Thesis Title: The Genesis of Cisnormativity & the Need for a Hermeneutics of Cispicion
Research Themes: Hebrew Bible, Genesis, queer theory, trans theory, Bible in contemporary society, LGBT+ studies
Jo’s PhD is AHRC funded through WRoCAH, and her project uses and adapts queer theory and gender studies in order to propose new hermeneutics for reading biblical narratives against an assumption that all characters are cisgender. That means the character is understood to have been only and always a single and fixed gender from their birth; it is the antonym of transgender (hereafter trans*). In the first half of the project I argue for an epistemological shift to transform the way trans* and cis* are considered as subjects of investigation in biblical studies. This is done through eliciting a change in both categorisation of the biblical material and through a subsequent shift in interpretative strategies. The second half of the project showcases the possibilities for cispicious interpretations of the stories of Sarai/h (Gen. 12-23), Esau (25-36), and Jacob/Israel (25-50). These case studies focus on different facets of gender experience through interrogation of language, bodies, social roles, sense of identity, behaviour and performance. Each presents possibilities for identifying gender diverse characters that offers points of resonance for today’s readers. It is a timely project and one that speaks to the continuing significance of the Bible in contemporary discourses of gender while offering an alternative strategy for interpretation.
Alongside her studies, Jo has co-created her own fixed-term research project, and worked on several established research projects:
Co-director, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom – 2015 to present
Alongside Minna Shkul, Jo co-directs Hidden Perspectives at the University of Sheffield. Established in 2013 by Katie Edwards, this is an engaging creative project which offers creative engagements with unrepresented perspectives in the study of religion. It particularly offers a space for LGBT+ interactions with the Bible and religion, and has a well-established partnership with the award winning and highly acclaimed interdisciplinary LGBT+ Studies module at the University of Sheffield.
We regularly host research events, Hidden Perspectives presents…, showcasing research from across the world, and the annual World Aids Day talk in early December which interrogates HIV/Aids and religion. Additionally we offer various events as part of LGBT History month in February, including through the related Orange is the New Bible project (see below). Jo has also hosted MA student interns and a Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience, whose projects and research relate to the aims of Hidden Perspectives. In 2014, Hidden Perspectives hosted the Garden of Eden: Biblical Burlesque night in the heart of Sheffield city centre. We have collaborated with LaDIYfestSheffield, Arts Enterprise, the Sheena Amos Youth Trust to run the Hidden Perspectives Festival in 2013.
In October 2017, in celebration of the launch of our sibling project in Auckland (immediately below), Jo is organising a research symposium focusing on the shared aims of bringing popular culture out of the closet; an event proposed by the MA student interns. As part of the event we will host one of the student leads from the New Zealand project to hear more about their work, while integrating aspects of the Orange is the New Bible project – especially relating to the Bible and television – and continuing to explore underrepresented perspectives on the Bible and contemporary culture.
Visiting researcher, University of Auckland, New Zealand – 2017. Project lead: Caroline Blyth
A sibling project to Sheffield’s similarly named project, Hidden Perspectives (NZ) was launched in March 2017 as a community and network for Rainbow/LGBT+ students. Part of Faculty of Arts, this equity initiative is designed to provide a safe and welcoming space for staff and students at the University of Auckland. It integrates social activities and research events as well as joint film nights with the Gender Studies centre. During February and March 2017 Jo worked as a visiting researcher with Caroline Blyth and Chip Matthews, who lead the project in Auckland. Between January and May Jo also supervised two student interns who were creating and launching the website and social media for Hidden Perspectives.
Jo’s role included working with students in Auckland and Sheffield to support and nurture the group. She attended Auckland Pride, representing the University of Auckland alongside other staff and students, facilitated events, and networked with local stakeholders. She was also able to share her research, and the importance of Hidden Perspectives projects with community partners at presentations in the city and at the University.
