Volume 2, Issue 1

Autumn 2020 —Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom: Global Perspectives

Guest Editor: Johanna Stiebert

With special thanks to Shayna Sheinfeld, interim Editor in Chief

Johanna Stiebert, “Introduction: Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom,” 1-12.
Musa W. Dube, “On Becoming a Change Agent: Journeys of Teaching Gender and Health in an African Crisis Context,” 13-28.

KEYWORDS: Botswana; Change Agent; HIV and AIDS; Gugu Dlamini; Mmutle


This paper discusses my activities in the classroom and beyond to address African contexts of the HIV and AIDS crisis. Alongside an account of my strategies, encounters and journeys, I discuss the activist Gugu Dlamini and Mmutle, a trickster of African folklore. Both act as inspirations for the role of change agent.
Rhiannon Graybill, “Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible: Teaching for Social Justice,” 29-49

KEYWORDS: Pedagogy; Queer; Hospitality; Killjoy


Courses on the Bible, gender, and sexuality offer many opportunities to promote social justice in the classroom. Instead of emphasizing course content, this article focuses on practical strategies and tactics that incorporate social justice into the everyday teaching of these courses. Drawing on feminist, queer, and affect theory, as well as practical experience, I propose and discuss four questions for assessing classroom practices and materials: Is it welcoming?, Does this joy need to be killed?, Does it work?, and Is it fun? The article also addresses course design, the selection of readings, assessment, and course pacing from the perspective of teaching for social justice.
Darla Schumm & Jennifer L. Koosed, “Armies of Misfits: Mobility Disabilities and Activism in the Biblical Studies Classroom,” 50-65.

KEYWORDS: Disability; Activism; Misfitting; 2 Samuel 5: 6–8; Mark 2: 1–12; Feminist Disability Theory


This article argues for the disabled body as a site of resistance and for the biblical studies classroom as one venue to mobilize towards world-changing activism. After reviewing a range of models from disability studies (the medical, social/minority, religious and political/relational models) this article advocates for what the authors call “misfitting”. Using select biblical stories that feature characters with mobility disabilities and that also demonstrate discriminatory attitudes toward these characters, namely 2 Samuel 5:6-8 and Mark 2:1-12, misfitting is illustrated. 
R. B.  Hamon, “Teaching Environmental Activism and Ecological Hermeneutics,” 66-80

KEYWORDS: Environmental Activism; Ecological hermeneutics; Environmental humanities; Pedagogy


This article argues that ecological hermeneutics, when taught in the biblical studies classroom, needs to draw on its roots in environmental activism. It recommends prioritising the urgency of the contemporary crisis alongside activist ways to respond to it over the teaching of the history and methodology of this approach. Singling out two topics, overpopulation and extinction of species, the article provides suggestions for resources on how to focus such teaching.
Sarah Rollens, Eric Vanden Eykel, and Meredith J. C. Warren, “Confronting Judeophobia in the Classroom,” 81-106

KEYWORDS: Judeophobia; Anti-Semitism; Pittsburgh; Synagogue


After an arrest was made in the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting (27 October 2018), it came to light that the shooter’s social media page was emblazoned with a citation from John’s Gospel 8:44 and a rough paraphrase of what the shooter thought it meant: “Jews are the children of Satan”. In the days that followed the shooting, educators scrambled to try and help their students make sense of what had happened. As three biblical scholars who teach in higher education in the UK and the United States, we outline our approaches to teaching about Judeophobia in the biblical studies classroom. From students who resist reading the gospels as dangerous texts for Jews to the subtler nuances of supersessionism in popular and scholarly understandings of the New Testament, we address the successes and failures of our own attempts to combat Judeophobia in our classrooms. 
Chris Greenough, “Activism in the Queer Biblical Studies Classroom,” 107-126.

KEYWORDS: Activism; Queer theory; Flipped learning; Methodsplaining; Risk


This article serves as an injunction for queer biblical studies to be reclaimed and mobilised as activist practice. First, I discuss the application and activist potential of queer theory – in and beyond the academy. To address concerns around queer elitism, I argue how rupturing the binary between theory and practice recharges the accessibility and the activist potential of queer. In my discussion of queer pedagogy in the biblical studies classroom, I offer practical strategies based on queer commentaries in teaching and learning. I explore the notions of risk, experimentation and failure, as well as of tackling specific issues relating to resistance to queer biblical criticism based on religious faith. Moreover, I consider how flipped learning theory can offer a personalised and holistic approach to queer studies. In emphasising the value of queer biblical studies as activist practice, I stress inclusion, intersectionality and student-educator parity as important elements in this project. In detailing my commitment to activism, I conclude that true commitment to social justice means that researchers aspire for their work to be irrelevant to future audiences: when the work of activist academics becomes irrelevant, it means scholarship has effected change, with social justice becoming realised rather than wish-ideology. 
Robyn Ashworth-Steen & Deborah Kahn-Harris, “‘If not with others, how?’: Creating Rabbinic Activists Through Study,” 127-149.

