Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve or the festival of Samhain, marks a liminal time of year where the boundaries between this world and potential other worlds are thinned. It is a time of year when all things spooky and undead come out from behind the veil to visit the living, and where throughout, history and across the world, cultures engage in various ritual and games. What better day then, to hold the first interdisciplinary Gothic Bible conference at the University of Sheffield! Organised by SIIBS and the Centre for the History of the Gothic, the aim of this conference was to enrich the study of the Bible and the Gothic through showcasing relationships that already exist between these fields, as well as to promote interdisciplinary research and dialogue.
The Gothic Bible conference is part of a larger project created by Dr Katie Edwards, Director of SIIBS, and Mary Going, a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield and co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic. In 2015, Dr Katie Edwards presented her paper, ‘Taking a Bite: Postfeminist Consumer Choice and the Twilight’ at Sheffield Gothic’s inaugural ‘Reimagining the Gothic’ conference where she explored Twilight, vampires, and advertising through a biblical lens and using the narrative of the Garden of Eden. Discussing their shared interest in exploring the relationship between religion, the Bible, and the Gothic, Dr Katie Edwards and Mary Going created the Gothic Bible project together with Dr Caroline Blyth at the University of Auckland and Christopher Scott, a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield. The first Gothic Bible event also took place on Halloween, and on 31st October 2016 Mary Going presented ‘Gothic Bible: In the beginning, there was “A Gothic Story”’ at a special Halloween SIIBS research seminar. Following the success of these papers, the Gothic Bible Team set out to plan a Halloween, Gothic Bible conference to remember.
Which brings us to the recent Gothic Bible conference. But, before we delve into the conference itself, let’s talk about our decorations. Not that we want to brag, but our conference décor was probably some of the best seen at School of English conferences, and it’s all thanks to Claire Healey. Suitably Gothic and Halloween-themed, the HRI was transformed into a Gothic haven adorned with bats, skulls, cobwebs, candles, and carefully crafted potions bottles. Upon entering the HRI, our conference delegates were also met with tombstones exhibiting (commemorating?) our speakers, while the walls were covered with missing posters of the conference organisers. And with the speaker’s podium appropriately ornamented with cobwebs and black lace, Gothic Bible was ready to start.
Opening the conference was our fantastic keynote by Dr Naomi Hetherington, a University Tutor in the Department for Lifelong Learning at University of Sheffield and a member of SIIBS. Dr Hetherington’s talk, titled ‘”Cos it’s always got to be blood”: Sacrifice, Self-harm and the Sacred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Five’ brilliantly explored the themes of self-harm, sacrifice, and the sacred through the characters of Buffy and Dawn. Anyone familiar with Sheffield Gothic knows its members love all things Buffy related (see Sheffield Gothic’s Buffy Blog Series celebrating the show’s twentieth anniversary) and so it should come as no surprise that Dr Hetherington’s talk went down extremely well, sparking a lively discussion in the questions that followed. We also had a special trick-or-treater decked in the cutest Halloween costume handing out sweets to our delegates: in short, our keynote was Gothicly fabulous.
After a short break with suitably Gothic and Halloween themed baked goods, the first panel of the conference convened exploring ‘Figures of Christ, Satan, and Demons’. This panel featured the following papers: ‘Angel, daemon, devil or double’: Scottish diablerie and Markheim’s stranger’, by Holly Hirst (Manchester Metropolitan University); ‘What is in Me, Illumine: reframing the Figure of Satan as a Feminist Ally’ by Ash Darrow (Independent Scholar); and ‘Get Thee Behind Me: The Haunting of Jesus in the Gospels’ by Dr Tom de Bruin (Newbold College). From discussions of the devil in Scottish literature, a crash course in the various depictions of Satan through the ages and his recent association with The Satanic Temple and Witch Feminism, and an innovative reading of Mark’s Gospel as a haunting of Jesus, the first panel set the bar high for the rest of the papers that would follow. It also featured a strong contender for best slide of the conference with Tom de Bruin’s Holy Spirit Pigeon.
After lunch, the second panel assembled to present papers of ‘The Bible, Gothic, and Illness’. This panel was made up of the following papers: ‘William Peter Blatty and the presence of the Absent Christ’, by Dr Simon Marsden (University of Liverpool); ‘Dead Men Walking: Lepers, Zombies, and other Revenants, in the Biblical Imaginations’ by Catherine Kennedy (University of Sheffield); and ‘“They are revived every morning by some delicious illusion of cunning madness” (Melmoth 57): The Bible and Gothic Madness’ by Ben Noad (University of Stirling). From papers examining the identities of Christ and the use of faith in William Peter Blatty’s novels, to discussions of Lazarus, leprosy, and death, and also an exploration the deliberately biblical madness depicted in Melmoth and the use of Nebuchadnezzar and Saul as archetypes of Melmoth’s madness, this panel was both innovative and thought-provoking.
The next panel that convened explored ‘National and Religious Identity’. This penultimate panel featured the following papers: ‘Competing Enjoyments: Transgression and Religious Otherness in Beckford’s Vathek and Lewis’s The Monk’, by Georgia Ntola (University of Thessalonik); ‘Thomas Percy, Cultural Anglicanism and the Gothic’, by Danni Glover (Ulster University); and ‘Gothic Calvinism and Natural Theology: Reading James Hogg as Imaginative Theologian and the need for a Gothic Imaginative Apologetics’ by Jonathan Greenaway (Manchester Metropolitan University). This panel was all about early Gothic texts: providing excellent examinations of Vathek, The Monk, and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and their religious frameworks, as well as exploring the biblical publications of Thomas Percy and his views on Anglicanism and the Gothic.
The final panel of the day explored ‘The Bible and Gothic in Digital Media and Culture’, and if the standard of papers throughout the day hadn’t been so high, you would be forgiven for saying that we saved the best till last. This panel was made up of the following papers: ‘Flesh for Frankenwhore: Reading Babylon’s Body with Frankenstein’s Females’, by Dr Michelle Fletcher (King’s College London); ‘American Gods: Visualizing Christian Identity as Gothic in Contemporary America’ by Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé (Cardiff University); and ‘“A Voice has been heard”: religious mania in Outlast 2’, by Dana Alex (Kingston University). Starting with a fabulous discussion of the Whore of Babylon, or ‘Babs’, in relation to the fleshly depictions of female Frankenstein creations within Horror, this panel also explored how Christianity is Gothicised and politicised in the contemporary America depicted in American Gods and the representation of religions and religious mania in Outlast 2.
With some truly fantastic and innovative papers exploring the Bible, religion, and the Gothic, Gothic Bible inspired stimulating debate at the conference and also online. During the day, ‘Gothic Bible’ was trending on twitter in Sheffield, leading to Sheffield Gothic being approached by a radio producer and Sheffield Gothic co-organiser Lauren Nixon taking part in an impromptu live radio interview on Gothic Origins and Halloween later that day. In case you’re wondering, the radio station was BBC Radio 2, and you can catch Lauren Nixon’s interview with Simon Mayo here around the 18 minute mark. The Gothic Bible Team could not have asked for a better conference, and it is all thanks to our wonderful speakers and attendees who contributed to the discussion. Hopefully this is a dialogue we can carry on through the Gothic Bible project, and if it is an area that interests you, whether as part of your own research or simple as a side interest stay tuned to the Sheffield Gothic Blog for our upcoming Gothic Bible Blog Series.