The Shiloh Project: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible

The Shiloh Project

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About the Project

Every day, global news feeds and social media engagements testify to the many complex relationships that exist between religion and gender violence. They also highlight the significant part that religions can play in both confronting and perpetuating the myths and misperceptions that lie at the heart of rape cultures – cultures that conceptualise gender violence as an 'inevitable' or even profitable outcome of normative social gender roles. Religious texts, traditions, and beliefs can exert powerful influences on people’s understanding of gender relationships, shaping their responses to gender violence and rape culture within their own socio-cultural contexts.

The Shiloh Project is a joint initiative set up by staff from the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland (NZ). It is committed to fostering research into the phenomenon of rape culture, both throughout history and within contemporary societies across the globe. In particular, it will investigate the complex and at times contentious relationships that exist between rape culture and religion, considering the various ways religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

It will also explore the multiple social identities that invariably intersect with rape culture, including gender, sexuality, race and class.

Currently our members are working in the following research areas:

  • Gender violence and the Bible
  • Representations of rape culture in popular culture
  • Gender, class and rape culture
  • Spiritualities and transphobia
  • Incest and Bible
Why 'The Shiloh Project'?

Our name refers to a story replete with rape in the closing chapters of the book of Judges. Judges is rife with brutalities and recounts a time of military skirmishes before there was even more organised warfare in the days of monarchy. The book ends with events at Shiloh and comments, on a closing note, that in those (chaotic and violent) days there was no king, so each man did as seemed right in his own eyes.

In Judges 20 an inter-tribal war begins between 'the people of Israel' and the tribe of Benjamin (which is also part of Israel). The catalyst for this war is the brutal gang rape of a Levite's wife - a gang rape that is preceded both by the threat of male rape of the Levite and by the cavalier offering up for rape of his wife and a host's virgin daughter (Judges 19). The war has divine backing - though the Israelites have misgivings about fighting their own kin (Judges 20.23).

After Benjamin is defeated there is more upset, because the Israelites had sworn an oath at a place called Mizpah, not to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. But if the Benjamites had no access to wives, how would the tribe survive?

A 'solution' is found: one group, from a place called Jabesh-gilead, had not sworn the oath at Mizpah. So, Israelite soldiers went to Jabesh-gilead and killed all the men and all the women who had had sex with a man. But all the female virgins were brought to Shiloh to become wives for the Benjamites. These virgins, however, prove insufficient for the Benjamites and 'compassion' (Judges 21.15) transpires in a further scheme: the Benjamites are to seize the young women of Shiloh as they come out to dance in the vineyards. Any Israelite male - father or brother - who is unhappy about this is told to be 'generous' (21.22).

We know nothing more about these women of Shiloh - they have no voice. The text is filtered through a lens of male demands for progeny and posterity. But we can resist the women's invisibility and insist on giving them a voice. We can imagine their ordeal and demand that this story is not overlooked. In our own time, resonances with rape in war and with the abduction of the girls of Chibok by Boko Haram makes this particularly poignant.

Current Research Projects

Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland), Emily Colgan (Trinity Methodist College, Auckland) and Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield) are currently working on a three volume series titled Rape Culture, Gender Violence and Religion for Palgrave Macmillan.

The essays in the volumes reveal the diverse and multidisciplinary approaches that scholars are currently utilising to analyse this crucial subject area, while showcasing the practical, pedagogical, and theoretical value of scholarly research for analysing and challenging the global phenomena of gender violence and rape culture.

Contributors to the volumes come from a range of disciplines, including Religious Studies, Theology, Anthropology, Sociology, Philosophy, Counselling, Media Film and TV Studies, English, Biblical Studies, and Gender Studies.

Project Leads

Dr Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland)

Caroline Blyth is senior lecturer in Biblical Studies and Religious Studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her research interests encompass exploring the Bible in popular culture, focusing in particular on representations of gender and sexuality in biblical and contemporary narratives. She has a special interest in the various intersections that exist between religion and violence, particularly gender violence in all its forms. Her recent publications include The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34: Interpreting Dinah’s Silence (OUP, 2010), Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015, co-edited with Robert Myles), and The Lost Seduction: Reimagining Delilah’s Afterlives as Femme Fatale (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). She is managing co-editor of the Bible and Critical Theory journal, and, along with Katie Edwards and Emily Colgan, is currently co-editing a three-volume series, titled Rape Culture, Gender Violence and Religion, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan. For more details see:

Twitter: @CazBlyth​

Dr Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield)

