Researching women in the church: the “what” and the “why”


Tomorrow I begin in earnest my Laidlaw internship. I’m briefly going to chat about two things here: what I’m studying and why I’m studying it. I hope some of this might be of interest. If not, at least this should get my head in the game before the rubber hits the road tomorrow. By way of introduction, and to understand a bit about my project, I’m a theology student. As such, I’ve spent a fair bit of time learning Biblical Greek and some Ancient Hebrew too. Needless to say, this makes me an absolute hoot at dinner parties. I’ve had the opportunity this semester to work as Professor Scott Hafemann’s research assistant, which has consisted primarily of checking and inserting references. Who knew that the use of semi-colons in footnotes could cause me so much grief?

I’m going to research the topic of female leadership in the Christian church. I envisage this research consisting of two parts. First, I’m going to get knee-deep in books, articles, podcasts and videos, to find out what the Bible has to say about this issue, and, perhaps of more interest to my research, what biblical scholars and major church figures think that the Bible has to say about this issue. Particularly, I’d like to find out what these people think that the Bible has to say about whether women should preach in the church. In so doing, I will narrow my study. As part of this stage, I will investigate how these major church figures and scholars interpret the Bible for today i.e. if the Bible says X in its context two thousand years ago, does it still mean X in our context today?

Second, and with a ridiculous amount of arguments lodged in my wee brain, I will interview local church leaders, both male and female. I’ve spent this week filling in an ethical application form in order to do this. Who knew that you had to fill in so many forms in order to have a coffee and chat with someone in a dog collar? But at least I know the process now if I do choose to do more of this in the future. I will talk to church leaders from a range of different churches, asking them about how they view the issue, how they interpret the relevant Bible passages, and how these views affect the way they lead their congregations. I’m excited for this part of the research, not least to escape the library and its associated stresses, but also to find out how these leaders make decisions that affect the people who follow them.

Why am I doing this research? I grew up as a Christian in churches wherein women could do what men could do. They could stand up and preach. They could lead the worship band. They could lead the kids’ activities. I currently go to a church in which women can do what men can do. A married couple lead the church. Both lead the service at times. Both preach at times. This is normal for me. In fact, when I told my dad what I was studying, he said, “what the heck are you doing that for?” (“heck” is a strong expletive in my house). “Why don’t you do something interesting?” he said, because, for him, it’s not worth studying because it’s a clear-cut issue: women can do what men can do in the church.

My dad's reaction to my research topic. For him, it's a given that women can do what men can do in the church.

My dad’s reaction to my research topic. For him, it’s a given that women can do what men can do in the church.

But the fact is, many Christians do not think this. I have attended churches where women cannot teach or preach. I have friends who think this. This fascinates me. And the major reason why they think this is:

“The Bible says so.”

This fascinates me. And so I want to investigate this further. I realise this issue might seem ridiculous, even offensive, to many people. But these are the views of intelligent people who are attempting to live according to a certain narrative, a narrative in which there is a God and in which this God has, in some way, spoken to humankind through the Bible. Whatever you think about this narrative, I’m interested in finding out whether this narrative leads to the promotion or rejection of women leadership in the church, especially as according to church leaders.

So that’s a little about my project. I’m excited to get started on this tomorrow, and, ultimately, to create a poster about what I’ve found out in nine weeks time. It will be my first poster since a Star Wars: Phantom Menace poster I created when I was 10 (Jar Jar Binks in the centre, of course). Thanks for reading,

Paper Dragon?

你好 from China !

Do you remember recent Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK? Weeks before the visit most of the British newspapers increased a number of articles in relation to China; what caught my eye was that many headlines aimed at presenting China’s successes     as a direct threat. “China buys up the world”, “China’s grip on the UK”, “China overtakes the world” are just some examples of the titles that appeared in the mainstream media. Such intensive and very common “fear creating” press in regards to China made me think whether China wants to “conquest the West” and become a global hegemony.                 The answer is of course it does, as any other country in the world, however does China have the capacity and a real desire to achieve it?

