Welcome to Cataclysmic’s first Frauen Friday! Frauen Fridays will be sure to make you smile… ba dum bump!! (I think I need to come up with a fun graphic for Frauen Fridays, no?) Each week, I will be doing a short(er… maybe?) post on a woman from the Christian academy and/or church who works in (or has been influential to) theology, biblical studies, or biblical languages. The goal of this series is to become more aware of the amazing women that have and continue to shape the Christian faith.
A couple of semesters ago I took a hermeneutics class and chose to write my term paper on African Womanist Hermeneutics. I chose this topic for several reasons, the obvious one being that it was about women reading the Bible. That’s kind of a no-brainer when it comes to things I’m interested in! :) I had also recently returned from a two-week teaching trip to Limuru, Kenya, and was really interested in learning more about how African women were doing theology. Most of all, I knew I would learn something new from women that live in a different part of the world and have different experiences than I have had in my own life. I certainly only scratched the surface of the matter, but what I read and learned has had a lasting impact on the way I approach the Bible.
As I set out to find out more about this field of study, I was quickly introduced to the work of Mercy Amba Oduyoye.
Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye [born in 1934] is a Ghanaian Methodist. She has formal education in pedagogy and theology. She studied theology at the University of Ghana, Legon, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She has served as visiting faculty in theological institutions in other African countries, Canada, Europe and the United States of America. She served as staff to the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches, culminating in seven years as the WCC Deputy General Secretary. She has also been president of the World Student Christian Federation and president of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. It was her initiative that brought into being The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989. She established the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana, where she currently serves as as director. She is well known for her publications, especially on African women’s theology.(1)
Oduyoye is one of the primary voices in African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology and is founder of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. The group was started to encourage and promote the involvement of women in African theology and Biblical interpretation, with a focus on the issues of patriarchy, sexism, and gender, and is made up of women from various countries across the continent with groups present in more than thirteen countries.(2) For The Circle, the involvement of women in shaping theology and in shaping culture is critical.
“Since the Bible depicts other peoples’ cultures, and we know from African culture that not everything in culture is liberating, we come to the Bible with the same cautious approach we have to culture… Any interpretation of the Bible is unacceptable if it does harm to women, the vulnerable and the voiceless.”
- Oduyoye in Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001), p.12
African womanist hermeneutics is largely about African women finding their place in God’s story; it’s doing theology in their own words and from their own experiences. Drawing from other hermeneutical traditions, African womanist hermeneutics is a response to external circumstances, a wrestling with the biblical texts, and an earnest attempt at walking hand-in-hand with God.
Without too much straining of the gospel, one discovers Jesus as a man who related to women as human beings, to be respected and to be trusted. He accepted their friendship and service and hospitality. He rendered them service, teaching them, healing them, waking up their dead, saving them from exploitation and victimization. He himself undertook much that was seen as women’s roles and attitudes. A compassionate and caring one who anticipated people’s needs. Jesus was a mother par excellence. Therefore, when we meet certain women as regularly among his followers from Galilee to Golgotha and the tomb, we see a real example of solidarity among caring people.
- Oduyoye in “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” (2008), p.83
Oduyoye captures the heart of African womanist hermeneutics as the desire for women to “want to join in the search for the truth about human life and how to live it; we [African women] want to decide for ourselves, for our day and situation, what constitutes a liberating and liberative life.”(3)
To get to know more about Oduyoye and African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology, check out:
Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa (1986)
Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995)
Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001)
Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa (2004)
Oduyoye has also written more than 80 articles so if you have access to a database be sure to check out:
“The Story of a Circle.” The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 53.1 (January 2001): 97-100.
“Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion.” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.
[Oduyoye discussing Princeton Theological Seminary's digital library in 2013]
1. Bio is from Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.
2. “History of the Circle,” The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, http://www.thecirclecawt.org/profile.html (accessed November 11, 2012).
3. Mercy Amaba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 100.