Nina Hoel new Associate Professor in Religion and Society/Interreligious Studies
Nina Hoel recently relocated to Norway from South Africa, after 11 years. She tells us that the bulk of her time in South Africa was spent studying and working in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town.
-Initially, I journeyed to the “mother city” to do a MA in Religious Studies … something on religion and education, Hoel tells us.
-I completed a teaching degree at Bergen University College a few years earlier, when the much-discussed KRL-subject (Christianity, Religion, Lifestance) replaced “Christianity” in Norwegian public schools. I became curious about the various ways in which other nation-state contexts had engaged the pedagogies and contents of new curricula on religion and religions.
She says that the University of Cape Town seemed like the obvious choice as the Institute for Contemporary Religion in Southern Africa (ICRSA) was housed in the Department of Religious Studies.
-ICRSA, headed by the eminent Prof. David Chidester, had been integral in the development of the subject “Religion Education” after South Africa’s transition to democracy. Excited about learning from the situated knowledges and possibilities envisioned, I packed my bags and headed south.
Feminism and religion
Nina Hoel says that she became a member of the ICRSA research team, and later taught “Religion Education” to students enrolled in the teaching degree programme at Varsity College, Cape Town. But it was something else that would spark her coming research interest.
-It was my meeting with four esteemed feminist scholars of religion that laid the foundation for the direction my research was intended to take. Assoc. Prof. Sa’diyya Shaikh, Dr. Judy Tobler, Dr. Azila Reisenberger, and Prof. Denise Ackerman heartily guided me through a MA course on “Religion and Gender”, and, after that, there was no turning back, she says.
-My MA was followed by the arduous birthing of my PhD, then, three years of postdoctoral work. The odyssey was carefully engendered by my mentor, friend, and profound source of inspiration, Sa’diyya Shaikh.
Islam and sexuality
Hoel tells us that the research project undertaken, which today remains one of her core areas of research, was entitled “South African Muslim Women, Gender and Sexuality”. The project took as its starting point the notion of ‘lived religion’, or, religion as experienced, embodied, and produced in the every-day lives of women.
-Employing a qualitative approach, I particularly explored the various ways in which religious discourses on sexuality informed participants’ notions of personhood, and how they navigated intimate relationships. As I am of the view that doing research always is an embodied practice, my empirical explorations prompted the need to critically engage questions of research methods and methodologies in the study of religion. My commitment to undertake humane research, where attention to power, positionality, and partiality reverberate on the self-reflexive research radar, continues to inform my current work.
In 2013 Nina Hoel became a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
-This was a university that had a long-standing history with the Faculty of Theology, I was later to find out! Here I worked on a project entitled “Contemporary Islamic Sexual Ethics and Islamic Feminism”, which empirically explored what constitutes ‘an Islamic sexual ethics’ in the lives of contemporary South African Muslim women.
In this project, she used Islamic feminist theology to destabilise and challenge patriarchal expressions, and foregrounded women’s lived experiences as a primary epistemological category for the production of contemporary religious ethics.
Back to Norway
-Then, since August 2014 I have been transitioning back into the Norwegian society, which is no walk in the park, I’ll tell you.
She got a research post at KIFO, Institute for Church, Religion and Worldview Research, and says the KIFO-team has been central in her ongoing acclimation.
–They have introduced me to Norwegian oddities such as ‘Trosopplæringsreformen’! Suffice to say, much of what seemed utterly strange has become more familiar.
Nina Hoel arrived at the Faculty of Theology, UiO, in the beginning of June, and she is still excited about what lies ahead.
-I look forward to meet students thirsting for knowledge and aspiring to greatness, no pressure! I look forward to get to know my colleagues, learning about their research interests and possible points of intersection.
When we ask Nina Hoel about her plans for future research, she tells us that she is in the process of moulding her research undertaken while in South Africa into a monograph entitled Islamic Body Politics.
Furthermore, she is completing a book chapter entitled “Taking the Body Seriously, Taking Relationalities Seriously: An Embodied and Relational Approach to Ethnographic Research in the Study of (Lived) Religion” (to be published in The Insider/Outsider Debate: New Perspectives in the Study of Religion, George D. Chryssides and Stephen E. Gregg, eds.).
-As such, my core twin-concerns/research interests – religion & sexuality and religion & research methods/methodology – continues to be boundless wells of inspiration and motivation, and there is still so much more work to be done and imagined in these areas, she concludes.