Today we’re speaking to another of our festival partipants, Emma England, who’ll talk about ‘Kinky Writings: BDSM, The Bible and Biblical Scholarship’ on 1 June – we can’t wait!
Here’s a taster of what you can expect
Emma, you’re well known in academia for your work on the Bible and popular culture. Can you tell us a little about it?
Those who know me would say that I work with popular culture and that I find unusual topics to discuss. I like pushing the boundaries of academia, in terms of topic, discipline, and style. So, for example, in my most recent three presentations I talked at a science fiction convention about same-sex erotic rewritings of biblical narratives, at a fantastic studies conference about how children’s Bibles can be understood as fantasy literature, and at a biblical studies conference about appropriations of the Song of Songs in same-sex incestuous and inter-species erotic rewritings of the television programme Supernatural.
How did you get involved in the Hidden Perspectives project?
Katie Edwards asked me, probably because I was moaning about how awful Fifty Shades of Grey is and how much better other forms of erotic writing are. Better as erotica, representations of sexuality and gender, and in terms of how they interpret the Bible. I may have also mentioned that I have been known to write erotica myself.
How will you ‘bring the Bible out of the closet’ at the festival on 1 June?
When most members of the general public, and even biblical scholars, talk about the proverbial closet, they by and large consider the closet to include lesbians and gay men. As Hidden Perspectives demonstrates there are people in the closet for many different reasons, including those who are trans*, intersex, asexual, demisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and kinky. My own role in the festival will be to bring BDSM into the open, BDSM being bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. Specifically, I will be reflecting on the role of power exchange involving bondage and submission. I will be reading a number of images and verbal texts, including comics, news photography, modern art, and poems in relation to the Bible. Some of these are obvious, including an image of the biblical heroine Judith as a dominatrix, and others considerably less so. By engaging with a range of material and how they intersect with biblical narratives I will explore what the Bible can mean in sex-positive queer communities thereby challenging normative interpretations of biblical narratives. At least as importantly, my presentation will confront head-on the normativity of biblical scholarship, bringing both the Bible and biblical studies out of the closet.
Why do you think Hidden Perspectives is important?
Scholarship needs to be unfettered (within murky ideas of reason) in what it studies. It needs to be able to try to change the world as well as to be frivolous and fairly pointless: one never knows through which path something fruitful can come. When the topic or objects being researched have explicit impact upon the lives of people, as with the Bible, the significance of having no, or at least few, boundaries is even more important. Yet, biblical scholarship is conservative. The discipline in general has not quite embraced the idea that studying what people do with the Bible and how individuals read and use it within their own communities is important to engage with. Queer biblical studies is still rare while sex-positive biblical studies is all but non-existent. Hidden Perspectives matters because academics have to be able to explore real situations, real life, real thoughts and real experiences. Scholarship has to address the reality of people’s lives; otherwise what is the point of it?
Additionally, if not primarily, academics have a duty to engage with the public. If academic work is always kept in ivory towers and only shared with students, knowledge control is in action. In turn, by not engaging with those who do not work within academic environments, scholars lose an opportunity to learn from others. Projects like Hidden Perspectives that involve academics, activists, artists, and many other members of the community, encourage a flow of knowledge in multiple directions. This should be seen as both egalitarian and good scholarship: to discuss the reality of people’s lives the scholarly world has to be open to learning from different approaches from a diverse range of people.
What are your next projects?
I am finishing off a couple of projects including the reworking of my PhD thesis into a book for publication. On a more long-term basis I am working on overlapping areas: the history of women and media at conventions, the Bible and slash fan-fiction (stories written by fans for fans based on pre-existing narratives, such as television shows and biblical narratives, in which generally heterosexual characters are paired in same-sex relationships), the Bible and female sexuality especially female submission, and the Bible in science fiction and fantasy television programmes. For the latter I am writing a book, while the others include a range of conference presentations, articles, and public engagement exercises such as contributions to blogs, conference organising, and presentations at science fiction conventions and for community groups.