Rape culture, religion and the Bible

On 13 January 2017 the Centre for Religion and Public Life hosted a focus group for organising research and events on the topic of rape culture, religion and the Bible.

In attendance were Emma Nagouse (University of Sheffield), Valerie Hobbs (University of Sheffield), Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield), Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds), Jessica Keady (University of Chester), Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland) and Nechama Hadari (independent scholar). Following a presentation by Jessica Keady with the title, ‘The Role of Female Impurity in Rape Culture Discourse: The Rape of Dinah in Genesis 34’ we discussed strategies for tackling the difficult and insidious topic of ‘rape culture’. 

In our view this has become pressing, due to the significant part that religions can play in both confronting and perpetuating the myths and misperceptions that lie at the heart of rape cultures – namely, cultures that conceptualise gender violence as an ‘inevitable’ or even profitable outcome of normative social gender roles. Moreover, religious texts, traditions, and beliefs can exert powerful influences on people’s understanding of gender relationships, shaping their responses to gender violence and rape culture within their own socio-cultural contexts.

Our first step has been to set up what we have called ‘The Shiloh Project’. The name alludes to the story of the rape of the women of Shiloh in the final chapters of the biblical book of Judges (see our website for more details). The Shiloh Project is a joint initiative set up by three leads, one each from the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland (NZ). We are committed to fostering research into the phenomenon of rape culture, both throughout history and within contemporary societies across the globe. In particular, the Project will investigate the complex and at times contentious relationships that exist between rape culture and religion, considering the various ways religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

A three-volume edition (on global, Christian and biblical perspectives on rape culture) to be published by Palgrave Macmillan is in progress and we have, following our focus group meeting, set up a website. Please see: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/siibs/sresearch/the-shiloh-project%20For anyone wishing to contact us, our email is: shiloh@sheffield.ac.uk and our Twitter handle @ProjShiloh

In time we will put out a call for contributions to our website and for participation in a range of consciousness-raising and academic activities. Our official launch will be on Monday 8 May 2017 at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies. Things have got off to a dynamic start!