Katie Edwards is Director of the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) and Senior Lecturer in the School of English at the University of Sheffield. Her research focuses on the function, impact and influence of the Bible in contemporary culture. She is especially concerned with intersections of gender, race and class in popular cultural reappropriations of biblical characters/narratives. She is co-editor of the Biblical Reception journal (Bloomsbury) and is co-editing Rape Culture, Gender Violence and Religion, a three volume series for Palgrave Macmillan, with Caroline Blyth and Emily Colgan. For more details see:

Twitter: @KatieBEdwards

Dr Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds)

Johanna Stiebert is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Leeds. She studied at the Universities of Otago (Dunedin, NZ), Cambridge and Glasgow. Prior to joining Theology & Religious Studies at Leeds (in 2009) she taught at St. Martin's College (now the University of Cumbria, 1998-1999), the University of Botswana (1999-2002), and the University of Tennessee (2003-2009), with shorter teaching stints also at the Kerala United Theological Seminary (2005) and the University of Swansea (2008). Her main research interests are in the Hebrew Bible and: self-conscious emotion terminology, ideological-critical readings of prophetic literature, African-centred interpretation, sexuality, and family dynamics. She has published four books. From 2012-15, together with Professor Musa Dube (University of Botswana) she was co-recipient of a British Academy International Partnership Fund, 'UK and Southern African Biblical Scholarship in Dialogue'. She is recipient of a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award (Humboldt Fellowship) and will spend a year (from August 2017) at the University of Bamberg. She is actively involved in support for refugees and asylum seekers and a long-standing member of Amnesty International. For more details see:

Current members

Dr Emily Colgan (Trinity Methodist College, Auckland)

Dr Nechama Hadari (SIIBS)

Nechama Hadari gained her PhD as a member of the Agunah Research Unit at the University of Manchester, where her thesis, The Kosher Get: A Halakhic Story of Divorce (Deborah Charles, 2012) explored Rabbinic understandings of autonomy and the human will, reaching far beyond the initial context of the research (the Mishnaic requirement that a man should only divorce his wife “willingly”). The thesis was subsequently awarded a prize by the International Council of Jewish Women. Her subsequent work has explored the intersection of gender, autonomy and religion in contexts as diverse as: attributing responsibility for war crimes, the coercive treatment of anorexia nervosa sufferers and societal attitudes towards teen pregnancy. Currently she’s involved in a feminist theological examination of the moral “fallout” from narratives we construct and accept about the Holocaust. In the context of the Shiloh project, she asks how the growing literature focussing on women’s complicity with, retrospective support for and (on occasion) active participation in the Holocaust might be interpreted in part as an uneasy response to growing awareness of the widespread rape of German women in the immediate aftermath of the War

Dr Jessica Keady (University of Chester)

Emma Nagouse (University of Sheffield)

Emma Nagouse is a WRoCAH funded PhD student in the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) researching the phenomenon of rape culture in the Bible and contemporary society. Emma’s research focusses around how biblical and contemporary intersectional gender presentation facilitates rape and disbelief culture through reaffirming oppressive stereotypes and informing perceptions of rape gradations. She is also co-director of SIIBS research theme Orange is the New Bible (supported by Hidden Perspectives) which uses the hit TV show Orange is the New Black to reread problematic passages of biblical text, explore LGBT* and other social identities, and campaign for prison reform. Emma is Assistant Editor of the University of Sheffield History Matters blog and co-organiser of the Sheffield Feminist Archive (SFA). SFA is a grassroots community archive housed at Sheffield Archives which encourages donations of artefacts relating to women’s liberation in Sheffield, as well as actively collecting oral histories relating to local feminism. Emma is currently writing a chapter for Rape Culture, Gender Violence and Religion (a three volume series for Palgrave Macmillan, edited by Caroline Blyth, Emily Colgan and Katie Edwards) on male rape in the Bible and pop culture.

Twitter: @ejnagouse

Dr Meredith Warren (University of Sheffield)

Meredith J C Warren is Director of the Embodied Religion research theme at the University of Sheffield, where she is Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies. Previously, Warren held a research position at the University of Ottawa (2013–2015), funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture. Her most recent monograph, titled, My Flesh is Meat Indeed: A Nonsacramental Reading of John 6:51–58 (Fortress Press 2015), analysed the intersection of cannibalistic language, divine identity, and human sacrifice in the Gospel of John and the Hellenistic romance novels of the early centuries of the Common Era. She continues to investigate female protagonists in ancient Jewish, Christian, and Pagan fiction to explore the ways in which the narrative depiction of women’s bodies plays a role in reinforcing and challenging ancient social norms. Warren’s research centres on how the body is a focusing lens through which to understand ancient and contemporary notions of religious identity, belonging, and exclusion.

Twitter: @DrMJCWarren

For further information on The Shiloh Project, email

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