A Biblical Perspective That Recognizes Black Women

From Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," 1983
From Alice Walker's "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," 1983

What inspired you to write An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation?

I used some of the work of feminist, Black feminist, and womanist writers when I was in graduate school, but I had never taken a course in feminist or womanist approaches to biblical studies. I wish that I had this book when I was in graduate school and felt that there was a need for an accessible book that could be used in the classroom. So I decided to write it.

There is no clear consensus on womanist approaches within biblical studies. Nevertheless, womanist biblical interpretation draws from Alice Walker’s definition of womanist, feminist biblical interpretation, and the lived experiences of African-American women.

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An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation

Nyasha Junior
Westminster John Knox Press
(November 2015)

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

I’d say that one take-away is that womanist biblical interpretation is not just an offshoot of feminist biblical interpretation. Womanist biblical interpretation draws on feminist work, but it has its own unique history and development. Womanist approaches in biblical studies connect with womanist work in religious studies-related fields such as ethics, theology, and homiletics—as well as with the rich history of African-American women’s engagement with biblical texts outside of the academy. This book emphasizes that while womanist biblical interpretation is relatively new in the development of academic biblical studies, African American women are not newcomers to biblical interpretation.

Is there anything you had to leave out?

There is so much on the cutting room floor. For example, I wanted to include a chapter on literature, music, and visual art created by African-American women. Their creative engagement with biblical texts is a part of the history of African-American biblical interpretation, but given my space limitations, there was just no way to include this chapter. I had to leave it out.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

Due to the popularity of the term “womanist” and how it paralleled with “feminist,” many people assume that all Black women are womanists. This is not the case. Some Black women identify as Black feminists or as feminists without any qualifiers. Some Black women do not identify themselves with any of these terms. Black women are diverse, and they identify themselves and their scholarship in a variety of ways.RDinboxDid you have a specific audience in mind when writing?

Yes, I wrote the book for grad students who needed a basic resource on feminism and womanism and feminist and womanist approaches in biblical studies. I was thinking of an M.Div. student who hadn’t taken women and gender studies courses in undergrad and who needed something to help her get started with research on womanist work within biblical studies.

Are you hoping to just inform readers? Entertain them? Piss them off?

I wrote the book for classroom use, so my primary aim is to inform readers. I tried to keep the book free of jargon and to explain any unfamiliar terminology. I hope that readers will come away with a better understanding of the complexities of the use of the term “womanist” and womanist work.

What alternative title would you give the book?

I’m happy with the title suggested by my editor, since it describes the contents of the book. Not All Black Women would be a cute title to drive home the point that not all Black women identify as womanists, but it doesn’t capture the substance of the book.

How do you feel about the cover?

I love it! The beautiful cover art is “Afro Girl Aqua.” It was painted by Philadelphia artist Kim Wilson of Topaz and Opal.  I purchased the painting from Wilson, and when my editor asked me for cover art ideas, I asked if we could secure the rights to use the painting for the cover.

Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?

I love anything by Octavia Butler. Her work is incredibly powerful and wildly creative. One of my favorite books by Butler is Wild Seed.  I’d love to be able to write fiction, but I don’t think I could handle having all those voices in my head.

What’s your next book?

My next book is a reception history of Hagar. It is under contract with Oxford University Press. Hagar is the wife of Abraham and the mother of Ishmael and an important figure within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The book examines how interpreters treat Hagar’s gender, ethnicity, and household status in order to see themselves and their concerns reflected in biblical literature.