‘Engaging with the Holocaust in Secondary RE’ Report

Last term I was fortunate enough to assist and attend a conference organised by our own David Tollerton. Spread across two days, the ‘Engaging with the Holocaust in Secondary RE’ workshops inspired a great deal of healthy discussion and a fascinating insight into the current specifications used by major exam boards.

The first day’s workshop included presentations from Sarah Hall (University of Birmingham), Alasdair Richardson (University of Winchester), Alana Vincent (University of Chester) and David Tollerton. Sarah gave us an insight to a new exam board Judaism specification and how Holocaust studies has been incorporated into it. What was particularly interesting in this discussion was questioning how the major exam boards are expecting teachers to gather the necessary material and deliver this in a relatively short space of time. With the Holocaust being such a complex part of modern history to discuss, finding the balance of where to place Holocaust education in schools proves to be difficult. One aspect of this which was discussed at length was the argument of whether the Holocaust should be taught in history lessons as a study of past events or placed in RE as constructive activism.  Nevertheless, it is a balance that must be reached, as Alana raised the point that a lot of undergraduates are undertaking their Theology course with a very narrow and limited understanding of both the Holocaust and wider Jewish experience.

The morning training event the next day welcomed current and aspiring Religious Studies PGCE students along with a selection of current RE teachers from the South West area.

Jenny Carson, Education Officer at the Holocaust Education Trust (HET) began the morning’s presentations by discussing the work of the HET and how teachers can access the resources available. Jenny emphasised the importance of thinking about pre-war Jewish life and how that resulted in quite varied experiences of Nazi persecution. With this in mind, it is crucial that teachers represent the Holocaust in the classroom in a way that ensures students are not coming out of the classroom thinking that the Holocaust is centred around Auschwitz.

We then heard from Sarah, who was interested in discussing how visual art can be used as a refreshing stimulus in Holocaust education and how this relates to current educational policy and practice. Students will of course have different ways of learning, and engaging with visual art which is accessible to all, regardless of academic ability, can be helpful in encouraging creativity of thought and emotional learning. Sarah used the praxis of SMSC which focuses on incorporating spiritual, moral, social and cultural modes of learning. All schools in England must show how well their pupils develop in SMSC and visual art can provide a useful way of addressing religious plurality when teaching the Holocaust.

Holocaust in Secondary RE 8 Dec #1

Lastly, Alasdair addressed the extent to which teachers ought to ‘sanitise’ the events of the Holocaust in the RE classroom. With this he suggested that we need to put more of a focus on how students are learning rather than the outcome, and allow them the space to think in a critical and analytical way. In whichever subject the Holocaust is being taught there needs to be a certain level of impact and recognition of testimony’s importance, but without needlessly sharing gratuitous images and stories. Alasdair raised the point that when we commodify knowledge we leave no room for human connection. In the classroom, emotional engagement with a topic such as this is inevitable, with some students having a more vivid emotional response than others. An important message that the aspiring and current teachers received from Alasdair’s discussion was that to be a reflective practitioner is to understand that the pedagogy of a student’s learning goes beyond a surface level of what they know, but looks at how they affectively learn. Further to this comes a consideration of the prior experiences of students and asking what potential prejudices and connections each student is bringing to the topic.

What stood out for me from attending this conference was that teachers are powerful people who have the ability to really shape a student’s outlook. It is one thing to have all the right resources, which of course is of huge importance with this topic and something which I hope will be made more readily available in the near future. It is another thing, however, to act with honesty and integrity while having the student’s best interests at heart. From the healthy and honest discussions had by those in attendance I feel very hopeful that Holocaust studies will continue to an important part of the syllabus and will become more freely interdisciplinary.

Emma Bolton, MA student.

Prideaux Lectures 2017: Christian Faith in Apocalyptic times

John de Gruchy

May 2nd 7pm Exeter Cathedral: “Christian Faith in Apocalyptic Times”

May 3rd 7pm Xfi Building, University of Exeter: “Prophetic Witness When Things Fall Apart”

john de gruchy

On May 2nd and 3rd we are delighted to welcome the distinguished South African Theologian, John de Gruchy to deliver the Prideaux lectures.

