My guest this week is Johanna Stiebert, Professor of Biblical Hebrew at the University of Leeds. The interview took place against the backdrop of Covid 19, and Johanna explains why she has revamped her modules in the light of the events of 2020. The other big event at the time was the US Presidential election, the outcome of which was not known when we recorded the interview, and Johanna talks about her experience of living and teaching in Tennessee in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
Johanna has one parent from New Zealand and the other from Germany, and her grandfathers fought on opposite sides during the Second World War. She was born in New Zealand and grew up in Germany.
We learn that Johanna went to Cambridge to do a two year MPhil in Biblical Hebrew and then moved to Glasgow which she explains was the best place next to heaven. She taught English in Botswana, which was a life-affirming experience, and was there at the height of the HIV epidemic. Johanna talks about how she then lived in Knoxville and how a shooting at a Unitarian Church in which several people died made her realize that she didn’t want to raise her children there, and ended up in Leeds where she has been based since 2009.
Johanna reveals why New Zealand is like being trapped in a beautiful birdcage and why she has had an ambivalent relationship with it.
We talk about the relationships we foster through Facebook and how in childhood she thought she would one day be working in the area of human rights. She has, though, tried in recent years to bring her academic work around to doing some of that, e.g. in terms of gender-based violence.
Poetry is important to Johanna and she talks about the importance to her of radio and podcasts and we learn that she would prefer radio to TV or film. Johanna talks about the teachers who stand out (for good for ill) and she explains why she loves teaching and how it brings research to life. We talk about the importance of sharing something of yourself when teaching, and how most learning takes place outside of the lecture room.
Then, at the end of the interview Johanna talks about how people’s first memories are often shame-related. Her memories are generally very positive and she reflects on how life is about being given opportunities, with negative experiences key to who we are. We talk about the ways we reconstruct the past and Johanna ends with a discussion of the notion of walking backwards into the future.
Please note: Opinions expressed are solely those of Chris Deacy and Johanna Stiebert and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Kent.