Photo of Dr Helen John

Dr Helen John

Research interests

PhD Title: Bodies, Spirits, and the Living Landscape: Interpreting the Bible in Owamboland, Namibia.

My doctorate (awarded April 2016, supervised by Dr. Louise J. Lawrence and Professor David G. Horrell) brought together enduring interests in biblical interpretation, Anthropology, and the cultures of Southern Africa. Funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, I undertook a study of contemporary biblical interpretation and identity (in light of pre-colonial beliefs and traditions) in a Northern Namibian village. This interdisciplinary study drew upon methodological influences from both Anthropology and Biblical Studies. It involved 12 months of fieldwork (ethnography and contextual biblical interpretation) in a village in the Ondonga area of North-Central Namibia. It was an extraordinary privilege to spend the year living in such a beautiful location, and to be welcomed into a community so supportive of my project. It would be fair to say that challenging living conditions pushed me to my physical and mental limits; I was not used to living in relative isolation, without running water and electricity, and with the likes of searing heat, scorpions, and the most unreliable vehicle ever to grace this earth! However, the experience was hugely enriching and enabled me to gather fascinating data (and a renewed appreciation for home comforts). The results of my study challenge the notion that pre-colonial worldviews and practices are no longer in evidence in Ndonga belief systems. The study also offers cross-cultural interpretations of a selection of New Testament texts (Wedding Parables: Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:7-11; Jairus and the Haemorrhaging Woman: Mark 5:21-43; The Gerasene Demoniac: Luke 8:26-39; Jesus Calming the Storm and Walking on the Sea: Mark 4:35-41 and 6:45-52; Resurrection Encounters: Luke 24:1-49).

Forthcoming article arising from doctoral study: 

‘Legion in a “Living Landscape”: Contextual Bible Study as a Disruptive Tool (Luke 8:26–39 Interpreted in Owamboland, Namibia)’, The Expository Times.

My wider academic interests are New Testament interpretation (anthropological, social-scientific, post-colonial, African), Anthropologies of ‘personhood’, landscape, and ‘things’), Southern Africa, African Traditional/Indigenous Religions, contextual Bible study. I have presented papers in diverse conference settings, including those of the European Association of Biblical Studies (Cordoba, 2015) and the British New Testament Society (Edinburgh, 2015; Chester, 2016). I am a member of the steering committee for the Society of Biblical Literature’s Contextual Biblical Interpretation seminar, to which I presented at the most recent meeting of SBL in San Antonio, TX, in November 2016.

Research collaborations

I am keen to develop research collaborations around the themes of land and landscape.