The Prideaux Lectures are a unique collaboration between the Cathedral, the Diocese and the University of Exeter. They were instituted under the Will of the late Canon S P T Prideaux to ‘honour the memory of Bishop John Prideaux of Worcester, a Devon man who from humble origin rose to great heights in the service of learning, his University and the Church’. John Prideaux was born at Stowford, Devon, one of twelve children of a local farmer. He is said to have walked to Oxford, where he became a servant in Exeter College, before becoming a student, then fellow, the Rector of the same College! He was later Vice-Chancellor and then Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, and was appointed Bishop of Worcester shortly before the outbreak of the English civil war.

Because of Prideaux’s background, the lectures named after him are intended to appeal to an audience which spans both the university and also the ministers and people of the church in Devon. It is particularly appropriate, then, that this year’s lecturer is someone who has served both university and church: John de Gruchy is an ordained minister in the United Congregational Church and served two congregations before working for the South African Council of Churches. He then took up a post in the University of Cape Town, eventually becoming Robert Selby Taylor Professor of Christian Studies.

Like John Prideaux, John de Gruchy has lived through times of serious civil division and political unrest: times which in both cases gave rise to radical theologies of various hues and to the use of much apocalyptic language. John de Gruchy has used his scholarship to engage in the work of reconciliation and social justice and to reflect theologically on a wide range of political and social issues both in South Africa and beyond. He is renowned for his scholarship on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and academic who resisted the Third Reich and was executed by the Nazis in 1945. In his lectures, John de Gruchy will offer a Christian analysis of the current times of global crisis and uncertainty. He will probe the relationship between freedom, justice and power, and suggest a Christian response which is prophetic, which offers hope, and which renews a politics for the common good.

(Morwenna Ludlow)

To enable us to gauge numbers, please book a free place on Eventbrite.com for May 2nd and / or May 3rd.           Or email .

Full URLs below:


Ethnicity, Race, and Religion

ERR conference 1 cropped

Helen John and Rebekah Welton

Between 9th and 11th August 2016, the University of Exeter’s Theology and Religion department hosted a conference entitled ‘Ethnicity, Race, and Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation’. This was made possible due to an AHRC Leadership Grant, for which Professor David G. Horrell is the principal investigator.  It brought together participants from such diverse locations as Botswana, Belgium, the USA, and Australia, as well as from across the UK. Such a broad range of backgrounds, worldviews, and scholarly areas of interest precipitated three days of fascinating papers and discussions. In particular, the event was characterized by the desire to learn from one another’s knowledge of issues of ethnicity and race, whether focused on the text, its historical interpretation, or issues and approaches within the contemporary Academy.

 The first plenary address was delivered by Professor Musa Dube (University of Botswana) and was entitled: ‘The Bible in the Bush: The First ‘Literate’ Batswana Bible Readers’. Professor Dube introduced the audience to issues of translation and mistranslation in the Batswana Bible, reflecting on the way in which missionary control over translation both entrenched patriarchal systems in the missionised community and violated local beliefs by aligning positive spirits with biblical demons.

 In the second plenary, Dr Ma. Marilou S. Ibita from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium presented on ‘Of Ioudaioi, Hellēnes and Others: Exploring the (In)Visibility of the Intersections of Ethnic Identities, Religion and Hermeneutics in Biblical Texts from a Lowland Filipina Christian Perspective’. Dr Ibita presented her dialogical approach, focused on ‘maximally Christian identity’ in partnership with ‘maximal solidarity’. This was illustrated by looking at the examples of the Filipina Christian traditions and highlighted the need to be open to biblical interpretations from diverse contexts. 

ERR conference 2 cropped The third plenary address was delivered by Dr Gregory Cuéllar (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, USA) on the topic of ‘S.R. Driver and Higher Criticism: Mapping “the Differences of Race” in Genesis’. Dr Cuéllar took us on a journey through Driver’s reliance on theories of racial hierarchy in his (Driver’s) attempts to interpret Genesis narratives. It was particularly eye-opening to hear some of the ways in which Driver “identified the races” which made it clear that biblical scholarship needs to be aware of its problematic past and realize that “white” should not normative.