Let’s go back to 1946; Mao Zedong in reaction to the growing power of the USA and its rising influence, used the phrase “paper tiger” to describe American imperialism that seemed threatening but in reality according to the Chinese leader was largely ineffectual.

Studying in China has allowed me to observe China from the inside from which I have realised that the state has been facing numerous, growing internal challenges.                   This, in turn, poses a huge threat to China’s domestic stability. Internal fragility emphasized by and at the same time worrying my Chinese friends made me start thinking whether China really is a rising superpower, conquering the world as many headlines suggest or just a “paper dragon” that appears to be big and dangerous, but itself aware    of its paper structure that may not be able to handle what others may imagine.

Renmin University of China-Mingde International Building

Renmin University of China

The aim of my research is to reveal whether the fear propagated by media is justified or whether domestic considerations and survival of the CCP’s regime in light of daily protests take precedence over international goals, leaving no space nor ability to maintain China’s position as a rising superpower and its growing influence. Potential insolvency of Chinese banks and growing inequality are the main anxieties of Chinese leaders as well as ordinary citizens; what makes it more interesting is that the above problems are in a big share caused by China’s global success.

Currently, I focus on collecting various data and suggestions. I attend various conferences, meet with experts, bankers, money managers as well as talk to Chinese people living in Beijing; those who immigrated in search of money that can sustain their families living in remote areas, as well as “new rich” trying to figure out where in the world to invest. How do they feel about their own country, what are they afraid of and how do they perceive China on the global stage.

Thank you for reading and good luck to all Laidlaw Scholars !

Justyna Slowik

Thoughts from a Laidlaw Intern in Paris-London

I was congratulated for being accepted as Laidlaw Intern – for which I am incredibly grateful – while getting lost in the streets of Paris, during the first few weeks of my Study Abroad Programme at Sciences Po. The University of St Andrews has been wonderful at coordinating my internship during my time abroad, and ensuring that I was briefed on training weekends that I could not attend, since they were naturally held in St Andrews. Instead of interactive training weekends in large lecture theatres, the Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development accommodated me with detailed Skype calls. Here, I was provided with all the resources and had an engaging one-to-one discussion about the various theories of leadership, which underpin the ethos of the Laidlaw Internship programme. My supervisor has also been incredibly helpful and prompt at guiding me, despite me not being physically present to ask and answer questions. My Laidlaw Internship experience, thus, has been interesting and different from the outset, and I am particularly grateful that my circumstances (that is, my studying abroad) have not at all affected the support made available to me. In a few words: if this is you next year, don’t be concerned about studying abroad; the University is incredibly present – despite your (brief) absence!


Now that my Study Abroad programme is coming to a close, I’ll be returning to London, where I’ll be completing my research (I think). The internship is so versatile in that it allows you to complete your research from anywhere. It is simply between you and your supervisor to decide. This is incredibly helpful since I’ve found myself in some confusion about where I want to spend the summer – whether in London, Paris, or elsewhere. But the internship works around you and your supervisor, and so you don’t need to have decisive answers to these questions. It follows that my concerns are more logistical/practical than aything else:

  • Where will I work?

I am yet to decide where I will be staying, and I need to ensure my workspace is comfortable and suitable. I’m incredibly particular about where I like to work. Some days, I prefer to work at cafés, others in the silence of my home. Even more, I’m quite peculiar about my workspace, and am known among my friends to avoid seats in the library that face “the wrong way.” Don’t ask (!)

  • How will I organise my breaks in between my working hours?

The Laidlaw Internship carries a lot of weight, and demands that you produce a powerhouse piece of research, as well as a concise poster to accompany it. While ten weeks may feel and sound like a long time, I cannot be complacent. Nonetheless, it is important to be intuitive and know when it is time to take a (reasonable) break away from my research, and to return in a refreshed and productive state of self.

  • How do I start?

