Danielle De Luna
Nature, relationships, inner peace and the self. All of these words define what is sacred to womanists.
Students and faculty reflected on these concepts and discussed their own understandings of what is sacred and spiritual Nov. 15 during the conclusion of the Interfaith Chapel’s Faith and Justice workshop series “Black Feminism and Sacred Text.”
Eight women gathered in the Chapel seminar room for the final session and perused an assortment of books displayed upon brown side tables in the back of the room.
The books pertained to the workshop’s focus on black feminism, diaspora, spirituality and womanist midrash – the act of interpreting sacred text and arguing with its contents to understand faith from a black, female point of view.
Assistant Professor of Education Issac Carter co-facilitated with graduate student Jasmine Marchbanks-Owens to share a curated presentation on indigenous and black cosmology.
Marchbanks-Owens and Carter said they had wanted to present a Powerpoint and video, but instead began with a discussion since the projection equipment was missing from the room.
Carter started by asking everyone to share their fundamental understandings of black feminism.
“I think of certain authors and their focus on intersectionality,” Professor of English Cathy Irwin said. “Women like Alice Walker, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins.”
“It’s a place to honor all the identities one might have,” Marchbanks-Owens said.
“‘Black feminist’ is not a noun, but a verb for me since I am a man and I understand the privilege of being a man,” Carter said.
Carter continued, explaining the historical and geographical origins of black feminism and womanism, pointing to the black diaspora from West Africa. He said the effects of colonization on the spiritual and the self were especially significant for groups from this region.
“You’ve been ontologically changed as a human being when your culture is uprooted and transformed,” Carter said. “And black feminism is about the reassembling of the self.”
Carter said tracing back the evolution of Western Christianity and Judaism reveals an entirely different cosmology that was erased from indigenous cultures during the process of colonization.
The mother goddess Asherah, also referred to as “Queen of Heaven,” is said to have been worshiped by the Israelites in Jewish sacred text, but her existence in spiritual life was consumed by her husband El or Yahweh, Carter said.
“Even after the colonizers told them to let go of what they were believing, some still called God by the name of this goddess’ husband,” Carter said.
Carter and Marchbanks-Owens said connections to Asherah and pre-colonial polytheism are visible in religions like Santeria and Vodou, which merge aspects of indigenous religions with Christianity or Catholicism.
“What if we thought to portray women as sacred?” Marchbanks-Owens asked.
“It would be an opportunity to reconstruct the configuration of our society.”
The elimination of the spirit in Western culture has created unintended consequences that affect our interpersonal interactions and our relationship with the Earth, Carter said.
Carter added this secularization may to be blame for the disregard of Earth’s natural resources, as well as the neglect and objectification of people.
Carter concluded the session with an examination of popular modern music. He referenced Beyonce’s song “Diva” and Ariana Grande’s song “God is a Woman.”
The songs prompted discussion about how popular culture manufactures and manipulates ideas about femininity and empowerment. Though some saw the songs as evidence of current culture attempting to frame women as sacred or powerful, others found flaws in the message.
Graduate student Kira Barros said she becomes discouraged when she sees popular culture mass produce female sexuality and label it as empowerment, while overlooking the true power of femininity.
“To me the act of pregnancy is the clearest indication that females are divine,” Barros said.
Though this semester’s Faith and Justice workshop series has concluded, University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner said she hopes to host more of these events next semester.
Danielle De Luna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.