Dr. Miranda Pillay is a research fellow at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) where she was a senior lecturer in New Testament Studies and Ethics before she retired from full-time teaching. She continues to research and publish on gender-justice issues and facilitates conversations on church responses to social justice issues from her experience as a coloured woman of faith living in a South African context.
When Dr. Pillay was designing her course on gender and human sexuality in the Department of Religion and Theology and Ethics at UWC, she wanted a way to engage head on with the expressed opinions of her students that were shaped largely by religious traditions and learned cultural values. She explored ways to address the dominant discourses – usually underscored by heteronormative patriarchal normativity and paternalism – that seemingly shape students’ views about gender relations and human sexuality. She wanted students to think more critically about what is perceived as “normal”. One way that she did this was to invite IAM to engage with her students, creating an entry point for students to reflect critically on their own views and to create an awareness that one can’t divorce conversations about gender and human sexuality from lived-reality.
“When we study these issues, we can become complicit in upholding patriarchal heteronormativity if we just do the book learning and the theory – we become complicit in what happens in our communities, in our families and society. I wanted the students to engage critically, to ask themselves “Why do I believe what I believe”, and “is there perhaps other understandings of who I am as a gendered human being, as a sexual human being?”
“I really found that the work that IAM staff did with the students (particularly when they introduced their Wheel of Change) opened up possibilities for shifts in thinking and for other possible understandings. What I found in my classroom was that IAM created a legitimate space for diverse voices to engage; invited and gave permission to students who might usually be silenced or who might not ascribe to the dominant views, as well as giving permission for expressing ally support.
IAM helped me as a lecturer to open up avenues for change and transformation in my classroom. You could see a change in students, they generally told me how this course had really shifted their way of thinking. It gave them permission to think and speak differently and understand that perhaps the way we understand things isn’t the only way.”
* interviews have been edited for length and clarity