 In amongst these three plenaries were ten papers delivered by a range of scholars, from PhD students to experienced academics. There was an enormous range of topics, ranging from taxation to disability, food to film, identities to representation and biblical texts to biblical hermeneutics. The conference ended with a panel discussion, chaired by Professor Horrell and with input from each of the invitation speakers: Professor Musa Dube; Dr Ma. Marilou S. Ibita; Dr Gregory Cuéllar. One of the stand-out features of this discussion, reflecting on issues raised throughout the conference, was the extent to which participants felt Biblical Studies was characterized by a trend to marginalize non-normative readings, be they from locations further away from its Euro-American centre, or those which do not conform to ‘traditional’ methods of biblical criticism. The conference certainly asked some provocative questions about what precisely biblical criticism is or should be as we move forward into the 21st Century.

 Rebekah Welton is a PhD student in the Department of Theology & Religion; Dr Helen John received her PhD in the Department in April 2016

Conference Report: Exploring the Glory of God in Durham

Exploring the Glory of God
University of Durham, 6-9th July 2016

Christopher Southgate

This conference was the inspiration of Dr Adesola Akala of St John’s College, Durham. She had gathered a superb array of keynote speakers, including Jan Joosten from Oxford on Hebrew Bible, David Ford from Cambridge on the Fourth Gospel, Tom Greggs of Aberdeen on a systematics approach, Paula Gooder on what it means to give glory to God, David Brown on an aesthetic treatment, and James Dunn on the Pauline witness.

I was delighted to be able to take forward my own research towards my monograph Glory and Longing by giving a paper on glory in poets and mystics, focusing on the poetry of RS Thomas and the diaries and letters of the Dutch Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum. A fascinating exchange ensued with Jan Joosten, who turned out to know one of the major Hillesum scholars in Holland. So valuable to make these connections. My hypothesis that divine glory is best understood as a sign of the depths of the divine reality remained in good shape (always a relief!)

The whole conference was conducted in an excellent spirit. For me what made it was the group of young scholars who gave short papers and contributed much energy and some searching questions, with a real sense of wanting to contribute not just to academe but to the life of the Church. There was also a welcome strand on glory and disability, linking perhaps with David Ford’s conviction that one of the most helpful responses to the Gospel of John is found in the work of Jean Vanier.

An excellent meeting, and I can only that its momentum will be sustained – there was much talk of follow-up meetings. Roll on 2019…

Ongoing Research Projects: Ethnicity, Race, and Religion in Early Christian and Jewish Identities

Abigail Pearson

The latest research project in theology to begin here at the University of Exeter focuses on exploring how ethnicity, race, and religion were understood by Jews and Christians at the time of Christian origins. To find out more about the project aims and the contemporary relevance of the research, I spoke to project leader Professor David Horrell who shared his inspiration for the project and revealed what we can expect from the upcoming conference.

Ethnicity, race, and religion are complex components of identity, and their relationship is set to be explored in a new research project taking place at the University of Exeter. “I’m mainly interested in exploring how supposedly ‘ethnic’ aspects of identity feature in both Jewish and Christian texts,” explains Professor David Horrell, “and exploring the practices and beliefs the texts depict.” A further aim of the research seeks to examine how Christian and Jewish identity has been represented in contemporary scholarly works. “The second major aim is critically to probe the traditions of modern New Testament scholarship, particularly in terms of how it depicts the character of the Christian movement in contrast to its depictions of Jewish identity in the same period.”


The idea for the project stemmed from a study of 1 Peter, when David began to look at the specific language used in the text to describe Christian identity. “I became interested in this topic initially through a study of 1 Peter 2.9-10, thinking about the ways in which (Jewish) ethnic identity-descriptors were there being applied to the ‘Christian’ people – precisely by labelling them as a ‘people’, a ‘race’ and , a ‘nation’.”  Similar research by other scholars has also influenced the project. “I was inspired and informed by some recent research, especially by Denise Kimber Buell, which has begun to explore the ways in which early Christian discourse uses ‘ethnic reasoning’ to express group-identity, both to distinguish Christians from others and also to encourage others to join this new people.”

As the project focuses on the time of Christian origins it primarily explores New Testament texts – especially the letters of Paul and 1 Peter. Other early Christian texts within and beyond the New Testament will also be considered, as well as Jewish texts from the same time period such as the writings of Josephus and Philo.
But contemporary issues related to ethnic and religious identities will not go unacknowledged, and I think it is the present day relevance of the research which makes the project so interesting. As David explains, “’religion’ and ‘race’ or ’ethnicity’ are clearly bound up in some of the most intractable and prominent conflicts in the contemporary world.” We need not look far for an example. “When David Cameron speaks of British values as those of freedom and tolerance, but also insists that we should be proud that Britain is a Christian country, this illustrates the overlaps and the problems: how are those of other faiths to feel fully British if the national identity is, in a sense, Christian?”

