Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Hi, my name is Rachel Starr and I teach biblical studies, gender and theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. Queen’s is ecumenical and we have students exploring theology, discipleship and ministry from Anglican, Methodist and Pentecostal churches.
It would be hard to say what subject I enjoy teaching most, but I love the energy and creativity of the Masters module on global theologies and migration. Faced with the scale and complexity of migration today, we need more theological resources to help us respond to and receive from migrants. In addition, it is important to make visible the migration of traditions and communities of faith throughout history. The work of Argentine theologian Nancy Bedford has been invaluable in exploring the particular experience of Latin American women migrants and the violence they encounter along the way, as well as naming the multiple forms of resistance and strategies of survival they employ. A powerful example of communal resistance to the death-dealing structures and monstrous borders that confront many undocumented migrants is that of Las Patronas, a group of Mexican women who cook and carry food to the tracks where each day trains carrying hundreds of migrants pass by (watch here).
I completed my doctorate at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I learnt much from organizations such as Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Humanos, spending time with local women’s groups that sought to resist and challenge both domestic, and more public forms of, violence. My book, Reimagining Theologies of Marriage in Contexts of Domestic Violence: When Salvation is Survival (Routledge, 2018) explores how Christian accounts of marriage are often static and idealized, failing to take account of violence and gender inequality within relationships.
The work of Latin American women theologians and activists continues to inspire and challenge me. Doing theology in another language is a means of resisting dominant theological traditions and ensuring we don’t rely on familiar readings of texts and traditions. Last year, I spent a month in Central America, meeting with theologians and activists working on a range of interrelated issues: increasing access to reproductive health care, a life-or-death issue for women in Central America; facilitating debate around masculinity and violence; and challenging street harassment. The image of birds flying in front of the cathedral in the Nicaraguan city of León speaks to me of how even then most static religious structures are in constant and dynamic relationship with lived experience and movements for change.
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?
The creativity, commitment and community generated by the Shiloh Project seem to me to be important resources for challenging gender-based violence. At the conference last summer, the creativity of the presentations and discussion reminded me of the gift of collaboration between academics and artists, and how creativity is often a source of resistance to violence and oppression. The passionate commitment around naming and shaming violence within the biblical texts and within our own lived contexts was energizing. In particular, I was struck bythe naming of Abraham as a rapist (see a blog post about this paper by Zanne Domoney-Lyttle here). Why is Abraham (and Sarah’s) abuse of Hagar not identified as sexual violence? It reminded me how fiercely faith communities seek to protect the male ‘heroes’ within the biblical text, and how difficult it can be to name what is clearly stated in the text. Finally, the conference enabled me to connect with other scholars and activists working to challenge gender-based violence. The welcoming and supportive atmosphere of the conference reminded me of how important I had found similar networks, such as the Catholic women theologians’ network, Teologanda, of which I had loved being part while living in Argentina.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
I’m currently working on a new edition of SCM Studyguide to Biblical Hermeneutics (2006), co-written with David Holgate. The revised edition will deepen and develop material on how we read the Bible attentive to multiple identities and contexts, as well as exploring resistant readings of the text, drawing on the work of scholars such as Phyllis Trible and Oral A. W. Thomas. Inspired by Ericka Shawndricka Dunbar’s presentation at the Shiloh Project’s Religion and Rape Conference (see a blog post on this presentation here), we ask what kinds of stories do we allow the Bible to tell? And making further use of the work of Gina Hens-Piazza, we suggest ways of seeing, denouncing and resisting violence present within biblical texts and their interpretation. Hens-Piazza’s commentary on Lamentations, part of the new Wisdom Commentary series, is a powerful testimony to the importance of resisting the violence of the text.
With Dulcie Dixon Mckenzie, Director of the Centre for Black Theology at Queen’s, I recently developed a new module for the Common Awards programme, entitled Intersectional Theologies (see here). While the notion of intersectionality has been part of academic discourse for some time, there has been less attention within theology to the complexities of identity and dynamics of power. A particular hope is that the module will generate theological resources appropriate to contemporary British contexts. This module has the potential to be used by any of the nineteen theological institutions working with Durham University as part of Common Awards. At Queen’s, this module will help students make deeper connections between earlier modules focused on Black Theology and on Theology and Gender.