Sunday, January 31, 2021

Summary: Methods and the Making of Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics by Gay L. Byron and Vanessa Lovelace

Rev. Dr. Gay L. Byron and Rev. Dr. Vanessa Lovelace are the editors of Womanist Interpretations of the Bible : Expanding the Discourse. I will do more to introduce each of them in later posts, so for now I will jump into my summary of their introduction to this collection.


Introduction: Methods and the Making of Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics

Byron and Lovelace begin their introduction talking about how they have been greatly influenced by the writings of Alice Walker who is usually credited with coining the term "womanist", first used in an essay published in 1979 called "Coming Apart". It was in a footnote where she expanded on what she meant by "womanist":

“Womanist” encompasses “feminist” as it is defined in Webster’s, but also means instinctively pro-woman. it is not in the dictionary at all. none-the-less, it has a strong root in black women’s culture. it comes (to me) from the word “womanish,” a word our mothers used to describe, and attempt to inhibit, strong, outrageous or outspoken behavior when we were children: “You’re acting womanish!” a labeling that failed, for the most part to keep us from acting “womanish” whenever we could, that is to say, like our mothers themselves, and like other women we admired." (Walker, 100) 

Walker later elaborated on her definition of womanist in the preface to her 1983 book, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens. (I went over that definition in my post of key terms that come up in womanist Bible interpretation.)

Main points:

  1. This volume expands on recent work in womanist biblical criticism by naming themes and interpretive trajectories of womanist hermeneutics, offering global and interdisciplinary essays, and a range of contributors from emerging scholars, independent scholar-activists, along with others at different stages of their academic careers (8).
  2. This book is organized in four parts: 1) Gender and Sexuality, 2) Agency and Advocacy, 3) Foregrounding Women on the Margins, 4) Illuminating Biblical Children/Childhood (9). After those sections, there are responses from four womanist and feminist scholars who offer their perspective on the essays in this volume.
  3. They emphasize that "all interpreters of sacred texts are responsible for exposing and analyzing the power dynamics in both the ancient texts and the interpretations of the texts that have been used to further injustices and global systemic challenges" (15).
  4. Their hope for this volume is that readers walk away with new understandings of womanist readings of the Bible and that more interpreters "would be emboldened to read the texts from their own social location and be empowered to take action and work toward building new relationships and coalitions that can transform the injustices in our society and across the globe" (15). They also hope this work will lead to even more collaboration and conversations that will help keep the interests of black women and other women of color "at the forefront of interpretations of biblical and extrabiblical sources" (16).

Works Cited

Byron, Gay L. and Vanessa Lovelace. Womanist Interpretations of the Bible : Expanding the Discourse. SBL Press, 2016.

Walker, Alice. “Coming Apart.” in Take Back the Night. edited by Laura Lederer. (New York: Morrow, 1979), pp. 95–104.


This is part of my final project for "Womanist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.":

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