Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Orange is the New Bible Week, Day 2: #OITNBible Short Papers

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OITNBible Poster

OITNBible Poster

In the second of our #OITNBible week updates, we can now share the abstracts for our range of Orange is the New Black and the Bible papers. Including contributions from people at various different stages of their academic lives, a first-year undergraduate to a renowned professor, the papers are thought provoking and exciting.

  • Jesus and Laverne Cox – A theology of transgender acceptance by Christie Broom
  • Taystee is the New Ruth? by Catherine Kennedy
  • Chaos & Christian Anarchy inside Litchfield Penitentiary by Kirsty Mabbott
  • Purification and Prison: Forming Jewish Identity in Orange is the New Black by Jessica Mary Keady
  • Searching for the Messiah of Litchfield by Jade Ward
  • Let’s toast to engineering a Messiah! by Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

Jesus and Laverne Cox – A theology of transgender acceptance

In an interview with Time Magazine the Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox describes the shame she experienced growing up with a gender identity which was different to that which she was assigned at birth. As she realized that she was both gay and transgender, Cox struggled to reconcile her identity because she had ‘learned in church that [it] was a sin’ to feel the way she did, and her marginalization eventually led to a suicide attempt. The influence of Christianity on Cox’s life exacerbated her shame because of judgment of both her transgenderness and her sexuality. In this way the church has consistently failed individuals in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, and will continue to do so without a broadened theological approach to the experience of gender. I will suggest that there is a strong theological basis on which it can be argued that the church should support transgender people and encourage each individual’s expression of gender to match their internal identity. I will discuss the question of how gender mis-assignment fits into a Christian understanding of suffering and how this impacts the church’s approach to the transgender community. In seeking a broadened theological approach to ideas of gender transition, I will discuss the ways in which we understand suffering, the place of eunuchs in the Bible, and Jesus’ tendency to cross social boundaries. By exploring these themes and broadening the understanding of transgender experiences in relation to Christianity I hope to acknowledge the harmful approach of the church in the past and suggest alternatives, so that fewer transgender people will suffer experiences similar to those of Laverne Cox.’

Christie Broom is a second year undergraduate at KCL. She is particularly interested in New Testament studies and furthering the Church of England’s discussions on LGBTQ+ issues. Christie is also currently pursuing ordination in the Church of England, dependent on whether they actually let her in!

Taystee is the New Ruth?

It might appear that a women’s prison and the rural idyll of Ancient Judah have little in common. What could the dysfunction and immoralities of incarceration have to say in response to a biblical tale of saintly foremothers? Little indeed, if that were the extent of the book of Ruth. Reception of Ruth and her relationship with her mother in law Naomi is fraught with ideology and cultural assumptions which close examination of the Hebrew text do not support. Commentators – feminist or not – appear determined to gloss over the psychological and anthropological facts of life in order to read Ruth as docile, devoted, and selfless.

This paper will explore the ways in which the characters of the book of Ruth and of Orange is the New Black converge, and on how a more realistic reading of the Biblical Book might challenge the majority of teaching derived from it within the church, generally directed at imposing a submissive idea of womanhood within Christian culture.

Catherine Kennedy has taught English as a foreign language, and worked in translation, education, and foster care. Her university debut was by correspondence with the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Montpellier, France. She is currently a first year undergraduate at The University of Sheffield studying Religion, Theology and the Bible while she decides what to do next.

Chaos & Christian Anarchy inside Litchfield Penitentiary

The world of Litchfield Penitentiary from the outside, appears to be an ordered system where criminals are punished for their crimes against society. From the inside we quickly discover a many layered system of powerless people overseeing powerless people, which could be portrayed as chaotic, but is it actually anarchic instead?

I begin by defining the term Christian Anarchism and how it differs from the misunderstood term Anarchism. This term is the one I will be using against the questions I am posing about the prison and its life. Orange Is The New Black presents the opportunity to examine the ideology of Christian Anarchism in the Bible and inside Litchfield Penitentiary. In this paper I will use the work of Alexandre Christoyannopoulos & Mark Van Steenwyk amongst others, to unpack the apparent chaos of the women’s prison system and explore if the actions of these powerless and vulnerable women is a subversion of patriarchal and heteronormative structures. Does this enable self-governance and empowerment, or has the system really got the power?

I will unpack the ethos of Christian Anarchism, demonstrate where this can be read in the Bible and reflect on how and where this is seen in OITNB. This paper uses an area of political theology that will enable us to see the subversive nature of the Bible. I do not think that there will be time to unpack the questions regarding applicability to contemporary life and culture, but I intend to acknowledge that these questions are real and relevant.

