Gender Unit, Faculty of Theology Stellenbosch University 18–20 March 2020

The Hebrew Bible quite often employs the language of ‘perversion’. The goal of this conference is to explore the thick descriptions that are used to establish normative boundaries between what is deemed normal and abnormal, natural and unnatural. Most often associated with sexuality, these questions also extend to other areas that have frequently been deemed perverse, including gender, ethnicity and disability.

But, as with every appeal to the language of the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’, the question arises: Who decides? Who draws the lines? Who has or assumes the authority to discriminate between the natural and the perverse? And on what grounds is such a distinction justified? With regard to the Hebrew Bible, the distinction between what is deemed normal or perverse operates both within the community and as a way to establish external boundaries. In other words, the language of perversion is used to establish a normative sense of community and identity, based on mechanisms of exclusion. The language of perversion organises the world according to centre and periphery with a strong tendency to marginalise people who do not or cannot match the standards of ‘normalcy’.

With regard to external boundaries, the language of perversion is often used to instill a sense of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, both in the legal and narrative traditions. The Holiness Code, for example, prefaces some of its laws by cautioning the readers against following the example of other peoples (Lev 18:3). In this context, sexuality is a particularly salient example of applying the language of perversion. The regulations of Lev 18 and 20 condemn certain forms of sexual activity that are not only deemed questionable, inappropriate, or unrighteous, but fall under the rubric of the ‘perverse’. This pertains to specific sexual practices that are not aimed at procreation, which is presented as the measure of natural or normal sexuality and limits the sexuality especially women to a particular purpose. Other texts, most notably in the book of Deuteronomy, pertain to the sphere of cult and ritual, which must remain uncontaminated by foreign or non-indigenous influences.

The Gender Unit of the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, in conjunction with the Institut für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft at the Faculty of Theology, Leipzig University, invite papers that consider the language of perversion in the Hebrew Bible for a conference to be held on 18 to 20 March 2020 at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University. Keynote speakers include Prof Andreas Schuele (Leipzig University), Prof Jeremy Schipper (Temple University), Prof Nyasha Junior (Temple University), and Prof Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds).

Further questions that may be explored include how the language of perversion has affected the communities in which these texts have been received as canonical scriptures and to what extent these texts can, or rather ought not to, become building blocks of a constructive theology for our own time.

Please submit abstracts by 31 January 2020.

For further inquiries please email Juliana Claassens,; Andreas Schuele,; or Marita Snyman,