Continuing my exploration of African theology, and adding the dimension of women’s theologies, my next project is to read several books written by members of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (previously mentioned as part of 2010/11’s summer project on feminist theology.) Founded by Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye, it is a testament to her nurturing of other African women theologians that African Women, Religion and Health: Essays in Honour of Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye was published in 2006.
In reading the preface, which contains a short biography of Oduyoye, I was excited to find a student ministry connection of which I was previously unaware. While she was studying at the University College of Ghana, she started a university prayer group which was a forerunner to the University Christian Fellowship, which is an IFES affiliate.
The introduction discusses three aspects of African women’s theologies. The first issue is whether these theologies can be termed ‘feminist’. African women theologians face a ‘trilogy of race, class and gender’ and some women feel that ‘feminist’ excludes the first two of these, though my observation is that today’s feminism, at least in the west, has a growing appreciation of the interconnectedness of these modes of being. The perception also exists that feminism as an entity is largely white, western and middle class which has made some African women reluctant to take the label, though some have done so by prefixing it as ‘African feminism’. Similarly, they have felt the term ‘womanist’ doesn’t quite fit. Even though it’s a term used for black feminist theology, it largely pertains to the work of African-American theologians, so their context is quite different. Perhaps ‘Circle theologian’ is the best description, signalling collaboration, and a membership to the Circle whose members are all African.
The second characteristic of African women’s theologies is that they are always moving between theory and activism. There is a holism here and a concern for the practical. This is one of the immensely attractive things about it to me. It is theology which is driven to serve the ordinary woman and to make a difference in her life. It’s a tricky balance, for these theologians must interact with the academy while not becoming disengaged from the poorest of the poor. This volume is an excellent example, connecting theology and health and I believe there is a follow up volume specifically addressing HIV/AIDS.
Finally, African women’s theologies have drawn on narrative methods, both in theology and in practice. In the introduction it is argued that this has meant that African women theologians have declared their ‘critical solidarity’ with African religio-culture, far more than their male counterparts. They use traditional methods like storytelling to critique elements of culture and religion that demonise and oppress women. This means that they remain connected to their African roots in both content and method.
Oduyoye’s approach is described as ‘treading softly but firmly‘ because she has found that a confrontational approach is rarely ‘a fitting tool when pursuing the cause of gender-justice and liberation for women.’ I wonder whether this is a particularly feminine approach or merely pragmatic in a world that has long undervalued women’s voices. Anyway, this the theme for the rest of book which I am very much looking forward to reading, learning from and sharing with you!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.