Kirsty Mabbott is a Church Related Community Work Minister in the URC, and is currently studying for an MA in Contextual Theology part time. Kirsty has a passion for social justice and political theology which is worked out both academically and through hir ministry. Kirsty’s past times include Rock and Metal music, adding to hir tattoos and piercings, reading, crafts, and much tea drinking. Ze hopes to break down barriers both in the church and community by being hirself, welcoming all through hospitality, and challenging oppression. Kirsty is genderqueer and pansexual, and has two slightly mad and very demanding kittens.

Purification and Prison: Forming Jewish Identity in Orange is the New Black

In this paper, I will be looking at the character Cindy Hayes and her conversion narrative from Christianity to Judaism. I am particularly interested in outlining the role Judaism plays in Cindy’s life and the questions that develop during her conversion around faith, identity and belonging. These questions are made even more pertinent as Cindy is exploring these feelings within a restricted prison environment. In order to uncover the formation of Cindy’s Jewish identity, I will be focusing on two life-affirming events that she experiences in the third series. Firstly, the conversation that Cindy has with Rabbi Elijah where she asks to convert to Judaism (with the help of Ginsberg and Boyle) and the ways in which she portrays and understands Judaism and God. Secondly, I will be looking at the mikveh scene at the end of the series where Cindy (after conversion she is known as Tova) immerses her naked body and purifies herself, thereby solidifying her Jewish identity. I will conclude with some observations from these two events and the important role that Judaism had in the third series of Orange is the New Black.

Jessica Mary Keady graduated with her PhD in Religions and Theology from The University of Manchester in July 2015, and is currently working as a Researcher in Biblical Studies and Gender at the University of Chester. Her PhD thesis looked at the role of gender in relation to purity and impurity in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is currently being prepared for publication with Bloomsbury Press. Jessica is also researching rape culture, purity and the Bible for a forthcoming volume on Rape Culture, Gender Violence and Religion. As well as researching, Jessica also teaches on the undergraduate modules ‘Biblical Hebrew’ and ‘Jews, Christians and Pagans’ at the University of Chester.

Searching for the Messiah of Litchfield

The inmates of Litchfield are the perfect candidates for salvation, restoration and hope; three categories which are traditionally associated with the messiah(s) of the Bible. In this paper, I will be using a selection of texts from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, such as Isaiah and the Gospel of Mark, to identify some of the key characteristics of the Biblical messiah, before examining how these traits are exhibited within the context of Litchfield, and in particular, in association with the character of Galina “Red” Reznikov.

This paper will explore three particular areas relating to Red’s character; Red’s authoritative influence as a worker in the kitchen and as a “Golden Girl”, her interactions with the prison leadership and her relationships with her fellow inmates. Exploring these areas provide what I feel to be the clearest indications of Red’s messianic status. The fact that so many of these interactions fundamentally relate to her gender also impacts on our traditionally gendered messianic expectations, and I will briefly explore how Red’s character fulfils messianic expectation regardless of her gender, rather than as a result of her gender.

Jade Ward is an MA student at the University of Edinburgh. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds, where she combined biblical studies with social justice and representations of the Hebrew Bible on television. Her current research focuses on apocryphal texts, messianism and early Judaism.

Let’s toast to engineering a Messiah!

Chee Seng made a debatable proclamation in 2009 saying that “God is an engineer” and that “the Bible can be explained through engineering principles”.

This paper, however, will argue that if engineering is defined as “the action of working artfully to bring something about” then a Messiah may be ‘engineered’ and consequently, pose further questions about whether the Bible tells a story of engineered scenarios and therefore, engineered stories.

The paper, will also dissect popular TV shows such as Orange is the New Black and explore pertinent analogies that demonstrate how easily Messiahs could be engineered.

As we observe, individual motivations in OITNB vary. The inmates’ actions and behaviours are proportionate with the need to satisfy such motivations. A notable one is retaining individual and community identities in an environment where ‘difference’ is heightened by the enclosed environment.

Leanne Taylor’s longing for her lost community and desire to regain her identity lead her to create an environment where a new Messiah can thrive. However, as the story unfolds, we see how the design specification for this new Messiah is flawed and therefore, the design fails leaving Leanne without a community to fall back into and a fallen Messiah without faith and without followers.

The presentation will create a scenario in which a new Messiah will be engineered following a design process and comparisons with OITNB and biblical references as well as popular cultural products like films and TV will be made.


Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is a Professor of Enterprise and Engineering Education, at The University of Sheffield. Elena’s central work is around developing learning techniques, which enable both the learner and the facilitator of learning to, in partnership, seek, develop, create, and apply knowledge for the benefit of society. Elena maintains a high commitment to equality and diversity in HE, as such she has actively supported national agendas for Women in Engineering, launched the #ILookLikeAnLGBTEngineer campaign, and she is a great fan of Hidden Perspectives. Elena would love it #engineeringgoesbiblical and that is why she is here today.


The last remaining ticket is available from Eventbrite – get it while you can.







Author: Hidden Perspectives

A research project within the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at The University of Sheffield.

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