The first Religion and Rape Culture conference was a huge success. We welcomed over 50 delegates from 6 countries and were treated to 14 fantastic research papers from a range of academics, research students, practitioners, artists, activists, and members of religious groups. The aim of the day was to explore the many intersections between religion and rape culture, and how religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.
Click here to see videos of our research talks
The conference opened with a powerful keynote address entitled “Rape by any other name: Cross-examining biblical evidence“ from Professor Cheryl Exum (Emeritus Professor, University of Sheffield). Professor Exum presented delegates with a survey of rapes in the bible, and demonstrated in her talk the ways in which commentators often work overtime to elide this violence. Professor Exum ended her address with a challenge to biblical scholars to make rape a visible issue in the discipline. Professor Exum continues to be an inspiration to staff and students in Biblical Studies, and is responsible for carving out a space for Sheffield as a leading place for feminist biblical interpretation.
It is more than 20 years since I last heard Prof Cheryl Exum and she is as incisive and perspicacious today as she was then. She’s giving keynote address on rape in the Bible at #ShilohConf18
— Katie Harrison (@harrisonkt_) July 6, 2018
“Modern standards are the only ethical standards I have – am I supposed to forget them when I read the Bible?” – Cheryl Exum re: narratives of rape in the Hebrew Bible at #ShilohConf18
— Dr. Jayme R. Reaves (@jaymereaves) July 6, 2018
After a short break, our first panel convened who explored “Biblical Perspectives” of rape culture discourses. This panel, chaired by Dr Johanna Stiebert, was well received, with thought-provoking papers from a variety of disciplines:
Lily Clifford (Inclusive Arts MA, University of Brighton) & Emma Nagouse (PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield): How to make a ghost: A collaborative approach to finding Dinah
Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar (PhD Candidate, Drew University): For such a time as this? #UsToo: Representations of sexual trafficking, collective trauma, and horror in the book of Esther
Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris (Principal, Leo Baeck College): This may not be a love story: Ruth, rape, and the limits of readings strategies
As well as presenting on this panel, we were thrilled to welcome Lily Clifford from the University of Brighton as an artist in residence for the conference, who crafted creative responses to each of the presentations as they unfolded. We were delighted that this was received so warmly by delegates and our presenters – who were each able to keep their artwork.
Our next panel, “Theology and Thought” was chaired by Dr Valerie Hobbs and included papers which explored some of the ways in which Christian discourses and ideologies have engaged with rape culture, both historically and in contemporary contexts. These were fantastic papers, and while some of this content was challenging to listen to, they served to bring focus to how important and timely this research is.
Natalie Collins (Gender Justice Specialist, SPARK): The Evil Sirens: Evangelical Christian culture, pornography and the perpetuation of rape culture
Claire Cunnington (PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield): “My prayers weren’t being answered”: The intersection of religion and recovery from childhood sexual abuse
Rhian Elinor Keyse (PhD Candidate, University of Exeter): “A man cannot in law be convicted of rape upon his own wife”: Custom, Christianity, colonialism, and sexual consent in forced marriage cases, British colonial Africa, 1932–1945
After (a delicious) lunch, we picked things up again with our “Method, Critique and Discourse” panel chaired by Dr Meredith Warren. This was an interdisciplinary panel which explored the various ways rape culture is expressed politically by both oppressors, and those who seek to resist it. This was a fascinating session that inspired a lively panel discussion.
Kathryn Barber (PhD Candidate, University of Cardiff): “Rape is a liberal disease”: An analysis of alternative rape culture perpetuated by far-right extremists online
Dr Rachel Starr (Director of Studies: UG programmes, The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Research): Research as resistance: Survival strategies for researching violence
Professor Daphne Hampson (Associate of the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford): Religion as gender politics
Our final panel, “Media and Culture” was chaired by Dr Naomi Hetherington and included papers which explored how rape and rape culture discourses are presented in literature and artistic contexts. We couldn’t have hoped for more engaging talks to round off the day’s panel discussions.
Mary Going (PhD Candiate, University of Sheffield): Mother Zion, Daughter Zion, Witch Zion: An exploration of Scott’s Rebecca
Dr Miryam Sivan (Lecturer, University of Haifa): Negotiating the silence: Sexual violence in Israeli Holocaust fiction
Dr Zanne Domoney-Lyttle (Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Glasgow): The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing sexual assault and rape narratives in biblical comics
Header: Professor J. Cheryl Exum, who gave the opening paper.
