Phrases like ‘love endures through every circumstance’ and the principle of married couples being ‘joined as one flesh’ are tropes commonly cited in Christian liturgy about the sanctity of marriage. But what happens when husbands harm their wives under religious pretenses? Can these interpretations be a source of so-called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)?
Visiting religious historian Dr. Stephen Muoki Joshua touched on these issues in a lecture delivered in January 2023 at the Akademia Sztuki w Szczecinie that examined the effect Christian teachings on spousal abuse. Entitled ‘When the Bible Becomes Harmful to Women’, the address by examined religion’s role in IPV on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast, including how women and their religious leaders are using those same principles to combat the abusers.
The board director of undergraduate studies at Pwani University, Dr. Muoki’s findings are based on interviews with the victims of spousal abuse, religious leaders and social workers in Kilifi County. His lecture has implications for Poland, a European Union member where the Catholic Church holds tremendous sway in social life amid reported high rates of domestic violence. And where the government in 2020 began the process of withdrawing from the so-called Istanbul Convention that sets EU norms for combatting violence against women.
Dr. Muoki’s research demonstrates how Biblical interpretations suppress victims of spousal abuse by driving the stigmas that act as an impediment to efforts intended to free women from IPV. His work reveals how Christian teachings are used both to promote and condemn IPV. He argues that testimony from pastors, abusers and victims indicates the outsized role played by religious teachings in the justification of abuse, including by the victims of IPV.
Organized under the auspices of Transcultural Perspectives in Art and Art Education (TPAAE), Dr, Muoki’s lecture is the product of a multinational effort sponsored by the EU’s Horizon 2020 program that will create a pair of bachelor’s degree courses n Fine Art and Design at Pwani when the project concludes next year.