- From Biblical Text to TwitterTeaching Biblical Studies in the Zeitgeist of #MeToo
My teaching and research activities have always been concerned with attending to the voices of the marginalized and silenced. My interest in gender and sexuality includes gender-based violence and more recently, marginalized masculinities. I teach a second-year undergraduate course entitled Bible in the Modern World at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, United Kingdom. The main aim of the class is to introduce students to contextual biblical studies, exploring identity-and ideologically based themes.
One key exploration of the course is the sexual violence against women and men depicted in biblical texts. Within the session, I explore sexual violence against women: the rapes of Dinah (Gen 34) and Tamar (2 Sam 13), the rape of the concubine (Judg 19), and the rape of the unnamed girls at Shiloh (Judg 21). Fully cognizant of the dynamics at play as a male who teaches groups of largely female students about sexual violence against women, I also bring in my own research about sexual violence against men, through the exploration of Potiphar’s wife’s harassment of Joseph (Gen 39), the attempted rapes of men (Gen 19 and Judg 19), and Lot’s daughters, who get their father drunk and rape him (Gen 19). The fact remains that women experience sexual violence on a much greater scale than men, and I do not bring stories about men into the class to distract or invalidate women’s experiences. Rather, examining texts that describe sexual violence against both women and men allows me to illuminate and critique more closely problems of patriarchy and toxic masculinity and their connection to rape culture. It further highlights how patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity is damaging to everyone, especially women and LGBTQ+ individuals. Approaching gender-based violence from different perspectives ensures representative voices are no longer silenced. To counter readings that attempt to minimize the importance [End Page 133] of the Hebrew Bible for Christians today, I also explore the sexual abuse Jesus experienced through enforced stripping at the crucifixion in the gospel accounts.
Before tackling the biblical texts, I warn students that the module contains information about challenging themes. In the UK setting in which I work, the Quality Assurance Agency’s benchmark statement for higher education courses in theology and religious studies outlines how students graduating with an honors degree in the field “should be able to . . . engage with empathy, integrity and critical reflection with the convictions and behaviors of others.”1 A laudable aim, but how do we teach students to be empathetic? I endeavor to work by example. When dealing with sensitive content, there should be no surprises. Scholars discussing trauma in the classroom must create a safe learning space and have strategies in place to support students who may be triggered by issues raised. Students should be well briefed in advance of the session and given a detailed outline and plan for the session so they know exactly how it will unfold.2 Before the session, students complete preparatory work by listening to podcasts from the Shiloh Project and the Bible Society’s #SheToo podcast series.3 This allows students time both to reflect on and explore the topics independently and to raise concerns in advance. After the session, I invite students to offer reflections, privately if desired, and I also point them to student services and external supports they can access if needed.
After exploring the biblical texts, I encourage discussion, which allows students to reflect on how we read these texts through our contemporary lenses. Rather than explain them away in their ancient settings, we explore how they speak to readers today (religious or not). What is their use, function, and impact?
The #MeToo movement on social media, including Twitter, has had a profound effect in offering platforms from which to speak about sexual violence. One of my approaches is to explore some of the benefits and tensions of #MeToo.4 Johanna Stiebert, for example, offers some profound examples of the relationship between biblical texts and #MeToo.5 A second approach is connected to the sexual abuse scandals in faith traditions and the inadequate responses from...