Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Tat-siong Benny Liew, and I am currently Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies at the College of Holy Cross. Holy Cross is a Jesuit liberal arts college located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA; however, I am not a Catholic.
Although I have been living in North America for over 30 years, I was born in Hong Kong. Since my father passed away when I was relatively young, my mother, who was strong and wise despite of having only an elementary education, basically raised me and my five siblings all by herself. For both of my primary and secondary education in Hong Kong, I attended an Anglican school that is only for boys. During most of those years and in that particular environment, I am sad to say that I had bought into many of the dominant and pervasive gender ideologies. When my eldest sister became a pastor of a local church, she experienced many discriminatory treatments that were based on gender; for instance, her district superintendent tried to tell her that the denomination would not provide housing for her because she could live with her family as a single and unmarried woman. While homophobia was and is by no means absent in Hong Kong, I only witnessed it first hand after I moved to the USA to continue my studies.
Besides learning from my own mother and my eldest sister, I am fortunate to have many wise and powerful female or queer teachers and colleagues who helped me gain a better sense and sensibility about various matters pertaining to gender. My teaching and scholarship about religion in general and the Bible in particular have, as a result, always attended to gender-based dynamics and violence, as well as how they intersect with other identity factors and power differentials. Both of the Bible courses I am teaching this semester, for instance, are cross-listed for the College’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program. Without implying that my academic work is separable from activism, I have found it more and more important to become personally involved in public movements and protestsagainst discrimination and violence on the basis of gender.
How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?
I like the term being used by the Shiloh Project: rape culture. The word “culture” implies that one cannot look at the act of rape by itself; we must understand that a lot of things have happened before and around rape to enable the act. Because of this, I would like to see more explicit and more intentional research and work being done on sexual invective and harassment.
I am thinking here of the recent work by David Shepherd. Instead of focusing on the blatant horror against women in the book of Judges (such as the rape and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, or the violent capturing of women in Judges 21), Shepherd uses the explicit mention of Judges in the beginning of Ruth (Ruth 1:1) to point to the subtlerpresence of sexual harassment against a foreign, female worker such as Ruth in the fields of Boaz. The fact that Boaz has to tell Ruth to always keep company with other women workers and to glean so only after the male workers are done, even though he has already told his men not to bother Ruth (Ruth 2:8-9), signifies that Boaz is cognizant of the pervasive danger and widespread threat against women workers and this is further confirmed by Naomi (Ruth 2:22). Although Shepherd uses explicit violence against women to inform his reading of implicit harassment, one may see explicit violence and implicit harassment against women as mutually reinforcing phenomena.
Since we are talking about a culture that enables and condones rapes and other kinds of gender-based violence, I wonder if the Shiloh Project can develop an instrument (such as a survey) that can help institutions (such as faith communities and schools) to get a sense of its climate and culture regarding gender-based discrimination and violence. (Note: I owe this idea to Sarah Shectman and Seth Sanders of SBAllies.)
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
In the coming year, I plan to be involved in campus activism that seeks to address sexual harassment and violence within my ownCollege community, including emphasis on preventive measures (such as campus-wide education to increase awareness) and institutional accountability. These important efforts are once again about changing a culture: institutional culture. I also plan to teach again a course on “Sex, Money, Power, and the Bible” to help students explore how our readings of the Bible may figure and reconfigure our understandings and practices of sex, money, and power in both helpful and harming ways. Finally, I will continue to research and write about gender violence as a biblical studies scholar.