Womanist Theology

Womanist Theology was developed in 1983 by a black writer and activist, Alice Walker in her collection of essays, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Womanist Prose.” The term womanist primarily refers to African-American women. However, the term was also used for woman in general.

Walker’s definition of a womanist in her four-part definition of womanist in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983):

  1. From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
  2. Also: A woman who loves other women. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter) and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist.
  3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness (being well-shaped in her body). Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
  4. Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.

Her definitions provide a fertile ground for religious reflection and practical application. Walkers writings had a significant impact on later womanist theologies.

In the mid 1980s, 3 African American scholars, Katie Cannon, Jaquelyn Grand and Delores Williams realised that there was a need for a more woman inclusive theological and ethical framework concerning black liberation theology. Black liberation theology was articulated by James Hal Cone through his book in 1969. Cone argued that God is black and that God identifies with the struggles of Black Americans for justice and liberation. In Black Liberation Theology there was nothing to encourage black woman to reclaim their identity, love themselves fully and be encouraged enough to dismantle white, patriarchal dominant theology. So the three scholars also criticised black liberation theology because it only focused on social justice from the angle of anti-racism.

In 1985, Katie Cannon published an article entitled “The Emergence of Black Feminist Consciousness”. In this article, she discussed an approach for interpreting the Bible in a way that leads to Black woman’s liberation. Her 1988 work “Black Womanist Ethics” is a classic text in womanist theology.



Womanist theology – Wikipedia

Womanist Theology: A Summary | Student Christian Movement

Womanist Theology – Emilie M. Townes

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