Co-director, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom – 2015 to 2017
Jo co-founded the Orange is the New Bible with Lu Skerratt, a masters student at King’s College London, in 2015 to explore the relationship between the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black and the Bible in contemporary society. The show offered possibilities for exploring themes including rape and gender violence, transgender theology, the politics of hair, engineering religion, and ritual purity – amongst other themes. Jo and Lu, along with support from Charity Hamilton, a University of Leeds PhD student, hosted a research symposium in February 2016, as part of the University of Sheffield’s activities for LGBT History Month. The project was supported by Hidden Perspectives, and the symposium was generously financed by WRoCAH and the Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Forum at the University of Sheffield. It received very positive feedback and drew participants from many academic fields and levels, as well as charity workers, campaigners and other interested parties. The event raised a sizeable donation for a local charity, the Together Women Project, who work with women affected by incarceration.
Following the symposium, Orange is the New Bible focused on advocacy, awareness-raising and public scholarship. The project concluded in summer 2017, with several strands of the project becoming integrated into Hidden Perspectives and The Shiloh Project, a new collaboration between the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and Auckland which focuses on gender violence and rape culture.
Digital Series Editor (2014 to 2017), Project Assistant (2014 to 2015), and Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholar (2012 to 2014), University of Leeds, United Kingdom – 2012 to 2017. Project lead: Mel Prideaux
Initially starting out in the project as part of her Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship, Jo’s first job was to catalogue and curate an archive in collaboration with community stakeholders, many of whom had articles and photographs in the repository. Since its inception in the 1970s, the Community Religions Project (CRP) has recorded and researched religions as practiced in Leeds, with particular interest in diasporic religious practices and the way religious develop within specific geographic areas. As part of developing the archive, Jo designed and launched the CRP website in 2012, integrating a digital archive, before working to digitise the project’s monograph series – a task completed in 2017.
There were two further key aspects to Jo’s project: she undertook her own research into religion in Leeds, for which she was awarded the RSA/Edward Boyle Prize for outstanding achievements in undergraduate research. As a research assistant, Jo analysed changes within the field of religious studies as evidenced in the monographs and identified developments in methodology and the understanding of the role of the researcher. This work was developed into a conference paper (at the Critical Approaches to Religious Diversity Workshop, Aarhus University, Denmark, 24 May 2013), and journal article (2014) by Mel Prideaux with Jo’s assistance. Jo then designed and undertook her own project exploring the interrelationship between the Bible and religion in Leeds city centre: her research identified interesting correlations between the location and role of the Bible and broader trends in public and private religion in contemporary society. The initial conclusions were presented at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research and a piece of public scholarship was published by invitation in 2014. The outcomes of this research are being developed into a co-authored journal article, anticipated for publication in 2018.
Finally, Jo worked closely with Mel Prideaux on the production and development of pedagogical resources focusing on the impact of studying religions in their localities, and on the value of nurturing students as experts. CRP resources designed by Mel and Jo were presented at the British Academy for the Study of Religion (BASR) conference (2014), and at Student Education Conferences (2014, 2015) at the University of Leeds.
Website & Exhibition Intern, University of Leeds, United Kingdom – 2013 to 2015. Project lead: Seán McLoughlin
This AHRC and British Academy funded project explores the experiences of British Hajjis, and culminated in an exhibition at the British Museum. Following the initial success and interest in the project, Seán McLoughlin focused on developing resources to make communicate his work to different audiences including community, academic, and industrial partners and groups. Jo was recruited to create a dedicated website to showcase his research. In 2014, Seán and Jo (as a graduate intern) collaborated with Tim Waters, a freelance geospatial designer and developer, as part of the Leeds Creative Labs scheme organised by the Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange. The scheme is described as:
Through Leeds Creative Labs, we aim to spark collaborations that inspire and challenge artists and researchers to explore, innovate and take risks to find new ways of working together.
This ground-breaking programme pairs creative professionals with researchers from the University. Through Leeds Creative Labs, we provide funding, inspiration, opportunities and above all, the co-creative space to share ideas and experiences without deadlines and targets.
The collaboration focused on how best to exhibit the resources in a creative and accessible way, and led to the launch of the exhibition website in late 2014.