lectio difficilior

European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis

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L. Juliana Claassens


Final Reflections

As I am writing this reflection, I am very much under the impression of just how interconnected our world has become. I sensed something of this in September of this year when while many of my international colleagues were gathered in my home town Stellenbosch, I was in the United States on sabbatical, teaching for the fall semester at Davidson College in North Carolina. Moreover, I felt this even more intensely this past week when the shock election results with Hillary Clinton not becoming the first female president of the United States reverberated throughout the world. One already sees the impact of this election not only in the United States but also in South Africa as it is giving permission to little “trumps” to reassert their power.

For me, one of the most difficult things about this election is what it says about gender. A Huffington Post opinion article argues that Hillary Clinton’s loss reveals something of the deep-seated levels of misogyny and patriarchy in the United States that in the end made it impossible for men, and also a significant number of women, to vote for a woman president despite the terrible things her rival candidate said about women, immigrants and the LGBTIQ community.[1]

Actually the esteemed collection of Old Testament feminist/womanist scholars from four different countries reflected in this IOSOT panel on Gender and Biblical Scholarship corroborates something of this never-ending struggle for gender justice amidst the explicit and implicit manifestations of patriarchy in their respective contexts. This is evident in the title of Madipoane Masenya’s contribution, “Navigating a Gender-Unconscious Biblical Studies Academic Context,” as well as in the many instances cited by the panelists that reflect the difficulties experienced by women in academia all around the world. This includes amongst others a limited number of available academic positions with many female scholars struggling to find full time employment, as well as the ongoing struggle to convince the guild that feminist/womanist biblical interpretation is a worthwhile pursuit after all. As Christl Maier points out, even something as obvious as that value neutral, objective interpretation does not exist is still not accepted by everyone in our field.

But probably even more disconcerting is Mercedes Bachmann’s recognition of a form of masculi­nity that in her context has led to the most tragic examples of femicide. Also Jacqueline Lapsley reflected on this issue a week before the U.S. election in terms of what she calls an “aggressive” or “toxic” masculinity that she associated with the rise of Trump and his supporters, which as we now have seen had an distinct effect on the outcome of the election and conceivably also the future of not just the United States but also the world.

So within this reality named by the panelists, which also to some extent was reflected in the U.S. election and its aftermath, what are we as feminist/womanist biblical scholars to do in the “gender-unconscious,” or even worse, deeply patriarchal and misogynist world, in which we live and work? Based on the contributions of these IOSOT panelists, I would like to highlight three points:

First, writing from this particular time and place, and reading the thoughts of this diverse group of scholars, I am more convinced than ever about the importance of embodiment. The mere fact of this IOSOT panel on gender at a conference that traditionally has not made space for such concerns is an achievement in itself. This is also the reason why my co-organizer and I felt it so important to get these responses in written form, to publish them as a unit, in order to reach a wider readership but also to create space where more feminist voices may become audible. This collection of viewpoints that reflects on what it means to do gender and biblical scholarship in a world today that is not always friendly to women is a visible sign that we as feminist/womanist biblical scholars are here and collectively have a stronger voice than on our own.

Second, what this panel accomplishes is to highlight the importance of community. Charlene van der Walt speaks beautifully about “the importance of a community of scholarship and care” that by “making fragile connections in our states of vulnerability opens up the possibility of compassionate solidarity” (p. 24). It is so important though that this show of “compassionate solidarity” extends beyond our intimate circles and our comfort zones to cross boundaries and perhaps even barriers or walls that exist in terms of race, class, sexual orientation and geography. I am greatly inspired by Judith Butler that consistently challenges us to forge connections, to build coalitions, to step into one another’s shoes in order to intentionally see the world from another place.[2] I am proud to say that this IOSOT panel is one such an attempt.

Finally, I am more convinced than ever of the importance of persistence and resilience in what we do. In our different corners of the globe, and particular in light of the uncertain future that faces all of us in our interconnected world, we are called to keep on writing, teaching, speaking and most importantly living the values in which we so deeply believe. We are called without ceasing to have conversations regarding the intersectional understanding of gender as well as the performative nature of gender that are highlighted in these contributions. We need to continue to affirm in our writing and teaching the contextual nature of biblical studies. And we have to keep on highlighting the importance of values such as human dignity, justice and equality that ought to inform and shape all of our interpretative practices. In this ongoing endeavour, no matter how difficult at times, the voices and courageous examples of the colleagues reflected in this panel inspire us not to lose heart, to keep on working wherever we are for a world where love and compassion, justice and equality reign supreme.



[1] Jessica Samakow, “This Election Showed Men How Our Country Has Always Treated Women,” 11 Nov 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-election-showed-men-how-our-country-has-always-treated-women_us_580f7ff5e4b02444efa57999.

[2] Judith Butler proposes that individuals and groups who find themselves in situations of precarity due to unjust power structures should act in solidarity with one another, forming alliances across barriers of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation in order to resist injustice together, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 43–49. Butler moreover points out that “such an alliance would not require agreement on all questions of desire or belief or self-identification,” Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2009), 32.


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L. Juliana Claassens is Professor in Old Testament with a focus on human dignity and the Director of the Gender Unit at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Her most recent book Claiming Her Dignity: Female Resistance in the Old Testament has just been published with Litur­gi­cal Press (2016). She is also the author of Mourner, Mother, Midwife: Reimagining God’s Liber­at­ing Presence (Westminster John Knox, 2012) and The God who Provides: Biblical Images of Divine Nourishment (Abingdon, 2004). Her research interests include Gender and the Bible, Postcolonial Interpretation of the Bible, Trauma Hermeneutics and the Interpretation of the Prophetic Literature with special attention to Jeremiah.


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© L. Juliana Claassens, 2016, lectio@theol.unibe.ch, ISSN 1661-3317