Interview: Maryanne Saunders*

* Maryanne has recently passed her viva voce and awaits the conferral of her degree.

School/Institution:

King’s College London

Areas of Interest/Research:

Art, Religion, Gender and Sexuality

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I think I get to study all the fun bits of many disciplines. I work across art history, art criticism, theology and gender/queer studies, writing about everything from medieval iconography to BDSM.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

The main idea in my doctoral thesis was that the ‘in-between’ or grey areas between binary categorisations of Religious/Non-Religious, Orthodox/secular, Gay/straight, Masculine/Feminine are interesting, meaningful and generative as interpretative apparatus. Particularly compared to insights into artworks or lived experience according to established categories or definitions of what we consider art and/or religion. I was applying this to Jewish, Christian and Islamic art made in 1990 onwards but I think it applicable almost anywhere.

What is your current research about?

I have a strong belief that even the most shocking or outrageous uses of religious ideas and iconography can be insightful and profound when artists or performers are relaying their own lived experience. I practiced what I preach here as I collaborated with the chaplaincy and Queer@King’s to host a performance of the drag queen Virgin Xtravaganza in KCL’s chapel last year. With this in mind, I am interested in applying Melissa Wilcox’s concept of “serious parody” in contemporary religious art, performance and activism. 

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

My academic heroes are my supervisors! Aaron Rosen and Vittorio Montemaggi. Which is a bit saccharine but true. They have supported and encouraged me for the last three years with generosity, grace and humour, their research is very interesting too but I think an academic hero is the person you wish to model yourself after as a researcher and an educator.

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

Melissa Wilcox’s ‘Queer Nuns’, which is about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Jews and Sex (edited by Nathan Abrams), Balancing on the Mechitza (Edited by Noach Dzmura) spring to mind. Each in their own way introduced me to how much diverse and exciting work is being done at the intersection of gender, sexuality and religion.

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

I have a chapter on queering Eve in art forthcoming in the Routledge Companion to Eve and wrote this blog for the Shiloh project last year: (https://www.shilohproject.blog/i-am-the-lords-servant-consent-and-bodily-autonomy-in-depictions-of-the-annunciation/.)

Where can we follow you online?

My twitter is @maryanne_fs and my academia.edu is https://kcl.academia.edu/MaryanneSaunders.

If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Everybody else’s research, access to higher education and you’d most probably be subjected to a picture of my cat or my nieces.

What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

Right now I should have been starting a fellowship at ISM/Yale Art Gallery – researching the ethical and art historical implications of contemporary book art using sacred texts.  I am excited about that hopefully happening one day! I also started a project in lockdown on the Victorian poet Mathilde Blind with my artist friend which can be found at @WeMetAsStrangers on instagram.

>> Thank you so much, Maryanne, 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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