Decolonising Research Series: Interview with Professor Louise Lawrence
This series of podcast episodes will focus on Decolonising Research, and feature talks from the Decolonising Research Festival held at the University of Exeter in June and July 2022.
The fifteenth episode of this series features University of Exeter PGR Olabisi Obamakin interviewing Exeter academic Professor Louise Lawrence.
Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host, Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest, about researchers development, and everything in between. Hello,
and thank you for joining us on this online resource. My name is Bisi Obamakin, and I'm a theology PhD student at the University of Exeter. Today, we are joined by an amazing New Testament scholar, and author of many books, including her newest book, creating compassionate campuses, Professor Louise
Lawrence. Thank you for joining us, I really, really appreciate it like a really, really big
thanks for inviting me.
So yeah, a little bit about yourself what you do and what your research passions are.
Yeah, so my name is Louise Lawrence, as you as you said, I'm Professor of de testament interpretation here in Exeter. My research interests I work in New Testament studies. So particularly sort of cross cultural anthropology, with biblical texts, but latterly, for the last sort of decade, I've been really interested in the ways in which religion and sacred texts sort of sensor bodies and minds and particularly around disability studies, so yeah, so that's, that's my interests,
for the people that are watching that maybe they've just gotten a PhD or whatever they're doing, right at the beginning of their career, they're not socialized into any institution, what would you say to them? What would you employ to them? With regards to pedagogy and decolonization? And that kind of thing?
I think, I mean, well, you're a brilliant example of this. And you should probably say a bit about how you're, I'm picking, I'm picking New Testament studies. But, you know, I'll let you talk about you've got more important things to say on this, I think that you must be true to yourself, you know, and in a sense, if it matters to you, it matters. And if you identify in justice, even if other people haven't seemed to be able to have recognized or have sort of been made conscious of that, then call it out. And I think, I think as an early career, academic, you can, there's a very well known thing called imposter syndrome, I shouldn't be here. I don't look like I should be here. I don't sound like I should be here. I'm not clever enough. But everyone goes through those things. Everyone feels those things, it, it's a very natural part of it. And that says probably more about the in hospitality of academia, or the perceived sort of sense of academia than it does about you. And you just have to have the confidence to have that voice. I you say about your, your ways in which you're sort of challenging the Eurocentrism of Biblical Studies. Yeah, and finding a voice that's been lost or not even recognized. It's that that that no curriculum that you've kind of picked up?
Yeah, I guess it's just kind of coming into the field and not seeing myself and not really knowing where I fit. And thinking, obviously, recognizing that I was born in the UK, and I do have a Western education. But not really fully feeling like I fit into that box. And then, you know, thinking, oh, yeah, I'm African. That's what I am. And they're not fully fit in that box, either. So yeah, I think bringing a kind of Nigerian British kind of hybrid viewpoint, it's been interesting because it has highlighted things that I don't think anyone has really thought about. Things that I've experienced, and I've walked in my life that are just so normal to me that I guess it's kind of almost a bit, that it was a bit kind of weird to think that it's new, like, why is it new to you? You don't know that? Yeah. Yeah, it's quite unique experience. And I think it's been quite quite privileged, bringing that to theology and introducing new ways of knowing and new new lenses of knowledge. Yeah.
