of On Rape, then, are merely the latest in a long line of dubious claims from the seemingly publicity hungry academic.

Speaking at the 2018 Hay literary festival, Greer attracted criticism by calling for more lenient sentences for rapists. Despite contemporary movements lobbying for a long overdue overhaul of how survivors of rape can access justice, Greer suggests that 200 hours of community service – or an “R” tattoo on the hand, arm or cheek – may be more appropriate punishment for rapists.

While acknowledging the considerable obstacles rape survivors face in navigating the criminal justice system (the consequences of which are abysmal conviction rates of rapists which, arguably, contribute to more rapes), Greer suggests that accepting a drastically reduced sentence for rape would result in more convictions.

Greer recounts her own experience of rape – but seems to imply that she hasn’t experienced any long-term damage as a consequence of the assault. The leap from her own emotional reaction to sexual violence (to which she is, of course, entitled) to her cavalier response to others’ experience of sexual violence is troubling.

Misunderstanding sexual violence

Greer also draws a bizarre distinction between violent and non-violent rape, which demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of sexual assault. She comments: “We are told that it is a sexually violent crime … Every time a man rolls over on his exhausted wife and insists on enjoying his conjugal rights he is raping her.” She’s right: penetration without consent is always rape – but to suggest that it isn’t “violent” is a mistake and dangerously misrepresents the real experiences of many survivors of sexual assault and rape.

It is surprising, too, that even some of the criticisms of Greer’s position concede that rape isn’t always violent. For instance, in her response to Greer’s comments, Suzanne Moore said: “Greer is correct to say not all rape is violent, but all rape surely involves the threat of violence.” The idea that rape can be a “non-violent” act seems to be a widely held myth in rape culture. The non-consensual penetration of a human body is an inherently violent violation.

With astonishing flippancy and no appeal to evidence, Greer went on to tell the audience at Hay: “Most rapes don’t involve any injury whatsoever. We are told it’s one of the most violent crimes in the world – bull.” As if the lack of visible evidence of external physical violence diminishes the damage caused by rape. While it’s true that other kinds of physical violence may be perpetrated alongside rape, the absence of visible evidence of punches, kicks or bites does not negate the violence of the act of rape.

Greer’s comments echo those of other public figures such as Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Clarke, Judy Finnegan and NYPD officer Peter Rose, who have assumed a “hierarchy of rape” – the idea that some rapes are “worse” than others (although Clarke and Finnegan later apologised) and only victims who display the external marks of physical violence are worthy of serious concern.

Trivialising sexual violence

When trivialisation and disbelief lie at the heart of a rape culture, the impact of comments such as these from those who identify as feminists cannot be underestimated. They provide a platform to the myths that create environments where sex crimes become normalised.

And despite lamenting the role of women in rape trials as little more than “bits of evidence”, Greer locates rapists at the centre of the narrative. By describing rape as “just lazy, just careless, insensitive”, she privileges the experiences of men over women. She presents rape as something men do (exclusively in a heterosexual context), rather than something survivors are forced to endure.

The ConversationGreer’s comments on sexual violence are glib, ill-informed and potentially dangerous. Let’s hope she’s put more thought into the content of her forthcoming book.

Katie Edwards, Director SIIBS, University of Sheffield and Emma Nagouse, PhD Candidate in Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield

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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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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