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Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Unit

Call for Proposals

Celebrating 30 Years of Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society: Womanist Retrospective in Print
When novelist Alice Walker defined the term “womanist” in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Black women religious scholars and activists adopted Walker’s four-part framing as a birthing ground to cultivate a theo-ethical vision toward survival and liberation of Black women and wholeness for all humanity. Black liberation theology, in its initial emergence in the 1960s and 70s, even with a quest for liberation of an oppressed African American people, failed to address issues concerning gender. While feminist theology rallied against patriarchy and domineering forces threatening middle-class white women’s experiences, some feminists ignored the complex identities of women of color, particularly at the intersections of race and class. With full recognition that Black and feminist theologies did not address their total concerns, Black women religious scholars and activists searched for new language and paradigms to help them give voice to the lived experiences of African diasporan women. They found a critical solution in the term “womanist,” and approached the American Academy of Religion to launch Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society in 1990. During the 2020 Annual Session, we honor our legacy with an invited panel celebrating and reflecting on seminal published works, including White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus, by Jacquelyn Grant; A Troubling in My Soul, edited by Emilie Townes; and Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community, by Katie Geneva Cannon.

Religion, Race, and the Embodied Health and Well-being of Black Women: Bioethics from Womanist Perspectives
CO-SPONSORED with the Bioethics and Religion Unit and Religion and the Social Sciences Unit
From their arrival in the New World, the bodies of African diasporan women have been an embattled space of abuse, disrespect, and egregious experimentation often perpetrated by socio-economics, from colonial enslavement through contemporary mass incarceration; giving birth in the fields and working moments later, with infants ripped from their hands and simultaneously forced to be wet nurses for white babies. Such behavior, steeped in exploitative economics that totally disregarded black women’s personhood had a significant impact on moral, ethical, legal, medical, religious, sociopolitical, scientific, and sociological systems in the United States. The impact on African American women’s embodied lives is vast, from issues of physical and mental health; reproductive justice (forced hysterectomies, sterilization, maternal and infant mortality) to stigmatized health care, biased health and health care policies, technology, body enhancement; environmental injustice, to inequitable health, regardless of class including lesser access to health care, and health insurance. Much conversation is emerging around the intersectionalities of Black women’s lived experiences, and our scholarship, including topics of interests and methodologies. This session invites papers addressing any of these topics and areas related to all aspects of Black women’s embodied health. Social scientific theories and methods in religious studies and applied ethics are welcome.

In the Spirit of Harriet: Visions of Womanist Theory and Praxis, the Next 30 Years
“Traditionally capable, as in: ‘Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.’ Reply: ‘It wouldn’t be the first time.’” ~ Alice Walker. Womanist thought and praxis over the last 30 years continues to evolve within disciplines of American Academy of Religion while embracing interreligious expressions and developing a global presence, from Brazil to the Netherlands and beyond. Engaging the four-fold definition of womanist, scholars, activists, liturgical and healing practitioners have found a home within this paradigm that embraces stepping beyond one’s societally designated space, being in charge; loves women, loves men sexually and/or nonsexually; honors women’s culture; loves life, nature, Spirit, food, roundness, the folk, and herself, regardless; and, womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender. With such a rich legacy, of past and present, we invite papers from all disciplines and lived experiences to imagine where womanist thought and praxis will land in the next 30 years. Topics foregrounding womanism within this session may include but are not limited to: queer perspectives; Afrofuturism; rhetorics and meaning-making strategies; proclamation; mysticism; health strategies and healing; millennials; Black women navigating multiple religious traditions; Ecowomanism; and Hood womanism (i.e. womanism that engages urban communities).

Statement of Purpose

This Unit provides a forum for religious scholarship that engages theoretically and methodologically the four-part definition of a Womanist as coined by Alice Walker. We nurture interdisciplinary scholarship, encourage interfaith dialogue, and seek to engage scholars and practitioners in fields outside the study of religion. We are particularly concerned with fostering scholarship that bridges theory and practice and addresses issues of public policy in church and society.


Steering Committee Members


E-mail without Attachment (proposal appears in body of e-mail)


To reiterate, please schedule the following session FIRST, as it is a historical perspective in light of our 30th Year Anniversary: Celebrating 30 Years of Womanist Approaches to Religion & Society: Womanist Retrospective in Print” Please schedule the Business meeting following the session “In the Spirit of Harriet: Visions of Womanist Theory and Praxis, the Next 30 Years." Thank you so much.

Review Process

Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members during review, but visible to chairs prior to final acceptance or rejection

Review Process Comments

The overall paper presentations were superb. We worked to increase participation of paper submissions and have been intentional in the Call for Papers for 2020 to have invitations that are open and will generate more diverse participation, particularly regarding fields of study and various levels of engagement in the academy and society.