In 1991, Professor Juliana Claassens of the Department of Old and New Testament was part of the first class of female theological students in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU). Today she heads the Gender Unit in the Faculty and lives her passion for human dignity and gender justice.
As part of Women Month's celebrations at SU, the Corporate Communication Division spoke to Claassens about her research.
In your writings, you focus on courageous women in the Old Testament and the contemporary relevance of their stories. Can you tell us more about your area of research?
My research focus on human dignity, justice and in particular gender justice. In my most recent book on female resistance in the Old Testament, I use biblical stories about women resisting the violence of war, rape, patriarchy and poverty in a variety of creative, non-violent ways to contemplate the various forms in which women (and men) today try to overcome the devastating reality of violence in our world.
Why or how did you become interested in this specific area of research?
As an undergraduate student at SU, I fell in love with the Old Testament thanks to a very inspiring professor named Ferdinand Deist. It is only later that I encountered feminism that gave me the language to name what I had experience as a young theological student – one of the first women to study Theology at SU. I increasingly saw the potential of using biblical texts to help us see the ongoing manifestations of violence and injustice in our world, while at the same time also helping readers to imagine alternatives of how the world is supposed to be.
What do you enjoy most about being a researcher?
I love bringing into conversation new approaches to interpret ancient biblical texts (hermeneutics), seeing how new layers of meaning are revealed. For instance, I have in recent years started using the new field of trauma hermeneutics to read especially the biblical prophets who emerged out of a very traumatic time. This particular framework connects well to contemporary readers as it draws on a common experience of finding meaningful ways to deal with suffering in a meaningful way.
What does success mean to you?
Success is to keep your focus amidst all the trials and tribulations of life, also professional life, which indeed is not always easy. To hear that somebody has actually read your work and that it meant something to them is probably for me the greatest measure of success. To be able to bring something to students that they find meaningful and help to read or think or perhaps even live in a different way is greatly rewarding.
What do you attribute your success to?
I think it is, in part, thanks to counter communities of care whether in the form of family, friends, colleagues, students where one becomes stronger, more resilient, and ready to tackle even greater challenges and opportunities.
What makes you tick?
I have a strong sense of vocation. I really believe that I am called to make the world a better place. As I become older, I probably don't think anymore as my youthful self once did, that I can change the whole world. But I am trying my best to wherever I find myself, make that small corner of the world a bit better.
What are the things that you enjoy doing away from work?
I love reading, watching films, travelling, reading and writing in coffee shops, going for long walks in beautiful places, and good food and wine.
Do you have any message for the next generation of women researchers?
Keep doing what you are doing. Nobody said it was going to be easy. But through dedicated hard work, surrounded by like-minded individuals and with a passion to make your scholarship matters for a larger context, working in Higher Education is the most amazing job in world!