Theological and Religious Studies

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Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts: Christian Discourses, Symbolic Violence, and Trans Identities


Caroline Blyth


Theological and Religious Studies

Project code: ART044

This project investigates the symbolic violence (the violence of language) that may be enacted within Christian discourses on trans identities. Drawing on cross-disciplinary research areas (gender and queer studies, religion, theology, biblical studies), we will consider the impact of these discourses on cultural understandings of trans identities, arguing that their common rhetoric of ‘sin’ and ‘otherness’, plus their denial of authentic trans experiences, are forms of symbolic violence, which in turn can sustain subjective (physical) and structural (institutional and political) violence against trans individuals and communities.

This project will critically examine a range of texts produced by Christian writers, communities, and allies, which engage in discussions of trans identities, including the inclusion/exclusion of trans people from Christian communities, transphobic and trans-supportive interpretations of biblical traditions, and theologically-framed debates around trans visibility in wider society. Employing literary and semiotic analysis to study these texts, we will evaluate the religious and cultural impact of their rhetoric around trans identities, particularly their potential to perpetuate violence within Christian communities and across broader cultural contexts. The texts studied will include: academic works (in theology and biblical studies), popular Christian literature, Christian blogs, news stories, editorials, TED-talks, videos, advertisements, Christian community websites, and social media.

Scholar’s Work

The summer scholar will work on the following activities:

  • Locating, reviewing, and analysing a range of texts (including printed and digital media), which engage with the following topics: (i) Christian discussions of trans identities and engagements with trans issues. These discussions may include theological evaluations of trans identities, interpretation of biblical texts identified as being ‘relevant’ to trans issues, and reflections on the social implications of trans identities and visibility; (ii) Christian expressions of and responses to transphobic violence, including symbolic, subjective, and structural forms of violence; (iii) discussions around the effects of transphobic violence on trans self-identities, health, spirituality, and wellbeing; (iv) responses of trans communities and individuals (both within and outside of the Christian community) to Christian rhetoric around trans issues and identities. The scholar will compile these sources into a comprehensive bibliography.
  • Writing a 4000-word literature review based on their analysis of the texts they have gathered in their bibliography, in which they identify the key topics, approaches, and critical issues raised within this literature, which can then be explored further in this project.
  • Using this literature review to work with me on a publishing proposal that develops this project into a monograph.
  • The scholar may also have the opportunity to work with me on book chapter based on the themes raised by this project, which will appear in a volume, Sexualities, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2019 (I am the editor of this volume).  

Required Skills/Pre-requisites

The perfect summer scholar for this project will be passionate about investigating the complex relationships between religious discourses, trans identities, and transphobic violence. They will also share my commitment to creating academic research that serves as critic and conscience to communities beyond the confines of the University. More practically, the scholar will have excellent research and writing skills, which they are looking to develop further, and a competency in using library databases and web-based searches to find relevant material for their research.

Applicants should address these required skills in their application and indicate if they have been in touch with the proposed supervisor.