Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou

On the face of it, Francesca Stavrakopoulou is something of an anomaly. Despite being a well-documented atheist, she is the Head of Theology & Religion at the University of Exeter, and conducts research specialising in ancient Israelite and Judahite religions.

Yet despite working in a field that is traditionally the domain of men of the cloth, Francesca is leading a quiet revolution into our relationship with religion. Her work not only challenges existing preconceptions, but also encourages us all to look below the surface of religion towards the rich tapestry of tradition, history and culture that lies beneath.
Her success in stimulating new ideas and opinions in what is often seen as a very traditional discipline has led to Francesca engaging in numerous media activities, including presenting the 2011 BBC 2 TV documentary series Bible’s Buried Secrets.

Francesca believes that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘inspiring change’, reflects her own belief that by offering encouragement, you can galvanise others to achieve their full potential. She said: “In my job, inspiring change means taking a responsibility to empower students to see the world through other people's eyes, and encouraging them to make a positive difference to themselves and others - however big or small that difference may seem.”

When considering her proudest achievement, Francesca picked two that provided as much joy to her family as it did to her. She said: “Getting my doctorate and being appointed to a personal chair are perhaps the biggest moments for me, particularly because they meant so much to my family and were events I could share with them.

Francesca said that she is inspired by “strong women” in her life, a fact reflected in the advice that she would offer to others. She said: “Inspiration for me has come from the strong women in my life, especially my mother. She taught me through example not to believe in stereotypes and prejudice, and that's shaped my professional life as much as my personal life. It is a belief that I also try and inspire in others. My advice is always not to let the things that make you feel different from the rest marginalise you. Being different is the biggest skill you have! “