KEYWORDS: Activism; Feminism; Education; Megillot; Seminary


Together we seek to model the redemptive, liberatory, activist, feminist approach to collaborative working to which both authors are committed as teachers, students, rabbis and activists. In our rabbinic chain of tradition (more particularly through other female rabbis) we explore, through the lenses of student and teacher, the 5-year rabbinic course at Leo Baeck College (LBC). We seek to demonstrate how, when working at its best, LBC trains rabbis as activists. Our contention is that the rabbinic education at LBC has the potential to be transformative in creating rabbis as activist leaders, an ideal which ought to transcend the rabbinic training seminary and be taken forward into community. 
Jayme R. Reaves, “Reading the Whole Bible with Integrity: Identifying Context, Identity, Community, and Antisemitism in Christian Hermeneutical Practices,” 150-178.

KEYWORDS: Hebrew Bible; Antisemitism; New Testament; Hermeneutics; Critical Pedagogy; Reader-Response Criticism


What is the relationship between the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, where does Jesus fit in, and why do these questions even matter? In the context of the biblical studies classroom for Christian ministerial training, being able to answer these questions is an essential part of effective and responsible biblical interpretation that informs theological reflection, preaching, and ethical social engagement with a diverse world. Nevertheless, within the Christian ministerial training context, there appears to be a dearth of knowledge and understanding about how to approach the Hebrew Bible with integrity to its sources, function, and value within the Jewish tradition as well as the Christian tradition.
Gerald O. West & Sithembiso Zwane, “Re-reading 1 Kings 21:1-16 Between Community-based Activism and University-based Pedagogy,” 179-207.

KEYWORDS: Contextual Bible Study; 1 Kings 21; Land; Gender; Unemployment


Biblical studies in the School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa has been partially constituted by the community-based activism of the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research over a period of more than thirty years. This essay reflects on a particular series of contrapuntal movements in which 1 Kings 21:1-16 has been interpreted within this interface of community-based activism and formal academic pedagogy, moving between Contextual Bible Study workshops with unemployed African youth and classroom-based learning with African undergraduate and postgraduate students. We give particular attention in this essay to how interpretive space is reconstituted through this intentional collaboration.
Tina Shepardson, “Embodied Readers: Teaching about the Earliest Christians in Rural Protestant America,” 208-223.

KEYWORDS: New Testament; Appalachia; Bible belt; Social Justice


This article discusses the ways in which my Introduction to the New Testament class at the University of Tennessee engages with and offers students tools for understanding and participating in social activism, particularly around race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, and class. In recent years I have added new readings and class projects to the syllabus explicitly to encourage students to consider ways in which interpretations influence our conversations on LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and racial and economic justice. In addition to covering the early history and context of the New Testament texts, my course teaches students to recognize how readers’ own embodied experiences affect their culturally contingent reading of these influential texts. The region of Appalachia is largely rural and economically depressed; deeply held conservative Protestant strains of Christianity pervade the “the Bible belt” region, and Donald Trump won Appalachia easily in the 2016 presidential election. A new wave of student activism has developed on campus in response to recent national events and to the concurrent rise in polarizing rhetoric in our country. I demonstrate here some of the concrete ways I am adapting my classroom teaching about the New Testament to engage with these urgent local, regional, national, and global conversations and the activism they are inspiring.
David Tombs, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Seeing the Stripping of Jesus as Sexual Violence,” 224-247.

KEYWORDS: Jesus; Sexual Abuse; Crucifixion; Francisco Goya; Susan Sontag


Recent work in biblical studies has given increased attention to a reading of Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse. This article explores how the stripping of Jesus might be understood as an example of abuse ‘hidden in plain sight’. Most students are initially surprised or doubtful when it is suggested that Jesus is a victim of sexual violence. However, this scepticism can become a powerful learning resource if they are helped to ‘discover’ it for themselves through an experiential learning process. This might involve a critical examination of crucifixion and stripping images, and/or a contextual bible study on Matthew 27:26–31. Discovering the sanitising and erasure of sexual violence in the dominant (mis)understanding of crucifixion can offer students insight into other ways that past and present sexual violence is often marginalised, normalised, or hidden. Often these classroom exercises prompt a discussion of what makes abuse ‘sexual abuse’.
Sarah Nicholson & Zanne Domoney-Lyttle, “Activism in the Classroom: A Case Study on De-Patriarchalising Biblical Studies for Future Generations,” 248-265.

KEYWORDS: Feminism; Bible; Language; Community; Disruptive Activism


Efficient activism in the classroom and beyond is contingent upon the ability to identify and understand ideological principles, to express opposition to injustice, to challenge and de-centre authority and privilege, and to redistribute power to those without. Moreover, it requires collective and collaborative action. This article is a case study of an Honours course titled Women and Gender in the Bible and the Ancient World, which was delivered to students at the University of Glasgow in Spring 2019. The course itself was a form of feminist activism against oppressive patriarchal structures in biblical studies, and in academia more generally. Instructors made use of pedagogical tools that are not traditionally associated with the study of the Bible, and encouraged the development of community, both in the classroom and at the associated conference, to enable and empower student activism in a collaborative environment. This article charts the successes and failures of the course and conference and turns attention to the shape of feminist approaches to the Bible more generally.