These modern implications form a central part of the research, and their consideration raises further important questions. “Are Islamophobia and antisemitism forms of religious or racial prejudice – or are they forms of hostility and fear in which both coalesce in certain ways? More broadly, why is it that people frequently draw an ideological division between Islam and the West, which correlates both to a religious and a racial division between “white” and “Arab”?”

Whilst reflecting upon these broader aspects of the project David began to notice interesting overlaps between Western ideals and Biblical interpretation. “I was struck by the significant parallel between the kind of model of inclusion that modern scholars find in early Christianity and the modern, Western, liberal model of tolerant social inclusion – both are problematic, interconnected, and reflect their racial and religious origins in the white, modern West.”


Image: King James Bible from 1634 Credit: Photograph by David Horrell, courtesy of Exeter Cathedral Library.

This realisation encouraged David to explore further the dominance that Western scholarly traditions continue to hold over Biblical studies. One of the crucial ways the project will do this is through a three day conference to be held on 9th-11th August. Ethnicity, Race, and Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation  will bring together a range of voices from both within and beyond Western scholarship. “I have invited plenary speakers who represent different perspectives, experiences, and areas of expertise outside of these Western contexts,” David tells us, “and I hope that by listening hard, my own presuppositions and approaches will be challenged and widened.”

Speakers attending the conference include Professor Musa Dube, (University of Botswana), Dr Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies, Quezon City, the Philippines), and Dr Gregory Cuéllar (Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, USA).

As well as these engaging plenary talks, the conference also promises to showcase related research from across many of the sub-disciplines in theology. “We have a wide range of papers offered by people from around the world, dealing with topics ranging from the constructions of Jewish and Gentile ethnicity in Paul’s letters, to Contextual Bible Study and other ways of bringing non-Western voices and interpretations to expression. It should be an exciting and engaging event!” bibleinthebushconference

The conference also brings an opportunity for some of these topics to be discussed in
front of a wider audience. On Monday 8th August a public lecture has been arranged with Professor Musa Dube, who will be speaking on The Bible in the Bush: Translating and reading the Bible in AfricaThe event is open to all and begins at 7.30 pm in Chapter House on Exeter Cathedral grounds.

It certainly looks  to be an eventful few months for the project – we look forward to the conference and to seeing the results of this exciting research as it emerges!

‘Ethnicity, Race, and Religion in Early Christian and Jewish Identities,’ is an AHRC funded project set to run until March 2017. To find out more about the ongoing research, visit the project webpage.

To find out more about the conference or to book a place, visit the conference webpage.  You can also follow the conference on Twitter @Err_Conf2016

-Upcoming Event- The Bible in The Bush: Translating and reading the Bible in Africa – Monday 8th August, 7.30pm

We are delighted to announce that Professor Musa Dube from the University of Botswana will be presenting a talk at Chapter House, Exeter Cathedral, on Monday 8th August at 7.30pm.

‘The Bible in the Bush: Translating and Reading the Bible in Africa’ will introduce and explore some of the themes which arise from biblical interpretation in African contexts.

Professor Musa Dube is currently Professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana. She is a member of the United Methodist Church, the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, and the Society of Biblical Literature. Her research focuses on postcolonial and feminist readings of the Bible, theological issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, and translations and interpretations of the Bible in Africa.

Her recent publications on these topics include Postcolonial perspectives
on African Biblical Interpretations
(Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), The HIV and AIDS Bible: Some Selected Essays (University of Scranton Press, 2008), and Postcolonial Feminist Interpretations of the Bible (Chalice Press, 2000).

In 2011 she was awarded the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award by the prestigious Humboldt Foundation (Germany) in recognition of both her academic and community oriented work on postcolonialism, HIV&AIDS and biblical studies.

Her expertise is guaranteed to make this an insightful and engaging talk, both for those with prior knowledge of the subject matter as well as those new to the topic.

Entry to the event is free, and all are welcome. Refreshments will be served afterwards.

‘The Bible in the Bush: Translating and Reading the Bible in Africa’ takes places at Chapter House, Exeter Cathedral, on Monday 8th August 2016 at 7.30 pm. Free entry.

Directions: Chapter House is located to the right of the Cathedral’s main entrance, through the small garden with black railings.


