Three books recently published by Orbis Books together represent a major breakthrough in African-American women’s theological scholarship. Each is a first of sorts—Delores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness is the first book-length womanist theology, Kelly Brown Douglas’ The Black Christ is the first womanist christology focused upon the black Christ image and idea, and Emilie Townes’ anthology, A Troubling in My Soul, is the first published collection of writings by womanist theological scholars.
The three books have as their common point of departure the womanist idea, a creation of writer Alice Walker who coined the term in the preface to her 1983 essay collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Womanist means black feminist, and a growing number of black women religious scholars are appropriating this concept for their own work. It appeals especially to black women who do not wish to be identified along with black men as black theologians, or who see themselves as different from the white women who are feminist theologians. Thus, womanist theology has a distinctive identity of its own. And these three new books contribute mightily toward giving further shape and content to womanist theology as a body of religious scholarship.
Douglas’ The Black Christ essentially follows the approach developed by James Cone (beginning in 1969) to create a black theology rooted in the idea of a black Christ. She introduces the book with a biographical statement regarding her encounters with the black Christ through the faith of her grandmother and the thought of James Cone.