Similar. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. So you're sort of Afro pm perspective as, as brought out so much of the text. And, and so, so much that that of assumptions that have just been accepted as liberal within interpretation, and actually, you know, should they be, I understand what a kind of transformative moment working with the British deaf community because they innocence very much. Made me unlearn things. So I mean, being an academic, you're very bookish i And I'm, I'm working on New Testament interpretation, I, you know, everything's about tanks. And suddenly to be in a context where I should say, You deaf community with a capital D is a cultural group that yeah, that see themselves very much as politicized, you know, death is not deficit death, yes, death is like an ethnic kind of identity marker with traditions, you know, and, and most crucially with their own language that is not to be written or heard. And so, the ways in which they actually modified my understanding of what Bible was, was really interesting. And, you know, in a sense, a gestural performative Bible, actually, for history has probably more of a resonance with with a context, when there was large, low literacy in the ancient world, you know, and so, those kinds of assumptions, but also the way in which they picked up on parts of the text, which I would never have kind of, or interpreters that were very audio centric, would never have picked up on. So one example is there's a story in the New Testament of Jesus healing a deaf man without speech, and the end of the story, it says, And the man spoke plainly, and in the first sort of reactions to this text, one of the group pointed out that that this person could couldn't have been born deaf. And that Jesus wasn't sort of seeing deafness as a bad thing, but needed to be healed or normalized. It was just that this person had been able to hear and then lost his hearing. And I was like, Well, why did you come to that conclusion? He said, Because he speaks plainly. So he's, he's learned spoken language. So you almost like modified that idea that that spoken language is better than being deaf and completely sort of changed it and actually healing narratives for for disability who are themselves, you know, like a colonized group, by the hearing world colonized their language, you know, you must learn this way. There are allied experiences, I think, with the deaf community and, and colonization, and they very much sort of resistant and refigured those those elements, and I think, yeah, and really opened up a whole new sort of avenue for for of understanding of the stories and traditions,
that is really powerful. I hadn't even thought about that before, like, wow,
well, most, I don't think I found from looking at common cheese from the 1800s. Right through no one really picks up that at all, most commentators just said, this is a straight healing story, obviously, you know, it's fulfilling prophecy and prophecy is very able that the deaf will hear the blind will see. And, and they completely kind of, yeah, went against that and, and just shows how norms just become complete status quo and accepted. Yeah, how different viewpoints can completely make you unlearn those? Yeah. Wow, I
think let me through amazing insights and this discussion. Just before we close, like, what exactly are you doing at the moment? What are you working on?
Yeah. Oh, that's really nice question. I've been doing a lot of marking of exams at the moment. I'm actually working with colleagues in psychology on a big project on student mental health, or this whole institution approaches to student wellbeing. And actually, you know, it may seem rather unconnected to what we're talking about, but I actually, you know, what, the medical model of mental illness I think, you know, has a place there are, of course, students that need that, that that help but actually, the social and cultural model of, of, of mental health and well being, I think, includes a lot about feeling culturally included, about feeling a sense of belonging, about feeling, a sense of being represented. And many of the sort of stories that we've we've we've been shared by students in this institution, and we're working with six other Russell Group institutions, but very much kind of, they are aware of how they curricular you know, their well being isn't something you can just individualize. Actually, it's about the whole student experience. And that includes what they're studying how they're studying how the how they're kind of learning community See makes them feel and I think, kind of cognitive, epistemological justice and feeling that, you know, like you're saying that there is representation that your voice is heard, all of these kinds of elements are things that can really enhance a sense of belonging and, and a sense of, of wellbeing for students. So yeah, so that's, that's kind of the the big project on on my specific New Testament, I'm going to start looking at, and it's only sort of the very beginnings, but I'd like to do a project on age and ageism. In in New Testament texts and interpretation, that too, I think it's very cross culturally constructed. Just to give you an anecdote, but before I finish, talking about global north south norms, what's really interesting is that I've got a postdoc that's working out in Namibia on a project on religion and inclusion in Namibia. And we had to go through all the ethics approval to work with Human Subjects through Exeter. And actually, you know, 18 is kind of the constructed age of adulthood in our context, but in other contexts, that that's a very meaningless kind of number. And it just shows how even up construction of the person or the thinking person or the person that is able to give consent is a construction. And actually, you know, if we're going to be an institution that thinks carefully about how it works with partners in different contexts, it needs to take seriously the ways in which different contexts construct, construct research, and it's sort of, yeah, voices in different sorts of ways. Similarly, anonymity was a really big thing in, in our ethics process in Exeter, as our participants in Namibia and our informants were really, really keen that their name was put, you know, if I'm saying something, I want my name to be in it. And, and we had to fight quite hard that those names were appended to the voices that we were given. A name in is, has also been used in colonial practices, you know, changing names or forced change of names. And so, so names, personhood and identity, you know, again, really important is to be very sensitive to the ways in which people, you know, are attached to names and more names represented. So yeah, so in our publications, we have our informants names, which is very different, I guess, to too many publications that go through ethics approval here.
I love it, guys. Watch this face what Lawrence's new book of passionate is. Thank you so much for joining like you. You're amazing. You guys watching are inspired. I mean, I've learned so much already. And it's like it's half an hour talk. Yeah, we'll leave it at that. So see you. Thank you
so much. And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.
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