Research seminars and events

We host an exciting and engaging research seminar programme throughout the year. Some of our lectures are given by internationally leading biblical scholars, academics across a range of disciplines, University of Sheffield staff and our own postgraduate students.


Research seminars provide the opportunity to hear the some of latest, cutting edge research from across a wide range of topics and our seminars are open to all. All seminars are held on Mondays from 3—4.30pm unless otherwise stated. All Held on Google Meet - please email for link to join.

Spring semester 2021

8 February: Andrew Boakye (Manchester)

“Apostles Behaving Badly: Peter, Paul and Black Lives Matter”

The debacle at the ethnically mixed meal table at Antioch recorded in Galatians 2:11- 14 was a source of embarrassment for the patristic writers and glee for the enemies of the ancient Jesus movement. The incident evidenced deep rooted social fractures in the community, utterly incongruous with its own charter of oneness. This paper proposes that the marginalization of gentiles in the episode may serve as a critical analogue for the ethno-racial tensions borne of the marginalization of black Christians in ethnically diverse contemporary church contexts. As such, an exegetical reconsideration of the drama, positioning itself as a counter-narrative to political marginalization, may serve to provide remedial paradigms for addressing such tensions. The resurgence of Black Lives Matter sentiments, recently reignited in the wake of the deaths of black American citizens at the hands of law enforcement, makes such a rethink urgent if the church is to have a voice in the contemporary pursuit of social justice

15 February:  David Janzen (Durham)

"The Meaningful Text: The Reader as Author." 

This is part of a larger project on liberative hermeneutics in which I'm making the argument that we need not privilege historical investigation over emancipatory goals in our interpretive work because there's no need to do historical work in biblical interpretation, while we have an ethical responsibility to read for liberation. This presentation argues that texts, insofar as they can mean anything to us, are the creations of readers rather than authors, and since readers are responsible for meaning then there is no methodological imperative to answer historical questions.

22 February: Sara Parks (Nottingham)

“When a Hat Isn't a Hat: Continuing the Tradition of Hebrew Penis Euphemisms in a Hellenistic Anti-Hellenistic Text.” 

Ancient Hebrew is well-known for its cheeky and creative ways of referring to certain body parts without mentioning them overtly. But does this tradition continue into Hellenistic Judaism, including after the majority of Jews spoke and wrote in Greek? 2 Maccabees is a Hellenistic (i.e. written in Greek during the Hellenistic period) Jewish text that, in my estimation, comes up with a clever euphemism for the practice of "reverse circumcision." The problem is, commentators down through the ages seem to have missed the joke.

1 March: Rob Marshall

“QUMRAN: 50 years on from Sheffield: A tribute to Professor Philip Davies”

8 March: Michelle Fletcher (King’s College London)

“Daniel 5: Seeing the Writing on the Wall”

This paper will focus on visualizations of Daniel 5’s account of the Writing on the Wall. The first half of the paper will cover key scholarly debates surrounding the message of the writing, particularly regarding textual and translation issues. It will also provide an overview of visualizations of this mysterious writing, exploring how artists have tackled the challenge of portraying the message that only Daniel could read. The second half of the paper will move to focus on three works of art which raise particularly pertinent questions surrounding the nature of the mysterious writing. These works will be used to examine the medium of writing in the ancient world and the potential terror that unreadable messages raise both in the ancient world and today. 

15 March: Jon Morgan

“Ritual cleanliness and zoonosis: how not to write about the Bible and COVID-19”

This paper will set out a case study of a recent piece of public-facing academic work published by Faith Partners via the blog associated with their Logos Bible software platform. It will argue that critical attention to the way the article is framed, the medium in which it was published, and the responses that it generated offers valuable insight, especially for early-career researchers, into the ways in which biblical scholarship addresses contemporary public issues.

22 March: M. Finney & Mohammad Alruwaili (Sheffield)

“The Christian and Islamic Jesus: Reflections on the ‘Jesus’ Debate in Islamic Studies”

26 April 2021: Charlotte Naylor Davis   

“What is a Sacred Text if ‘God is Change’? Interrogating the Function of Octavia Butler’s Books of the Living in Light of Hebrew Wisdom Texts”

In the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents  Octavia Butler creates a world in a near future (a land decimated by a ‘pox’) which we experience through the eyes of a woman trying to build her own new world and community. Lauren Olamina is both surviving and creating as she moves through the wreckage of the religious culture she was born into. What she creates comes in two forms – the community of Earthseed, and the Books of the Living, both of which centre on the notion that ‘God Is Change.’

