Danielle De Luna
Fathers are not always kind and kings are not always generous. Yet, images of fathers and kings are often used to depict the physical appearance of God in the Western world.
However, womanism offers an opportunity to explore how these depictions affect women’s relationships with religion, creator and society as a whole.
University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner and graduate student Jasmine Marchbanks-Owens used womanism to discuss religious imagery and black female identity Nov. 8 during the continuing faith and justice workshop “Black Feminism and Sacred Text.”
Reflecting on the creation story in the book of Genesis, Marchbanks-Owens and Wagoner revealed linguistic differences in descriptive imagery across Christian, Jewish and Muslim sacred texts.
Wagoner introduced the Jewish text, emphasizing its use of both masculine and feminine words to describe God in the act of creation.
“People are not changing, but restoring the text when advocating for a feminine interpretation of God or divinity,” Wagoner said. “The God described in this text is male and female, and leads one to wonder ‘Is this a more plural understanding of the Godhead?’”
The differences between various texts’ treatment of pronouns and gender are subtle but powerful, Marchbanks-Owens said.
“The first creation is also ambiguous when you analyze the text,” Wagoner said. “Adam comes from the Hebrew word adamah, which translates to earth or dust.”
Wagoner and Marchbanks-Owens said this translation is a suggestion that the first human did not have a gender.
“I think what’s interesting is that we don’t know if the original humanity was male or female,” Marchbanks-Owens said. “And I can relate to a creation made from red, brown earth. This is a black humanity, formed at the beginning.”
Marchbanks-Owens and Wagoner prompted the five women and one man to question whether the story of the fall in Genesis has affected our society and our interactions with one another in a negative way.
“There is a lot of power by depicting God in a certain way,” Marchbanks-Owens said. “I wonder if the treatment of women or the understanding of God or our knowledge would be different if we didn’t see God as male.”
Adjunct Professor of Education Zack Ritter provided more context for Jewish tradition and other creation stories and said religion is often built around society.
“There’s this idea of God creating us in his image but it’s interesting to think about religion being socially constructed to our own image,” Ritter said.
Graduate student Kira Barros said she appreciated an interpretation of God different from what she grew up with through practicing Catholicism.
“For some people the idea of a father or a king is a more oppressive image of God,” Barros said.
“This [interpretation], to me, would be a biblical response to people who have issues with the transgender community.”
Ritter and Assistant Professor of Education Issac Carter will present perspectives from indigenous religions and cultures at the final “Black Feminism and Sacred Text” workshop Thursday.
Danielle De Luna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.