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Routledge Focus Series: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible

Caroline is one of the founding directors of The Shiloh Project as well as one of the original editors of this Routledge Focus series. Her book in the series is Rape Culture, Purity Culture, and Coercive Control in Teen Girl Bibles. First published in 2021, it takes a rigorous look at some of the Bibles marketed specifically to teen girls and probes how they perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes that lie at the heart of rape culture.

How do you reflect back on writing your book? 

I did most of the work for my book during the first COVID lockdown. Sitting in my flat, day after day, poring over these teen girl Bibles while the pandemic unravelled is an experience I’ll neither forget nor look back on with any fondness. 

When I began researching teen girl Bibles, I had no idea where they would lead me. I had initially planned to write about their editorial commentary on gender-based violence in the biblical texts and the ways in which this might intersect with Christian purity discourse. But when I sat down and took a closer look at the commentary and editorial notes that are generously peppered throughout the Bibles, I realized that these were far more insidious than I’d initially imagined. It gradually dawned on me that, wittingly or not, they utilized tactics of coercive control to shame, demean, and gaslight their intended audience of teenage girls. It made me angry, frustrated, and motivated to action all at the same time, with the result that the book took on a snarkier and more biting critical tone than I’d originally anticipated.

How and where are you now and what are you doing or working on at present?

I’m still living in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I divide my time between my work (I’m a freelance editor and proofreader) and my writing (both fiction and non-fiction). My recent projects have included writing and recording season 2 of the Bloody Bible podcast (which I co-host with my partner-in-crime, Dr Emily Colgan) and doing further research into gender-based violence in the biblical texts and contemporary true crime narratives (which Emily and I hope to incorporate into a book based on the podcast). I’m also in the midst of co-editing a handbook on sexualities in the Bible and its reception history with my friend and colleague Dr Chris Greenough. In terms of my non-academic work, my (unpublished) novel, Sins of Commission, was recently shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, which has inspired me to keep writing fiction.

Do you have any advice for authors of future publications in this series?

My main piece of advice is to follow your passion. Write about what makes you mad—write about whatever you know needs to be radically changed in order to make the world a more equitable and safer place. Also, make your writing as accessible as possible for readers from all walks of life. It’s so important that we work together to get the message out that rape culture, intimate partner violence, and coercive control NEED TO STOP. 

What topics in the area of rape culture, religion and/or the Bible would you like to see a book on?

I would love to see more books that centre on the experiences of people in the Global South and how they navigate rape culture, religion, and the Bible in postcolonial contexts. Nancy Tan’s brilliant book in the Routledge Focus series, Resisting Rape Culture, does this so well, and it’s important that we see more publications which centre on contexts beyond Europe and the United States, including works by Indigenous and First Nations scholars. I would also strongly welcome further studies that critique the toxic ideology of Christian purity culture—the research I did for my book on teen girl Bibles really drove home to me just how dangerous and harmful this discourse is. It deserves to be thoroughly resisted, challenged, and dismantled. The more people involved in this endeavour, the better.

Do you have a shout-out to anyone working in this general area? Please shout about them!

I have to give a shout-out to my dear friend and co-conspirator Dr Emily Colgan. Emily’s research on evangelical “self-help” literature was so impactful for me, and it inspired me to write my Routledge Focus book. Emily is whip smart, tireless, fierce, and a real shero of mine, so it’s a massive privilege to be working with her on our current crime-based project. We are also forever bonded by our shared ambition to open a private detective agency together and our mutual appreciation of Negroni cocktails.

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See also earlier Shiloh posts by and about Caroline, including this post about the Shiloh Project’s first five years. Caroline’s book is available from Routledge. The paperback and eBook versions cost just under £16.

Tags : Caroline BlythPurity CultureTeen Girl Bibles

1 Comment

  1. This is such great and critical work Caroline. I have a 12 year old girl and I love to have real conversations around portrayal of some of girls and women in the Bible. I look forward to reading your work.

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