Interview: Cynthia Lambert Cheshire

School/Institution:

University of Aberdeen

Areas of Interest/Research:

Paul, Intersectionality, Religion and Pop Culture

What is it about your field that you love researching?

A colleague I admire once spoke about hermeneutics as finding facets on a raw diamond; a jeweller doesn’t just hack away at the stone, they judge where the best break points are, how the stone is naturally formed, and where to carve to find the most luminescence. I love finding new facets on the stone of the New Testament. 

I think we’re at a point in NT studies where voices that have been considered niche or marginalised have unprecedented opportunities to be heard, and I think intersectionality is one way to discover them anew. Paying attention to voices from postcolonial, disability, and feminist-centred critiques helps us make more discoveries about how these ancient texts apply to peoples’ lives today—but it can also tell us more about the ancient texts themselves! Marginalised people didn’t just pop up in the 21st century. I’m so interested to see how looking at the text in a multiaxial way can help us find new facets in it. 

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

In my dissertation, I’m applying intersectionality as a heuristic device to study the ‘baptismal formulae’ of Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13, and Colossians 3:11. I’m exploring whether intersectionality can help complicate the unifying phrases in the ‘formulae’, which until now have been dealt with in isolation, looking at issues of gender or ethnicity or nationality or class. I use intersectionality to approach these verses multiaxially, looking at all these elements together.

My scholarship also advocates for adopting intersectionality as a methodology in areas of biblical studies that most would call ‘mainstream’. Intersectionality has been used for decades in the ‘ideological’ criticisms, but I call for its use in partnership with historical, rhetorical, and literary approaches too. I think a partnered hermeneutic is the bridge that can help connect the disparate branches of our field and encourage a wider diversity of voices and movements. 

What is your current research about?

I am currently researching Galatians 3:28 and the history of its interpretation. How many scholars use words like ‘antithesis’, ‘nullify’, and ‘abolish’ when they talk about the social identities listed in Gal 3:28? Is there a correlation between scholars who talk about the verse ‘nullifying’ social identities outside of Christ, and those who say that that nullification was solely ontological, not practical? Is that how human identity actually works? Do social trends throughout history (like strongly defined gender roles during the Victorian Era) impact how scholars would interpret the meaning of this verse? How may intersectionality aid in uncovering new or forgotten interpretations of this verse? The big wall in my dining room is almost entirely covered in post-it notes now charting these correlations. I’m going to need another wall soon!

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

Dr. Genevive Dibley, one of my first professors in undergrad, is an academic hero of mine. On our first day of a course on Paul, she had everyone hold up their New Oxford Annotated Bibles (with Apocrypha) and gave a speech about how wars have been fought because of this book and ended because of this book, how slavery was both condoned and condemned from this book. She helped me see that academic study actually trickles down to real life. I give that same speech to each of my classes now on our first day.

I admire her passion, energy, and frankness. When I decided to change my major to Biblical and Theological Studies, she sat back in her chair and told me, ‘You’re going to find that you spend most of your time in complete confusion and frustration, but then you have a “Eureka!” moment. It lasts five minutes, but those moments keep you going through the confusion until you have it again.’ It’s been such helpful advice! 

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

I was wholly changed by reading Burridge’s Four Gospels, One Jesus during undergrad—so much so that when I saw him at SBL/AAR a few years ago, I summoned all my courage and walked over to tell him so (he was lovely about it). That book was assigned to me during a time when I was trying to reconcile the space between academic study and religious observance, and it really helped me understand how to hold competing ideas at the same time. 

Lately, I’ve been amazed and influenced by Musa W. Dube’s Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Biblewhich is a shining example of intersectionality at work. I also recently spilled my tea multiple times in excitement while reading Betz’ Galatians commentary. (No commentaries were harmed.)

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

Most of my publications so far have focused on the intersection of religion and pop culture, specifically in the Harry Potter series. Last Winter, I published a review of the “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” podcast and the ways it promotes political engagement. You can find it in Transformative Works and Cultures, online at: https://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/issue/view/58

Where can we follow you online?

Twitter: @wages_of_cyn

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cynthia-cheshire-b370001b0/

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?

Fibre arts! I’m a prolific knitter and I took up loom weaving during the pandemic shutdown earlier this year. I’ve been trying to balance my academic reading with pleasure reading so I don’t just hate reading by the end of my doctoral studies. Accordingly, yesterday I treated myself to a book on the history of Britain as told through its wool. The author travels around the UK exploring regional knits and how they’re connected to history. It’s such a niche interest, I’m amazed it was actually published. I once spent a fair chunk of a doctoral supervision session going over sheep husbandry practices with my supervisor, who paid his way through undergrad by hiring himself out as a lambing shepherd during the Easter holidays. If academia doesn’t work out, I may just get a flock of sheep!

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

I’m working with a friend on an article about Rachel Hollis, the American author/influencer/self-styled mogul whose work is never explicitly religious, but which has a distinctly religious feel to it nonetheless. We’re parsing out exactly how that happens, and how it has translated into a huge following, especially of millennial Christian women. My friend is a scholar in digital rhetoric, so she’s writing about memology and Hollis’ rhetoric. I’m writing about her connections to Pentecostal themes, preaching, and the prosperity gospel. 

>> Thank you so much Cynthia 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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