Interview: Mie Astrup Jensen

on

School/Institution:

University College London (UCL)

Areas of Interest/Research:

Gender and Sexuality Studies and Hebrew and Jewish Studies

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I love the intersection between gender, sexuality, and religion. At university I did courses in sociology, anthropology, and religious studies, and I couldn’t decide on just one discipline. That is also why I’m so grateful that I’m supervised across departments, since it allows me to combine Jewish studies and gender and sexuality studies. In particular, queer theology is still an emerging field and it’s exciting to see how it develops. I’m a trained sociologist, so I primarily focused on lived religion, and it is an honour to contribute to the development of this research area.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

There has been a tendency to equate LGBQ people with sexual practices, both within religious circles and sometimes also in academic discussions (i.e., Leviticus), rather than talking about other elements of intimate lives such as love, intimacy, communication, and care. Sexuality is about attitudes, values, behaviours, feelings, intimacy, family, etc. My research seeks to move away from a conversation on sex to one on intimate lives. This will give a more nuanced perspective on how people negotiate, experience, understand, and make sense of their lived experiences. My research, therefore, seeks to bridge the gap between religious studies and gender and sexuality studies. 

What is your current research about?

My PhD is called ‘Being Queer and Jewish: A Cross-Cultural Study of Ethno-Religious Experiences and Divides’. I research lesbian, bi, and queer Jewish women’s lived experiences and practices in England and Israel to understand how they negotiate, express, experience, navigate, and develop their identities. I research this across the denominational spectrum to contextualise potential nuances (i.e., between secular, Reform, and Orthodox Jews). So, I combine sociology, psychoanalysis, gender and sexuality studies, and Jewish studies.

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

There’s a lot of people who have inspired me – from lecturers to the authors of hundreds of books and journal articles that I’ve read so it’s hard to only mention one – especially since my research is interdisciplinary. Melissa Wilcox has been very influential to me. Their work on queer religiosities was the first I came across, and I really admire their interdisciplinary approach to this research area. Their papers inspired me to go into this field.

My other big hero was my former lecturer, Marta Trzebiatowska who has done wonderful research on gender and religion. Marta recognised my interest in gender and religion already in the second year of my undergraduate degree. Coming from a non-academic family, I never thought I would pursue a PhD, but Marta made me feel like I belonged and that I have a valuable voice. Her course Sex, Death and the Afterlife covered things like sexual scripts and religion, and I will forever be grateful for how she would ask me about the Jewish perspective, and had faith in my highly ambitious essay/research assignments.

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

Again, there’s a lot of books that have been inspiring, formative, and thought-provoking in my work, so I’ll mention the three most recent ones.

Kabakov’s (2010) Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women Unorthodox Desires is an anthology by Orthodox non-heterosexual Jewish women. It shows the way these women navigate Orthodoxy and their sexuality in a sensitive and nuanced way – for example, how the mechitzah can be beneficial for non-heterosexual women, the importance of Orthodox traditions and why they do not have an interest in joining a Reform congregation, and the role of the family. 

The other two show both a Reform/Liberal experience and an Orthodox experience. Sarah’s (2012) Trouble-Making Judaism is written by one of the first lesbian rabbis in England. It talks about their journey and experiences, the process of making scriptures more inclusive, the Jewish community in relation to gender and sexuality, and the next steps. Greenberg’s (2004) Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition similarly talks about his life and experiences, the move from discussing if you can be Orthodox and LGBTQ+ to thinking about how you can be both.

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

Where can we follow you online?

On Twitter and Instagram: mie_astrup

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mieastrupjensen/

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?

After a year like this, I’d love to get travel recommendations for when we can travel again. Also local places that I should visit – I love exploring new nature/culture/city spots. Finally, I love hearing about people’s downtime activities, and I think it’s incredibly important that we create an academic culture where we also emphasise the importance of downtime. I love hearing about people’s DIY, sports, knitting, painting, cooking, etc. projects. 

At this point, my whole department knows me as ‘the model builder’, and because I work from home, I frequently show my aeroplanes, ship, cars to my students and colleagues. 

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

I have done some work on LGBTQ+ Holocaust History. LGBTQ+ victims and survivors, especially gay men, have tended to be a group that was forgotten by the world but not the Nazis since they did not receive support and compensation after the camps were liberated. Paragraph 175, the law that criminalised male homosexuality was not repealed after the war so many men were sent to prisons instead of being liberated. 

>> Thank you so much, Mie, 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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