This paper will discuss what it means for an idea such as ‘god is change’ to be written in a form that (in theory) does not change – a text. Using insights from the study of biblical literature I will critique and add nuance to previous investigations into the Books of the Living which tend to use the terms ‘sacred text’ and ‘scripture’ as simple descriptors. As Olamina’s new world vision queries the very idea of authority, such terms, which engender ideas of unchanging authoritarian texts, need further investigation to truly understand what The Books of the Living are and how they function within Butler’s idea of the Earthseed community, and within the work of literature itself.

This paper therefore will interrogate both biblical and Butlerian ideas to learn more about the function and genre of ‘sacred text’. Focusing on insights from the debates around wisdom literature we will consider two aspects: first the nature of Earthseed as sacred text, and the claims to authority within a community; second, the literary construction of the sayings by Butler, and what that highlights about assumptions that are made when the term ‘sacred’ or ‘authoritative’ are used about any text in a community setting.

Autumn semester 2020

19 October

Dr Richard Newton (University of Alabama) - "The Anthropology of Scriptures: The Bible, Trump Cards, and the Roots of Discourse"

 Throughout the presidency of Donald J. Trump, Bible scholars have been experimenting with applying their training to social analysis and cultural commentary. The base model for such projects largely remains in the realm of comparative exegesis of texts and proper interpretation. In this presentation, I advocate for a shift toward an anthropology of scriptures, where the focus becomes an investigation into the ways that people read cultural texts  as well as how and why those texts appear to read them back. Building on insights from my recent book, Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures (Equinox 2020), I offer an analytical grammar and vocabulary for studying the Bible and other cultural texts as tools for social formation. 

2 November 

Dr. Heather Macumber (Providence University College & Seminary) - “When Dragons Lose their Wings: Re-examining the Great Red Dragon of Revelation 12” 

Artists for centuries have memorialized the great dragon in John’s Apocalypse locked in aerial combat with the archangel Michael. However, John’s descriptors of the dragon are surprisingly sparse with little to no details regarding its appearance. Common conceptions of dragons are largely based on medieval depictions of winged, fire-breathing, treasure-hoarding creatures. Though Monster Theory is a newer lens with a potential for anachronistic readings of ancient texts, I demonstrate the use of such a theory corrects misreadings of the dragon long entrenched in interpretative traditions. Re-examining the monstrous features of the dragon both through the lens of Monster Theory and ancient sources uncovers further horrific characteristics. The use of “fantastic biologies” as coined by N. Carroll (The Philosophy of Horror) illuminates the use of the dragon as a sign and warning to John’s community.

16 November

Dr Ryan Byerly (Sheffield University) - "Studying Character Traits of Congregations: Conceptualisations, Methods, and Findings"

Recent years have witnessed tremendous growth in the interdisciplinary study of character traits of individuals. Nothing comparable has yet emerged concerning the character traits of groups, including religious groups. But the time is ripe for it. In this talk, I will discuss approaches to conceptualising and measuring character traits of religious groups, focusing on Christian churches. After explaining what group character traits in general are supposed to be and how we might conceptualise character traits of Christian churches, I present findings from a recent empirical study aimed at developing and validating a research instrument called the Congregational Character Questionnaire, which seeks to measure twelve distinct congregational virtues.

30 November

Dr Chris Mowatt (University of History) - “Queer Eye for the Galli”

The practitioners of the cult of Cybele in Republican and early Imperial Rome, known as the galli, underwent voluntary self-castration as a requirement for entry into the cult. This initiation, essentially a form of premodern gender reassignment surgery, aligned the sex of their bodies to a position outside the male/female binary and, in many senses, removed them from the heterosexual (or at least heteronormative) matrix. Taking the Galli as my case study, I will look at the uses and shortcomings of applying what is considered modern categorisation to ancient identities; rather than being caught between the dichotomy of essentialist and social constructionist arguments, I want to show how we can deliberate play with a modern lens to allow the past to be in dialogue with the present, to reach out and share moments of connection as well as moments of difference.

7 December

Dr Thomas O’Loughlin (University of Nottingham) - “Should We Rethink the Relationship Between the Didache and Luke 22:17-20 in the Light of the Diversity Model of Early Christian Practices?”

Abstract tbc.