-Conference Announcement- Ethnicity, Race, and Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation

Ethnicity, Race, and Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation, University of Exeter, 9th-11th August 2016.


Image: King James Bible from 1634 Credit: Photograph by David Horrell, courtesy of Exeter Cathedral Library.

Ethnicity, race, and religion are overlapping components of identity which intersect with one another in complex ways. Understanding how they are used and understood in biblical constructions of identity is the aim of an exciting international conference set to take place in Exeter next month – Ethnicity, Race, and Religion: Identities, Ideologies, and Intersections in Biblical Texts and Interpretation.

The conference, hosted by the Centre for Biblical Studies here are the University of Exeter, will run from 9th August until 11th August.

The conference seeks to explore how ideologies of race have shaped biblical interpretation and the influence this has had upon racial ideologies past and present. Over the course of the three-day conference, attendees will have the opportunity to hear papers discussing how  issues surrounding ethnicity, race and religion are represented in the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition, Biblical Interpretation, and in the Bible in Film.

See the full conference programme for further details about the schedule and for paper abstracts from each speaker.

The plenary session speakers will be:

Registration for the event is currently open, click here to see our pricing options and to make a booking.

This conference is organised by Professor David Horrell and Dr Katy Hockey, and is part of an ongoing AHRC funded project, ‘Ethnicity, Race, and Religion in Early Christian and Jewish identities: A Critical Examination of Ancient Sources and Modern Scholarship.’

Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day

Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day
13th June 2016, University of Exeter

Abigail Pearson

On Monday 13th June the department came together for the end of term Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day, hosted at the university’s Catholic Chaplaincy. This event offered the chance for MA and PhD students to share their research in front of students and staff.

In the first session, we heard from Leanna Rierson and Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld. Leanna Rierson spoke about “The Emergence of Humility in Contemporary Leadership Theories and the Potential Application to Biblical Studies.” Her aim is to combine leadership theories, humility studies, and Biblical Studies in order to better understand leadership in both the ancient world and in contemporary culture. The approach she proposed involves using case-studies to investigate Paul’s humility and how this contributed to his effectiveness as a leader. Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld gave a paper titled “The Material of the Gifts from God: is the Spirit a Creature in Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John?” His discussion of whether Origen considered the spirit to be part of creation revealed Origen’s multi-layered understanding of the Holy Trinity and how each of its aspects came into being. I was the chair for the session, and though I was nervous because I had not chaired before, it was made easier by the well-timed speakers and enthusiastic questions from the audience.

Continue reading

Enjoying the Academic Conference and the Social Interactions

Marina Hannus reflects on several different conference experiences and offers her advice on how to make the most of the social side of academic conferences. 

In terms of social engagement and networking, I’m lucky. A lot of academics are introverted and feel unsettled about going to conferences, presenting their research, and having to ‘network’. I am lucky because I have always enjoyed meeting new people. Especially if I know that we have something in common which gives me a natural reason to start conversations. Therefore I often take pleasure in being in a context where I am surrounded by strangers.

At the same time, even I need to be intentional about turning on ‘conference mode’ if I want to make the most of academic conferences. In my everyday life I don’t initiate conversations with strangers very often, unless it is at a specific event or I have a legitimate reason. This in combination with the many hours of independent research makes me less used to interacting with strangers.

In spite of this, though, I find it more exciting than scary to go to conferences. This is why I booked three conferences in one month this spring…

Continue reading

The Futures of Biblical Studies Conference Report

The Futures of Biblical Studies
University of Kent, 1-2 June 2016

Rebekah Welton

This conference was the opening event for the newly formed Institut13173727_1370286236321692_1977418188179063420_ne for Biblical Studies comprising the universities of Exeter, Kent, Sheffield and St Mary’s Twickenham. It also celebrated the launch of a new biblical studies library at the University of Kent, donated from the personal collections of David Clines who also provided us with the key note lecture. I was extremely excited to be presenting a paper at my first ‘proper’ conference – in the sense that previous paper presentations have been at post-graduate events. Sharing your work in a room of leading scholars in one’s own discipline is an altogether different experience to presenting to fellow students from the very broad umbrella of humanities. So whilst I was nervous, I was also excited to be a part of both the ‘real’ world of biblical scholarship and also excited to be a part of the ‘future’ of this discipline.

Continue reading