Starting any essay or extended piece of writing is always difficult. With the help of my supervisor, I made a detailed research outline that I will use to structure my research. However, this is not what concerns me. My research area is particularly difficult; I will be investigating the use of torture by the General Security Service in the Palestinian Occupied Territories between 1971-1991 through the securitisation framework offered by the Copenhagen School. Given the sensitive, and oftentimes hushed and “taboo” nature of this subject, resources need to be chosen carefully, and sentences need to be constructed with care to ensure as much empirical accuracy as possible. It is on the basis of these epirical accounts that analysis will be made through the Copenhagen School, and thus they need to be reliable in the first instance. Given all of this, there is a lot to bear in mind when starting; whether this is starting a new section, a new paragraph, or even a new sentence! In any case, I’m very excited to start and I’m certain I’ll figure out how along the way!

To end, I’m incredibly grateful to have been selected, and am looking forward to meeting my peers and hearing about their research on our return in September. My best wishes to all!


With my Laidlaw internship starting in a little under a month now, it’s still far enough away that it doesn’t feel too real yet, but close enough to preoccupy me as well.  I’ve only started preliminary background research as of yet, and I also spent the last semester studying in Morocco, although I’ve had quite a comprehensive briefing on the first leadership weekend. So given that I don’t have a whole lot of concrete information to report on yet, I’m going to write a little about my feelings and expectations for the internship, as well as a brief overview of my topic.

Broadly, my research (with the school of IR) will be focused on US-Zimbabwe relations between 1982 and 1985. Those years probably don’t mean a lot to most people, but for others they will immediately evoke a time of horrific violence and repression in Zimbabwe, during which tens of thousands of Ndebele people were massacred, tortured, and disappeared by the 5th brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army, known as Gukurahundi. These killings occurred under the leadership of the country’s first prime minister, Robert Mugabe, and ostensibly targeted violent political dissidents; however, the reality was the death of thousands of innocent Ndebele civilians, an ethnic group known for supporting Mugabe’s political rival Joshua Nkomo. To date there has been no accountability for the perpetrators of these crimes, while Mugabe remains in power, thanks in part to blanket amnesties passed by his government and a lack of international recognition of the crimes. As for my research, I will be analyzing primary source material obtained from the US State Department which relates to these events and which has not been previously investigated, looking for information about what knowledge US officials had of events, how they reacted, and why.


Mugabe (left) and Nkomo

It would be dishonest to say that I don’t have worries and insecurities about this project. First of all, it’s hard not to feel unqualified! This is evidently a serious and important and very real topic, which continues to influence the lives of so many people in Zimbabwe and elsewhere as they seek justice and recognition for what was done to them and their communities. I would hate to fail to do justice to the subject matter, or worse to use the stories of victims and survivors in an exploitative way, an ethical issue in academic research which is discussed very eloquently in this article on human rights research in Palestinian refugee camps. I’ve been happy to see that research ethics have been strongly emphasized so far in the Laidlaw program, which has helped me reflect on issues such as whether or not I would interview people as part of my research, given that this would clearly have ethical implications in terms of people’s traumatic experiences. So far I’m waiting to see what direction the documents take me in, and I plan to make any further decisions on the subject only once I assess whether or not such personal research would be valuable to the participants themselves. Finally, I know this will also test my own ability to work with such serious and often upsetting material, which I hope I will have the strength to take on. 

What excites me most about this project? In my initial application, I focused on social justice, which is an important priority for me in any career I might pursue post-university. As such, I see this as an opportunity to explore the benefits and limitations of academic research as a means of contributing to efforts for justice. In this regard I’ve been inspired by my supervisor, Dr Cameron, who has done amazing work in exposing Britain’s complicity and France’s active enabling role in the Rwandan genocide, among other things. Although the lack of accountability for criminal governments, leaders, corporations, etc seems daunting, the work of investigating, analyzing and publicizing such information is invaluable. I hope that at least in a small way, my research might contribute usefully to the available knowledge regarding the terrible events in Zimbabwe. I am hugely thankful to have this opportunity to work independently, and I hope to take full advantage of it. Good luck to all other participants, and I can’t wait to see how everyone’s projects turn out.


