To appropriate the philosopher Socrates’ valedictory words (according to Plato), he simply wasn’t interested in life without the freedom to examine everything carefully and critically and to teach others to do the same. I would certainly say that engaging critically with students and colleagues at Stirling since 2001 has been life-enhancing and it’s not something I would give up willingly!
The Shining Garment of the Text: Gendered Readings of John’s Prologue (Sheffield, 1998), was my first full-length book. It was an attempt to read the bible in the light of feminist theory and the work of poststructuralist philosopher, Julia Kristeva in particular. The book takes a critical – thoughtful rather than negative – approach to biblical interpretation. Our reading of the bible, is always a conversation with many different writer-readers and the texts or, in Kristeva’s terms ‘intertexts’ they draw on. My book was also an attempt to explore the idea that reading the bible from the perspective of women would present a significant challenge to mainstream biblical interpretation up to that date.
Feminist biblical interpretation has moved on since then and in many contexts, the case I was trying to make no longer needs defending, though there is probably much more that could be added to the body of biblical scholarship by women readers. I no longer work solely in the context of biblical studies, but continue to come back to it in undergraduate teaching and the occasional piece of writing. For example, I recently published an article, ‘Reading Mothers And Motherhood By The Godly Standards Of Scripture’ (Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommy Dearest: Mother/Daughter, Mother/Son Relationships in the Bible, ed Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan and Tina Pippin (Atlanta, 2009)). Though people sometimes assume that the bible can be read like a manual, as I say here, this would simply ride rough-shod over the complex relationship between the worlds of the contemporary reader, and biblical inter/texts from a range of very different historical and socio-geographical backgrounds. It would be a frustrating business too if you were to look to the bible for help, for example, on mother/daughter relationships; they’re extremely thin on the ground as this collection of articles clearly showed! Yet, approached critically, the bible continues to provide readers with rich resources to motivate the most profound reflection on personal, social and theological issues. And however you look at it, real understanding of Euro-centric cultures as they have travelled around the world would still be very difficult without some knowledge of its biblical heritage.
At the moment I am writing about women as creative theologians and how they have fared in contexts defined as ‘normatively male’. There is an issue here about doing justice both to genuine female genius (Julia Kristeva pops up here again!) whilst not ignoring the limitations that frame or framed women’s lives. One of my subjects, Maude Royden, was a suffragist and an early 20th century campaigner for the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Church of England. Royden felt the limitations imposed on her keenly, but as writer and campaigner she fought continually and lived her life to the full. Throughout my work, I am critical of hegemonic traditions – elements of patriarchal Christianity as Royden experienced them undoubtedly fit this description. What is just as important for me, however, is to show how women resist being reduced to the status of victims. I want to reveal the true genius of women who have passed on an amazing and enduring capacity to think imagine and create different worlds to the point at which they are now actually beginning to take shape. On this theme, a book with the title, Attending to the Other: Four Historical Cases of Female Genius In The Western Tradition, has been published by Baylor University Press in 2012.
Finally, in relation to the teaching of Critical Religion at Stirling, I am currently working with a colleague in the Institute of Education, John I’Anson, on a collection of essays, Schooling In/difference: Socio-material Practice in the Construction of ‘Religion’ in (gendered) Educational Spaces (London: Equinox, 2013). These critical essays are intended to explore some of the assumptions, pressures and particularly the practices that presently frame and construct our contemporary and gendered understanding of ‘religion’ in a range of educational spaces – museums, galleries and sitting rooms as well as class and seminar rooms.
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