ECR Interview: Dr. Katie Turner

School/Institution:

King’s College London (Graduated 2019)

Areas of Interest/Research:

Social world of the Second Temple / New Testament period; Material culture (particularly clothing & dress); Christian reception / representation of the New Testament.

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I love overturning misconceptions and pre-conceived notions, even if they are just my own. There are a lot of ideas in popular culture about what the Biblical world was like—what people looked like, how they dressed, how they lived, what the natural environment was like, and even what it sounded like (consider the soundtrack in any ‘Jesus film’). I enjoy unpicking these ideas and asking myself both what the biblical world was like in each specific regard, and where the representational ideas come from.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

Visual (re)presentation matters! We are all the product of our cultural environment and we cannot ignore the way we have been shaped by visual stimuli (art, design, film, and the clothing we encounter on others every day). Sarah Lipton has demonstrated that the idea of Jewish head-covering came from Christian artistic representation of Jewish figures before it ever emerged in text or in practice.

As a historian, when I consider the New Testament texts, if I am not also considering the visual world of the authors, and the way their world has been represented for centuries, and thus shaped me, then I feel something is crucially missing. For me, a full understanding of 1 Cor. 11:6-7, for example, necessitates understanding the common dress behaviour, and common ritual dress behaviour, of both the Jewish community that Paul was from, and the Corinthians Paul was addressing.

What is your current research about?

I’m working on two things at the moment: an article about the horned mitre that formed part of Caiaphas’ costume in the Oberammergau Passionsspiel (Passion play); and, I’m researching shawls/veils as an item of dress for Jewish women of the Second Temple period.  

I’ll be presenting a paper on the former at this year’s AAR/SBL, along with Dr. Robert Priest (RHUL), as part of the Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible session. 

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

Geza Vermes. I find his personal story fascinating, and I think it brought him a unique perspective in the field. He had an ability in his writing to be sensitive to both Jewish and Christian perspectives, while also maintaining his historian sensibilities. His writing style also was very accessible. My grandmother, who was an academic herself, always encouraged me to write as if my reader knows nothing. Vermes wrote like that. I think it is extremely important that writing style itself isn’t used as a form of gatekeeping (as it all too often is), and that we consider non-specialist readers when we write. 

When I was considering going back to grad school to do a master’s degree in Biblical Studies (I already had an MA in Modern History, but I decided that I didn’t want to go further towards a PhD in that field), Vermes’ Jesus the Jew (1973) was one of the books that I read to help me decide. It completely blew my mind. I knew very little at the point about the New Testament, Judaism in antiquity, or much of anything he addressed, really. But I was able to follow his arguments and feel engaged in the subject matter. I have since read quite a number of his publications, and though I am qualified enough now to form my own opinions, and I find I don’t always agree with Vermes’ conclusions, his writing style is always with me. I try to replicate the ease and openness of it in my own work. It was an absolute honour to have had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times before died.

I’d just like to add also, Lloyd Lewellyn-Jones. His work is so wonderfully multidisciplinary, and his writing, like Vermes’, so accessible. Much of his scholarship is rooted in ancient material culture, but he also writes on the representation of antiquity in modern media. I have struggled in my own work to marry similar multidisciplinary interests, and I find Lewellyn-Jones’ work both hugely encouraging and intellectually invigorating. 

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

There were five books published in response to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004): all very interesting edited collections of essays from top scholars in the field addressing various aspects of Gibson’s film, the marketing techniques employed, and the public reaction. I devoured these books during an MA course I took entitled, The Passion: History, Text, and Representation. Joan E. Taylor taught this course, and her approach, as much, if not more so than the books, influenced me greatly. In her course, we were encouraged to really consider representations of the Passion narrative across multiple media, and to probe every aspect of those representations. But what made this course more than just reception, was the initial investigation we did of the narratives themselves, the environment in which they were composed, and the environment in which they were set. 

I chose to look at Gibson’s film for my project for that course. Reading the aforementioned books, I found many of the essays took a similar approach to Prof. Taylor’s course, and covered a lot of the same ground. But there was something notably missing from their analyses: the costumes! Some mentioned very briefly that the costumes were antisemitic, or ‘wrong’, but nothing beyond that. Why were they antisemitic? Where did the ideas for the costumes come from? What would Jesus and Caiaphas actually have worn? It seemed a really big oversight in the analysis, and it became my PhD. And Joan became my doctoral supervisor.

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

I have a few things that are due to be published soon, but are not yet available: 

  1. “Clothing and Dress in the Time of Jesus”, an article which should be available on the T&T Clark Jesus Library soon (https://www.theologyandreligiononline.com/t&t-clark-jesus-library); 
  2. “Textual Problems in Textile Research”, a chapter in the forthcoming Dress in Mediterranean Antiquity (early 2021; currently available for pre-order: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/dress-in-mediterranean-antiquity-9780567684660/). 

Until then, you can check out: 

Where can we follow you online?

I’m on twitter @DrKatieTurner, but I’m still not completely comfortable with it. My husband made this account for me when I started postgrad in 2011. I started using it this past November (2019), when I received my doctorate. 

You can also find me on Academia: kcl.academia.edu/KatieTurner

If we ran into you at SBL/AAR and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Politics / current events. This depends on how well we know each other though, because I tend to avoid politics with people I’ve just met. Alternatively, probably recent podcast episodes (99% Invisible, Hidden Brain, Invisibilia, You’re Dead to Me), museum exhibits, or films. 

Other than your thesis, what research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

Other than the projects I mentioned above, I’ve sent off a book proposal for my thesis (finger’s crossed!). 

I am also considering a project on supersessionism, anti-Judaism/antisemitism, and ahistorical representation in illustrated children’s bibles. I would be looking at a few distinct age brackets, with a few case studies within each age bracket. 

>> Thank you so much Dr. Turner for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.


Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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