Dr Miryam Sivan (Uni of Haifa) now presenting now on sexual violence in Israeli Holocaust fiction (esp. work of Savyon Liebrecht and Nava Semel). Sivan contrasts pre + post conquest biblical accounts of rape to analyze its direct depiction in this modern fiction. #ShilohConf18
— reallyquitetired (@rllyquitetired) July 6, 2018
To round out this amazing day of panels is Zanne Domoney-Lyttle speaking on The Handmaid’s Jail: Framing Sexual Assault and Rape Narratives in biblical comics #ShilohConf18 #visualizingthepast pic.twitter.com/5rM6kRFqc8
— Dr. Jenny Barry (@jennisifire) July 6, 2018
The Religion and Rape Culture Conference was closed by a fantastic keynote address from Associate Professor Rhiannon Graybill (Rhodes College) entitled “Fuzzy, messy, icky: The edges of consent in biblical rape narratives and rape culture”. Graybill’s research brought feminist literature problematising the notion of consent to bear on biblical stories of sexual violence and rape, as well as the ways in which we as feminists read and respond to those stories. Graybill asked what a serious critique of consent means to a feminist biblical hermeneutic of sexual violence, and in response, explored how feminists might engage with these texts beyond the position of mourning or recovering. We were thrilled to host Professor Graybill, and her insightful research has continued to be a point of discussion since the conference. We’re so excited to continue to work with Professor Graybill through The Shiloh Project.
“Fuzzy, Messy, Icky: The Edges of Consent in Biblical Rape Narratives and Rape Culture” is the closing keynote of the #ShilohConf18 Organiser @ejnagouse introduces speaker, Assoc Prof @rgraybill1 pic.twitter.com/W9NkKzmKb9
— Dr Meredith Warren (@DrMJCWarren) July 6, 2018
After a break, there was a drinks reception where everyone was invited to view our research posters. Authors who were in attendance were invited to speak for one minute about their poster. Topics included: Consenting Adults? Faith formation’s less-than-immaculate conception of consent (Catherine Kennedy, University of Sheffield); Preaching Texts of Horror: How Christian Pastors teach about Dinah, the Levite’s Concubine, Tamar, and Potiphar’s Wife (Dr Valerie Hobbs, University of Sheffield); A Climate of Taboo: Trauma and the graphic novel Blankets (Hugo Ljungbäck, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee); Veils and ventriloquists: How do creative interpretations depict narratives of trauma for those who remain voiceless? (Lily Clifford, University of Brighton); “Life made no sense without a beating”: Religion and rape culture in US Girls’ In a Poem Unlimited (Liam Ball, University of Sheffield), and The girl needs some monster in her man: Rape Culture, cis-male allyship and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ashley Darrow, Manchester Metropolitan University and Emma Nagouse, University of Sheffield).
What kept coming up in discussion was pedagogical questions on how these challenging topics should be taught in educational settings such as universities and colleges, but also in religious settings. It became clear that academics, teachers, practitioners, and activists alike all craved more tools when it comes to how to teach, research, and facilitate discussions around these urgent and important issues. Perhaps a topic for a future conference…? You can see some of the online interaction from the conference by searching for #ShilohConf18 on Twitter.
It was a powerful, energising and galvanising day – and, on a personal note, I was thrilled with the huge amount of interest we received from a cross-section of people from a wide variety of sectors and community groups, and the level of extremely positive and encouraging feedback we received from participants.
Thank you @ProjShiloh – so encouraged (& slightly exhausted!) by the insights & challenges from the awesome all-female line up today.. this is an exciting time for #womeninacademia #ShilohConf18 #watchoutworld
— Imogen Ball (@ImogenAdderley) July 6, 2018
Great day of papers full of incisive perspectives and staggering content at #ShilohConf18. Important research into #VAW and #rapeculture abounds. Now buzzing with #feminist indignation. Thanks to the organisers! Happy Friday! ?
— Mairi Hamilton (@MairiAntoinette) July 6, 2018
— Jo Grady (@DrJoGrady) July 6, 2018
We would like to take this opportunity to extend our warmest thanks to WRoCAH for funding this much-needed conference. We look forward to continuing this important work and making the most of the inspiration, networks, and new friends which were made at our first conference.