Offered for the first time this semester, ENGL 443: Gender and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible presents students with a unique lens for literary and historical analysis, incorporating—as adjunct lecturer in English Christopher Anderson explained—“discussion of feminist criticism, gender theory and how that relates to biblical studies.”
Anderson said his idea for the class emerged largely from student interest in the portrayal of women in historical texts in his course INTD 105: Gods, Myths and Monsters: Myth and Religion in the Ancient Near East.
“There are a lot of texts about goddesses. I found that my students were very interested in that and wanted to write their papers on those issues. We discussed questions like: how humans project their problems onto female and male deities and if goddess’ actions reflect everyday human and female concerns,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Why not extend this to the Bible?’ Because that’s another thing that people were interested in in that class.”
Originally, the class was slotted as a women’s studies minor course, but it was shifted to a four credit English class. It still counts, however, toward the women’s studies minor, medieval studies minor and early English credits.
One of Anderson’s primary goals for the course is to allow students to explore the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament to Christians—and critically analyze the literal text and the way that many people interpret it with an emphasis on women’s issues.
“I think that people will tend to say, ‘The Bible says this’ about an issue particularly related to women or sexuality, but it doesn’t. It’s much more multi-vocal,” Anderson said. “In general, there’s a lot of misinformation about what the Bible says about these issues and it’s used a lot with particular political agendas. I think people need to confront that and talk about it.”
Anderson noted that his ultimate goal is “increasing Biblical literacy” amongst students. “If people know more about it, they could engage in political issues and confront people and have a discussion about it,” he said. “Hopefully, in some way, that’ll knock the Bible down a few pegs in our common discourse. I think it [the class] has a very practical aspect to it.”
Senior Lizzie Landrum emphasized the importance of learning to critically examine the Bible and partake in discussion about such a pervasive text. “I’d say that it’s important to learn in detail about something that is so influential in our society; to actually study it and learn about the Bible in an educational, scholarly setting,” she said.
Sophomore Brendan Mahoney added that learning about history and cultures from Biblical times in correlation to women’s studies is a very engaging and compelling opportunity to critically discuss both historical and gender-based issues. “I’ve been enjoying learning about cultures from the past—not only through discussion of the gender roles of those cultures, but of those ancient societies as a whole,” he said.
While the ratio of males to females in the class is 1:4, Anderson stressed the importance of having both sexes in the course for educational and social progression.
“That’s something that I’m very cognizant of as a man teaching this class,” he said. “I would consider myself a feminist and fall within the category of people who think that it’s important for men to be aware of this, too … If history needs to be rewritten … it requires rewriting the whole set of issues concerning both men and women.”
He added that the variety of viewpoints shared by students allows for great discussion in the class. This not only helps the students to learn from one another, but gives Anderson new insight as well.
“I really love just being in the classroom. I don’t know what any of them are going to say,” he said. “It’s a lot of class discussion and hearing their reaction. It’s a cliché, but it really opens up my mind to new perspectives. It’s just so much fun being in the class.”