8 Of The Most Important Latina and Black Theologians To Read
Words by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez
For me, the decision to attend seminary was based on a deep desire to know why. Why are so many Latinxs so bent on being committed to this religion that was shoved down our throats? Literally. Why are so many Latinxs internalizing racism, sexism, and classism; and what does the church have to do with it? I needed answers, so I went to one of the most liberal seminaries in the country, Vanderbilt Divinity School. And still, I found myself reading primarily white men in about 95% of my classes. So on the rare occasion when they assigned a person of color, I ate that shit up. I found solace in these rarely assigned or self-assigned POC theologians and ethicists who have basically formed me, from that moment onward. So here is my list, as a Latina theologian, of the most important Black and Latina theologians and ethicists to read.
Womanist Theological Ethics edited by Katy Cannon, Emilie Townes, and Angela Sims
This anthology has five parts. The womanist movement was started by Black women to make theological sense of God through their experiences. Black women began to realize that Christian theology did not have their voices in it, and Black theology usually meant Black men’s theology. So, there was this response to liberation theology in the Black church that said: what about Black women? Womanism has gone through waves and changes, and this particular anthology has some of the giants in what some would call second-wave womanism.
“African American women were probably the first women in the United States to be displayed publicly without clothing. Slave auctions often drew crowds of observers because, in their display of women to be sold as slaves, they pandered to white prurient curiosity. Black women’s bodies were the object of intense public curiosity… the abuse and degradation of slavery was the first step in a devaluation or labeling process that shape attitudes and actions toward black women.”
En La Lucha/ In the Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
This Cuban refugee theologian is probably my favorite, and one of the most notable Latina theologians. She is in direct conversation with womanism so much so that Mujerista is a direct translation of womanism. It’s a name of our own though, because to be a womanist you have to be a Black woman; and to be a Mujerista you have to be Latina. Mujerista theology is rooted in grassroot Latina experiences. A tenant of Mujerista theology is that our understanding of God and ourselves is more organic, meaning that we can both go to a traditional Catholic Church while expressing almost sacrilegious devoutness to Guadalupe. Mujerista theology can hold that. And explores that reality.
“The goals of mujerista theology have always been these: to provide a platform for the voices of Latina grassroots women; to develop a theological method that takes seriously the religious understandings and practices of Latinas as a source for doing theology; to challenge the theological understanding, church teachings, and religious practices that oppress Latina women, that are not life-giving, and, therefore, cannot be theologically correct”
Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter by Traci C. West
This is actually one of my first books by a person of color that I read in Divinity school, and it just so happened to be Tracy West. This book discusses a lot of things that churches don’t want to talk about, and those are racism and the sexual violence committed against women, specifically towards WOC. She moves away from theory and is asking the church for some actual practical responses. She is demanding that the church become accepting of marginalized people, which includes Black folk, Spanish-speaking folk, LGBTQIA folk, and the like.
“Community members such as poor, Black single mothers who have achieved amazing feats of struggle in survival on public assistance will most likely not be among those celebrated for accomplishments of her gifts of courage and tenacity. Indeed, the salvation that may be preached and prayed about them will be focused on helping them repent of their allegedly lazy ass dumb dirty ways. These worshipers may learn that earning God’s approval is exactly the same as earning the approval of white politicians and media spokespersons who make racist assessments of them.”
From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology by Marcella Althaus-Reid
This Argentinian Latina is very left and very controversial. Her work is dense and almost inaccessible in language, but she is thought-provoking and pushes the envelope in a necessary way. She basically lights the envelope on fire, and then demands we make a new envelope. My favorite chapter is called “On Wearing Skirts Without Underwear: Poor Women Contesting Christ.” Here she is specifically creating a theology that includes the Peruvian Coya women in Latin America. These women do not wear underwear under their skirts and the theological reflection that comes from that ability to do God-work alongside their feminine odors is where Althaus-Reid really pushes the envelope. The idea that these women are praying to Christ, while being very bodily and breast-feeding and moving through the world underwear-less, pushes against notions of decency in the church.
“Such a process of theological on clothing, at the end, would produce the stripping off of men’s underwear, in order to develop a theology which will uncover men’s spirituality outside the patriarchy”
Althaus-Reid is the boss.
Moral Value and Black Womanists by Toinette M. Eugene
This is actually found in an anthology edited by Lois Daly. This particular essay has always struck me, because she addresses some key ideologies that are useful for any budding Mujerista. Eugene re-imagines a feminist moral value with Black religious traditions in mind.
“Black women have been forced to perform laborers and take risks that few white women have been called upon to do, either in the name of religious tradition or on behalf of the survival of their race. Black women however are not special specimens of womanhood; rather they are women who have been given less protected and more burdensome positions in society. “
Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism In Religion and Society edited by Stacey M Floyd-Thomas
This is another favorite book of mine, and I also happen to know Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas. She is a formidable presence and an important figure in womanism. Her mind works quick and she is sharp, and she does not play the academic game. As far as my formation, she was integral for my divinity school experience. In fact, she was one of those crucial figures for me and how I theologize. I could not have graduated without her support and her classes. She’s a womanist scholar and this anthology is one my favorite anthologies, where she moves the conversation around womanism forward, and she is in intentional dialogue with Latina feminist scholars and theologians. She seeks to rewrite it all for the modern womanist, and it is brilliant. In the acknowledgement, she has a Cartesian philosophy quote, which says “I think, therefore I am,” and then the big line scratching that statement, and An African proverb replacing it which says “I am, because we are.”
“this womanist dancing mine is more than our attempt to make sense of the world surrounding us, sometimes enveloping us, sometimes smothering us, sometimes holding us, and sometimes birthing us. It is more than our desire to reconfigure the world in our own images and then invite others to come and inspect textures, the colors, the patterns, the shapes, the sizes of this new order, and this new set of promises. No, the woman is dancing mind is one that comes from a particular community of communities yarning for common fire banked by the billows of justice and hope.”
Our Cry for Life: Feminist Theology from Latin America by Maria Pilar Aquino
I took a class with Dr. Maria Pilar Aquino is she is one of the coolest Latina feminist theologians I’ve met. She is Mexican, comes from migrant fields and she knows that narrative. She knows what it’s like for it to be treated as inferior because of where she came from, for speaking Spanish, etc. She knows what it’s like to be a Latina getting a PhD back in the day. She’s old school, yet, always willing to have conversations with younger Latina feminist theologians. Her theology is deeply rooted in Latin America and she’s an activist who has been doing work since the 70s. She will always push against the idea that feminism is an elite white USA invention, and writes about how Latin American feminists are the reason La Raza prevails today. She places what is usually at the margins and makes it the focal point, and then manages to move with that understanding with an ease that cannot be matched.
“[among Latinxs there is] solidarity, because we share a common past of colonization that has marginalized us, a common struggle for survival and liberation in the present, a common effort to create a different future, and a common search for our own identity as women.”
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University, and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!