Rape Culture and Religious Studies

Critical and Pedagogical Engagements

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Rhiannon Graybill, Meredith Minister, Beatrice Lawrence
  • London: 
    Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
    , April
     216 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Framed by the current #MeToo movement, Rape Culture and Religious Studies: Critical and Pedagogical Engagements seeks to start conversations within religious studies about “sexual violence, especially sexual violence on college and university campuses” (2). The volume’s focus on campus sexual assault and institutional rape culture is particularly timely, given that these issues are rarely addressed in religious studies research and teaching pedagogies. Nor are they mentioned terribly often in academic studies of sexual violence and rape-supportive discourses in religious texts, traditions, and teachings. The volume therefore aims to address such omissions by considering how scholars of religion can teach students about rape culture, sexual violence, and religion in the age of #MeToo. What would happen, the editors ask, if we were to consider this issue using both pedagogical and theoretical frameworks? What “if we listened to the #MeToos echoing around us, in our classrooms, our texts, our syllabi, and our institutions?” (2).

The volume offers various responses to this question. Contributors demonstrate that teaching students about sexual violence in religious texts and traditions can begin new conversations about rape in their communities and campuses. Each chapter suggests different topics that may encourage students to think critically and compassionately about the complex relationships between religion and rape culture. Some contributors propose practical teaching strategies and “best practices” for engaging with this topic in the classroom. Others offer more theoretical reflections on the institutional and pedagogical approaches to teaching rape culture and sexual violence in tertiary education institutions. Whatever their focus, all contributors ground their discussions in relevant feminist and critical theories (including intersectionality, critical race theory, posthumanist philosophy, and postcolonial critique), which underpin their critical, theoretical, and pedagogical reflections.

The contributors of this volume tackle the topic of sexual violence and religious studies from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including biblical studies, rabbinic studies, theology, and the study of religious traditions (Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism). This is a strength of the volume, as it demonstrates the diversity of approaches and resources that scholars can draw on to discuss sexual violence in the religious studies classroom. Whether they are focusing on the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, Hindu Puranas, “Muslim #MeToo” hashtags, Christian Marian dogma, US lawcodes, or contemporary speculative fiction, volume contributors share the innovative ways that discussions about sexual violence can be initiated and fostered among religious studies students.

While each chapter is fascinating, the ones I found most helpful were those whose authors shared specific practices and teaching tools to start conversations about sexual violence. For example, Gwynn Kessler describes her approach to teaching biblical “texts of terror” which depict various intersecting forms of structural violence, including slavery, genocide, and wartime rape. By taking readers on a step-by-step journey through her classroom strategies, she demonstrates how teachers can guide students towards a new awareness of the gendered violence in ancient texts and in the world around them.

Kirsten Boles similarly shares her own “best practice” strategies, which she uses to foster classroom conversations about power, consent, rape, and racism through the lens of “Muslim #MeToo” movements. While she admits that she does not yet have “all the answers” (87) to how these conversations can become deeper and more nuanced (in the classroom and beyond), her careful analysis and explanation of why these conversations matter—and why scholars of religion should be equipped to start them—serves as an effective impetus to follow her lead.

This focus on fostering dialogues about sexual violence is also taken up by T. Nicole Goulet in her reflection on teaching Hindu mythology in light of the 2012 murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey. Goulet effectively demonstrates the ways in which contemporary comic books and other media (such as YouTube videos) can be used to foster “pedagogical activism” (47). These oft-maligned resources are a valuable means of highlighting issues of rape culture and sexual violence in ways that encourage students’ ongoing reflection and learning. Lastly, Rhiannon Graybill discusses some important themes and pedagogical practices which she believes can benefit scholarly work and classroom conversations about rape culture, both in religious studies and the wider academy.

Overall, this is a useful volume which aims to keep rape culture and sexual violence on religious studies agendas and course syllabi. The editors have intentionally given the volume a specifically US focus, because “the degree to which the [Title IX] law has influenced U.S. conversations about sexual violence is inarguable” (13). Nevertheless, except for Susanne Scholz’s chapter (which considers the impact of Title IX on the biblical studies discipline), the wider relevance of the other chapters is easy to discern. Whether or not the authors explicitly frame their discussion around classroom contexts, they all provide valuable food for thought about engaging students in meaningful conversations about sexual violence, rape culture, and religion in both their studies and their everyday lives.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Caroline Blyth is senior lecturer in religious studies at the University of Auckland.

Date of Review: 
June 25, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rhiannon Graybill is W.J. Millard professor of religion and associate professor of religious studies at Rhodes College.

Beatrice Lawrence is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Seattle University.

Meredith Minister is assistant professor of religion at Shenandoah University.


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