A reflection on the 2017 Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good

Dr Susannah Cornwall offers her reflections on her opportunity to deliver the 2017 Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good.

Credit: Dr Susannah Cornwall

In October I visited Santa Clara University in San Jose, California (about an hour south of San Francisco) to deliver the Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good. This was part of the 2016-18 Bannan Institute on the Common Good, hosted by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

I usually love travelling to give papers and meet other researchers as part of my job, but I had a certain amount of trepidation this time, because I was aware that 13,000 people had signed a petition calling on Santa Clara to rescind their invitation to me on the grounds that I was not a suitable person to be hosted by and speak at a Catholic university. However, I received wonderful hospitality and a warm welcome in Santa Clara, even if the experience of being escorted by a bodyguard and having everyone security-checked before they entered the lecture was somewhat surreal.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

Questions surrounding gender identity are freighted in Roman Catholic circles at the moment, particularly in the US, and Pope Francis has spoken of his reservations about the “gender agenda” and the way in which it might diminish the theological significance of distinct and divinely-ordained maleness and femaleness. It was great to address a mixed audience including clergy from several dioceses, trans activists, academics, students and others to begin to think through the ways in which gender transition might, for some people, be understood as a way into healing and vocation, not a deviation from them.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

I also had the privilege of visiting and speaking at several undergraduate classes whilst at Santa Clara. Most undergraduate degrees in the US last four years, and students initially take a portfolio of classes across a range of subject areas before choosing a Major in which to specialize. I was a guest speaker for classes in Gender, Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Europe (a History course); Sexuality and Spirituality in Latinx and Chicanx Literature and Theologies (a Religious Studies course); and LGBTQ Studies: Global Perspectives (an English course) – all of which were also cross-coded with Women’s and Gender Studies. It was great to see the diverse teaching and learning methods there, and to meet such engaged and motivated students.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

In terms of research dialogues, I had meetings with faculty members from Religious Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, and with the organizing collective for the Gender Justice and the Common Good research institute. They had in common their desire to root their research and teaching in real-world challenges, including how to understand the mission of a Catholic university today (which, for the Ignatian Center, includes witnessing to social justice in the heart of Silicon Valley).

I’ve very grateful to everyone who made the visit possible, particularly Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley and Susan Chun at the Ignatian Center, and to all those I met and spoke to, from the University, the Diocese of San Jose, and beyond.

To watch the main lecture given by Dr Cornwall, click here.

Dr Susannah Cornwall is a lecturer in the University of Exeter Theology and Religion Department

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.

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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…

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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.

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Talking about wilderness in a city of sky-scrapers

Morwenna Ludlow

Do you have a place that you love, that you’ve introduced to a dear friend, only to discover that they absolutely hate it?

This was the subject of the paper I delivered to the North American Patristics Society, whose annual meeting took place this May in Chicago. Basil of Caesarea (c.329-379) is famous as the ‘father of monasticism’, but before setting up his famous monastery in Caesarea he (and his family and friends) experimented with other ways of being a monk. Basil travelled around various ascetic communities on a kind of gap year after university in Athens; he then went and taught rhetoric in Caesarea, but soon had a change of heart and settled on a remote part of his family estate (at Annisa, modern Uluköy) to live as a hermit with a small group of other men.

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Mar Elian monastery – a model of hospitality destroyed

In recent weeks, IS overran Qaryatayn, a remote Syrian town in the desert between Homs and Palmyra. They also destroyed its monastery, Mar Elian.

Emma Loosley describes her deep connection with the community and the effects of the monastery’s destruction.

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