The Shiloh Project: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Sch of English Lit, Lang and Linguistics

Abstract

At the heart of this project is a focus on sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) both in the Bible (e.g. in the story of the mass rape at Shiloh, in Judges 21, which gives the project its title) and in its afterlives in contemporary popular culture. It is a collaboration between four biblical scholars from the UK, USA and NZ. All share expertise in the areas of both gender theory and the representation of biblical characters and motifs in popular media - such as advertising, music videos or film.

The purpose of the project is to examine both biblical texts depicting GBV and representations of such texts and of related concepts (such as 'virginity', 'purity', 'sinful sexuality') in the context of how GBV is constructed in present-day academic and non-academic discourses. For instance, public discussions of sexual violence in light of the #MeToo campaign have foregrounded and promoted Privileged White Women (PWW) perspectives and have exposed widespread victim-blaming. This project will pay particular attention to persons who are disproportionately affected by GBV on account of multiple intersectionalities - that is, on account of being marginalized due to more than one identity factor (e.g. gender identity or orientation, ethnicity, class, disability, or affiliation with a minority religion) and have been marginalized in academic (including biblical studies) and non-academic, including social media, discourses. As persons at the intersections of oppression are both particularly vulnerable to GBV and more often absent from, or marginal to the public discourse on GBV, this project is particularly urgent.

Three realities are central:

1) The Bible is a text of power and influence, authoritative for millions of Jewish and Christian followers. It is vital to interrogate and understand what the Bible says, how it is interpreted, and how biblical texts infuse and are applied in contemporary settings and contexts.
2) Popular culture discourse - including its very many presentations of biblical concepts, characters and motifs - provides insight into widely held (or aspired to) values, as well as into cultural stereotypes and prejudices - particularly into those held by socially empowered and/or hegemonic groups.
3) Sexual and gender-based violence is endemic - including in the Bible and in popular culture representations. But while this is finally getting widespread public attention - e.g. through the #MeToo campaign - marginal groups remain both particularly vulnerable to such violence and peripheral in the public conversation. This must change.

The project seeks to open up an interdisciplinary academic discussion on intersectionality, the Bible and GBV. This will include symposia to be held in South Yorkshire and Auckland (NZ), which will explore two roughly contemporaneous sexual abuse scandals that took place in these locations: namely, the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal and the Auckland 'Roast Busters' scandal. These symposia will examine closely how each scandal was depicted in public media, with particular emphasis on questions of class, ethnicity, religion, masculinity and femininity. In turn, these will illuminate the wider public context in which the Bible and its reception in popular culture address gendered dynamics and stereotypes and the impact of this on contemporary discussion on GBV.

But the project does not stop at academic dialogue, incorporating also public engagement activities and popular media, including live performances and a visual exhibition, a podcast and web-based resources aimed at a general audience. Again, these will be inclusive of persons more often at the margins of public discussion on GBV.

Through both strategic academic collaboration and public engagement, the project will thus explore ways to understand critically and draw attention to intersectional oppression and its impact on articulations of GBV in the Bible, in both popular culture and other public discourse.

Planned Impact

Artists, audiences, third sector organizations and consumers of media are set to benefit from this research.

Minority and marginal experiences of, as well as perspectives on sexual violence are often absent from academic and public discourses. Hence, the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns, although highly publicized, have attracted strong criticism for privileging the perspectives and experiences of just PWWs. This project seeks to address this urgent issue and to provide an inclusive platform and diverse resources also for others who have experienced GBV, and who work in GBV related third sector organizations.

1. Media engagement: PI, Co-Is and Newton are experienced in media engagement and will write press articles for news sites such as The Conversation and The Newsroom, in order to inject project research findings into public discourse and social media discussions. The PI is a regular contributor to local and national BBC Radio and her work has featured in the (inter)national press. Her articles for The Conversation UK, for example, have attracted almost 950,000 views (as of 26th June 2018) from readers in the USA, UK, India, Australia, and Africa. The articles have been widely republished in international publications, such as The Guardian, Newsweek, The Times, SBS and The International Business Times, among others. The Shiloh Project has already developed a strong and active social media network through Twitter (@ProjShiloh) and the website attracts up to 13000+ views per post. This experience and track record will be channelled towards this project for wide multi-media dissemination.

2. Podcast: Newton's long-running and well-established podcast, launched in 2007, attracts a regular audience. Newton will interview the PI on critical whiteness theory and GBV. The interview will be disseminated across Newton's social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) as well as The Shiloh Project website and Twitter account.

3. Performances in both NZ and the UK: Project academics will collaborate with cabaret artists to develop performance pieces that mutually infuse live drama with academic rigour and academic research with innovation and creativity. Established cabaret artists, already working to give voice to minority perspectives and experiences, will work with academics to co-create vibrant and impactful research that appeals to a general audience.

4. Exhibition: At the performances in both NZ and UK, project academics will display research posters outlining the academic research informing the performances in ways that are accessible to a general audience. The posters will be available for viewing before the start, during the interval and at the end of the performances.

5. Film: Footage from performances and exhibitions, as well as 'talking heads' conversations between performers and academics will be edited into a professional film of ca10-20 minute duration by TV production company Minerva Media. The film will be for wide dissemination across social media and the website and will provide a resource for survivors of GBV, as well as for third sector organizations and educators working in the area of GBV and/or its depiction and presence in public media - particularly in terms of the intersection between GBV and religion.

6. Project Website: The Shiloh Project website will offer an open access searchable resource of republished press articles (subject to copyright), scholarly pieces and the talking heads film and performance recordings. It will become a diverse repository of resources - academic, creative, generalist, self-representational - on the topic GBV, religion and public media. The (moderated) site will welcome new contributions and assist in gauging impact (e.g. through questionnaires).

All of the above activities and resources are designed to retain established and to attract new audiences. With a strong base for potential development already firmly in place, achieving this is likely.

Publications

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