African-American Women and Womanist Theology Research Paper

Pages: 15 (4573 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 30  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

African-American Women and Womanist Theology

Religion has been a strong part of the black culture since the beginning of time. Upon migration to the United States, religion and the church was a source of survival, especially for black women. Black women theologians practiced throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the responsibility to exercise racial uplift and social responsibility as the core of the religion life.

As womanist theology emerged, it criticized the black male theologians for ignoring the treatment of black women and their ideas with respect to black theology. It criticized white women for excluding the experiences of black women and the racism of white men.

Black women theologians felt that the experience endured by slavery was the basis for moving towards freedom.

Education, poverty and equal rights were at the forefront of the black women's struggle. According to Rosetta E. Ross, "Because of the racism historically inherent in American society, many scholars argue that there was not or ever could have been a Black religion of the pre-Civil Rights Era that focused solely on other-worldly ends."

During the feminist movement, the word 'women' was used as a universal term by writers and speakers, however, the struggle for black women and white women were different, in that black women not only had to contend with race, but gender as well.

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Walker defines womanist, as a women in control "wanting to know more and in greater depth than is good for one -- outrageous audacious, courageous and willful behavior."

Walker termed 'womanist' as a means for black women to characterize their existence.

It was the mission of womanist theologians to seek justice for all, regardless of race, color, creed or gender. Through religion they were able to help black women's surpass their struggle and experiences while acknowledging their success.

Research Paper on African-American Women and Womanist Theology Assignment

"What if I am a woman; is not the God of ancient times the God to these modern days? Did he not raise up Deborah to be a mother and judge in Israel?" This quote from Stewart's speech 'What if I Am a Woman' encouraged women to take measures to overcome oppression and injustice.

During this era it was unacceptable for women to speak and voice opinions. As a result, Stewart drew criticism from those who opposed her philosophy. She defended her position in this speech in what is noted as her farewell speech to Boston. She stated "For I find it is no use for me as an individual to try to make myself useful among my color in this city." "Let us no longer talk of prejudice, 'til prejudice becomes extinct at home. Let us no longer talk of opposition, "til we cease to oppose our own." She felt that it was her God given right to speak as a woman and for women.

Stewart was the first black female political writer. She was an activist against slavery and a voice for the empowerment of black women. Characterized by some as a fearless woman, Stewart knew that it was God's mission for her to preach his word. Stewart delivered her speech "What if I Am a Women" in front of a diverse group of men and women.

As a free slave, Stewart believed that religion and African-American empowerment could bring about self-respect and confidence to African-American people. She proclaimed in her speeches and lectures that African-American's were not 'free' and held little ambition with any opportunity for advancement in society. She challenged black women to make efforts to move beyond the struggle of identity and oppression.

Orphaned at the age of 5, Stewart lived and worked for a Clergyman's family. This association created an interest to study the bible at a Sabbath school at the age of 15. Upon her marriage to James Stewart, a ship agent in 1826, they collaborated and joined forces with David Walker, an activist, writer and leader of Boston's African-American middle class. Walker, a free slave, authored four articles, "David Walker's Appeal."

Walker's articles were controversial, calling for African-American's to rebel against their masters. Walker's approach and faith influenced Stewart.

Upon the death of Stewart's husband and Walker in 1830, Stewart pursued her calling. It was this period of the Second Great Awakening when people of the church called for social reform. Stewart shared their outcry. As an activist, she was well aware of the lack of opportunity for education, entrepreneurship and rights for women. She started preaching at different denominational churches throughout the community, campaigning for African-American's to become active in the cause for justice. She reprimanded whites for not taking responsibility for their role in the abuse and deprivation of the children of Africa.

In excerpt from her speech, "What if I am a woman," she asked questions to support her view and provided examples of biblical women who were not condemned by the High Priest for exercising their voice. She advised women to not allow their gender to be a hindrance or define their character. She asked, "Did St. Paul but know of our wrongs and deprivations, I presume he would make no objections to our pleading in public for our rights."

Stewart found compassion in religion. After leaving Boston, she submitted a manuscript, "Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build" to the Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper run by a white editor, William Lloyd Garrison, who accepted, and published the paper. This manuscript is noted has her public announcement that she would dedicate her life through religion to address the needs of humanity.

Stewart continued her journey as a contributing writer for the Liberator's ladies department. It was through her writings and with the support of William Lloyd Garrison that she could focus on education, faith, prosperity, and equal rights for women. She contended that race and ignorance carried a stigma that prevented woman from advancing in society. She questioned "How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?" She felt that women were unaware of the power within in them. She advised women that it was their moral responsibility to contribute to society and help change the negative perception of the African-American community.

In 1834 Stewart moved to New York City, where she continued her mission for the abolition of slavery and education for African-American women. During this time it was illegal for slaves to learn to read in the South, and Northerners perceived the quality of education provided African-American children was inferior to a white education. Stewart became involved with African-American women literary groups and found schools to start teaching African-American children.

Stewart was among the first African-American women to address a diverse audience to include black and white women and men. On September 21, 1832, Maria delivered a speech in New England titled "Why Sit Ye Here and Die? This was Stewart's second published speech. In this speech, she emphasized that black women deserved a voice in society and an opportunity for education.

Stewart encouraged African-American women to support one another and strive for entrepreneurship. She stressed that women would die if they did not persevere. She was critical of the African-American community for not standing up and taking a stand against oppression. While addressing the need for leadership, she also emphasized the need for ethical conduct and respect as criteria for gaining freedom of black people. She encouraged both races, black and white to take ownership for their actions.

Stewart, a renaissance woman of her time, set precedent for African-American women. She reacted forcefully to her belief in the power of education, respect for one another and justice for humanity. A replica of a struggle that has continued into the 21st century. Her boldness inspired by her faith paved the way for freedom, dignity, and justice for humanity.

Nannie Helen Burroughs, a gifted writer and lecturer wrote a syndicated column for the Associated Negro Press in the 1920's and 1930's covering political commentary. In her writings she discussed racial leadership, the black church and its religious practices, and the struggles of the black community. She challenged African-American's to assume responsibility for changing their conditions.

Burroughs was outspoken about her views of the black church and issues she considered vital to African-Americans. According to notes prepared in the Library of Congress, Burroughs, and Booker T. Washington favored each other with respect to their lectures and tone. She stressed the need for sound leadership. She commented that "Negroes had invested more money in churches than they have in any other enterprise in the world."

It was her opinion that the churches were not allocating money wisely, and in turn, the members were not valued or appreciated. It was Burroughs vision that "Churches under intelligent leadership can be run very much like a school and be made service stations."

Burroughs was active with many black women groups in striving for social justice, education, social reform and participation in political concerns.

Throughout her career she argued with leaders of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

African-American Women and Womanist Theology.  (2010, December 1).  Retrieved May 11, 2021, from

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"African-American Women and Womanist Theology."  December 1, 2010.  Accessed May 11, 2021.