Yes, air, what about it?

Hi there,

First of all, thanks Lord Laidlaw and the program for giving me this precious opportunity to carry out my own research on the subject which I feel deeply connected to, the migrant workers in Beijing and their perceptions and relations to the environment, particularly to the air and water.

Foreseeing the forbidden city

Foreseeing the forbidden city

My research project was inspired by my stay in Beijing last summer. I stayed with a migrant family, who I did not know before, for about 1~2 months’ time, while doing my internship in an education NGO. During that time period in Beijing, a few things had really stroked me which motived my research project, and I hope to share some with you:

Snapshot 1: Who cares (about the air)?

An ordinary working day of mine usually started at around 9.30 am. My supervisor would arrive a little later, but she would frequently ask/do one thing whenever she arrived, with a frown – ‘can I close the window and turn on the air conditioner and filters?’…    After a few hours of work, I then went back to home. Often, my host family was still dinning together, with an electronic fan on and windows open. The air was flowing in and out quite freely. They never told me to close the windows throughout my stay. I often saw the brownsih dust on the windows, it might have been there since long ago…

The above is just one of the snapshots of my experience in Beijing. I hope I have depicted the contrast in their attitudes towards the air which was quite a puzzle to me. I can possibly pull up more objects and ‘facts’, such as the migrant family’s acceptance of precipitate in drinking water and their non-use of air masks prevalent on the street, and focus on them to discuss, for example, the unequal costs of development. But I want to hold on a minute before I deliver my instant interpretation of phenomena. To me, to really target an issue, especially an issue which involves other people, and find out solutions, it is crucial to understand how the issues arise, are perceived by the local people, and act, if necessary, based on the improved understanding. Fieldwork and ethnographic research might be the appropriate method for me to transition myself from being a complete outsider, and obtain a relatively emic understanding of the issue.

Enough said about my motivation and research method, I am about to go. I hope everyone will get a meaningful experience this summer! Best wishes.

Planning the project whilst studying abroad

As my internship has not yet started, my project, which will explore how varieties of German, in particular Austrian Standard German, play a role in the teaching and learning of German as a foreign language, is still very much in the planning phase. I am hoping to arrange a period of time observing classes in one or more language schools where German as a foreign language is taught to gain an understanding of how and whether varieties of German are recognised and or/used in teaching. I will also be analysing language materials created for learners of German as a foreign language in order to assess whether they focus largely on German Standard German or also are influenced by other varieties of the language. In order to do this, I will be undertaking some research into Austrian Standard German to define its differences to and similarities with other forms of the language and put this into practice in any observation in language classes. In addition to the more practical applications of varieties of German in formal and informal teaching and learning situations, I will be using theoretical texts to inform the other areas of my research. It would be an interesting addition to the project to interview teachers and learners of German as to how relevant and present they feel ‘non-standard’ varieties of the German language are. Whilst I am working on my internship project, I am likely to be based near to any language schools I am observing teaching at and will also spend some time in Vienna, where the largest amount of relevant material appears to be available in the university library.

IMG_6366_edited As I have been studying abroad in Vienna and Yaroslavl for the whole of this academic year, I was not able to attend the first leadership event, so am looking forward to engaging with this aspect of the internship more over the summer and during the second leadership weekend next semester. Having been caught up with much of the content and materials from the first weekend by Catriona Wilson, I believe one of the most challenging aspects of the project could potentially be condensing the results of eight weeks of research into a poster format. Although it is a shame to miss the first leadership weekend, it is great that students who are studying abroad during the academic year before their project are allowed to participate in the programme. As a student of German and Russian, most research projects I have completed are presented as an extended piece of writing. I think it is likely to be a challenge to present academic ideas and findings in such a visual format, which demands a succinct overview of the research project. It will be interesting to see how other students who are researching in many different fields choose to present their research at the poster event next semester. I am looking forward to getting started on my research project in June when I return from Russia and to meeting the other interns next semester at the leadership event.