Special Issue "“My Soul Is A Witness”: Reimagining African American Women’s Spirituality and the Black Female Body in African American Literature"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 February 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Carol Henderson
Website
Guest Editor
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA
Interests: English, Black American studies, African American studies, literature, gender, film, pop culture, spirituality, diversity

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Katherine Clay Bassard declares nearly twenty years ago in her formative text Spiritual Interrogations, that in order to more fully consider the ways black women have spiritually represented themselves in African American literature, one must consider a variety of religious traditions that shape their religious experiences including Christianity, Islam, African and neo-African traditional, among others. More importantly, this practice of reading black women’s intertextuality (what she terms spiritual interrogation) structures visions of reading that provide a richer understanding of the ways in which the sacred and secular, the spiritual and political, become a lens through which to see African American female subjectivity in all of its nuanced complexity.

This special issue seeks to explore the ways in which writers reclaim the black female body in African American literature using the theoretical, social, cultural, and religious frameworks of spirituality and religion. Of key importance to this collection is black women’s agency—acknowledged and affirmed in prose, poetry, essays, speeches, written plays, or short stories. Whether it is Indigo (Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo) creating a world with her dolls that shepherds her through her rite of passage to womanhood, or Baby Suggs declaring in her “fixing ceremonies” in the Clearing that “in this here place, we flesh,” (Beloved), authors have sought to discuss the tensions of the sacred and secular through concepts such as forgiveness, redemption, passion, alienation, motherhood, sex, marriage, among others.

Prof. Dr. Carol Henderson
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • spirituality
  • Black/African theologies
  • religions
  • identity
  • gender
  • black body
  • sacred
  • secular
  • race
  • embodiment
  • cultural affirmation

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Between Self and Spirit: Mapping the Geographies of Black Women’s Spirituality
Religions 2020, 11(11), 619; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110619 - 20 Nov 2020
Abstract
There wasn’t enough for Indigo in the world she’d been born to, so she made up what she needed [...] Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle
“Looking ‘Foreword’ to Milton in Toni Morrison’s Paradise
Religions 2020, 11(11), 562; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11110562 - 30 Oct 2020
Abstract
Prior to the 2014 republication of Toni Morrison’s, Paradise, the novelist had not published any commentary about the role of literary influence John Milton might have had on her fictional writings. In a foreword to the republication of her 1997 novel, Morrison offers [...] Read more.
Prior to the 2014 republication of Toni Morrison’s, Paradise, the novelist had not published any commentary about the role of literary influence John Milton might have had on her fictional writings. In a foreword to the republication of her 1997 novel, Morrison offers her first published acknowledgement of Milton’s influence on any work in her canon. My essay contends this Miltonic revelation constitutes a groundbreaking event in literary criticism. I explore the critical significance of this revelation by explicating the foreword, Milton’s significance within it, and its implications for reading the 17th-century epic writer’s (in)visible influential presence throughout Paradise. Placing particular emphasis on the interpretive significance of Morrison’s womanist critique of Milton’s portrayal of Eve, my essay turns to a focus on the Convent women as interrogated replicas of the first mother presented in Paradise Lost. This analysis of the novel enlarges the grounds of contention in Milton and African American studies, providing a richer interpretive reading experience that has never been cited or examined in existing literary criticism prior to now. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Christianity’s Last Stand: Visions of Spirituality in Post-1970 African American Women’s Literature
Religions 2020, 11(7), 369; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11070369 - 18 Jul 2020
Abstract
Christianity appealed to writers of African descent from the moment they set foot on New World soil. That attraction, perhaps as a result of the professed mission of slaveholders to “Christianize the heathen African,” held sway in African American letters well into the [...] Read more.
Christianity appealed to writers of African descent from the moment they set foot on New World soil. That attraction, perhaps as a result of the professed mission of slaveholders to “Christianize the heathen African,” held sway in African American letters well into the twentieth century. While African American male writers joined their female counterparts in expressing an attraction to Christianity, black women writers, beginning in the mid-twentieth century, consistently began to express doubts about the assumed altruistic nature of a religion that had been used as justification for enslaving their ancestors. Lorraine Hansberry’s Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun (1959) initiated a questioning mode in relation to Christianity that continues into the present day. It was especially after 1970 that black women writers turned their attention to other ways of knowing, other kinds of spirituality, other ways of being in the world. Consequently, they enable their characters to find divinity within themselves or within communities of extra-natural individuals of which they are a part, such as vampires. As this questioning and re-conceptualization of spirituality and divinity continue into the twenty-first century, African American women writers make it clear that their characters, in pushing against traditional renderings of religion and spirituality, envision worlds that their contemporary historical counterparts cannot begin to imagine. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Talking Back: Phillis Wheatley, Race, and Religion
Religions 2019, 10(6), 401; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060401 - 25 Jun 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. In her poetry and other writings, she addresses and even instructs white men of privilege on the spiritual equality [...] Read more.
This essay examines the means by which African American poet Phillis Wheatley uses her evangelical Christianity to engage issues of race in revolutionary America. In her poetry and other writings, she addresses and even instructs white men of privilege on the spiritual equality of people of African descent. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Rewriting Race, Gender and Religion in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Paradise
Religions 2019, 10(6), 345; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060345 - 28 May 2019
Abstract
This article explores author Toni Morrison’s creation of female spiritual leaders in her 1977 novel, Song of Solomon, and her 1998 novel, Paradise. I argue that she deliberately distorts Biblical imagery and narrative to rewrite women into the roles of spiritual [...] Read more.
This article explores author Toni Morrison’s creation of female spiritual leaders in her 1977 novel, Song of Solomon, and her 1998 novel, Paradise. I argue that she deliberately distorts Biblical imagery and narrative to rewrite women into the roles of spiritual agents rather than subjects, using irony and inversion, in Song of Solomon. She builds on this in Paradise by exploring the limitations of patriarchal orthodox Christian systems of social order and control by casting them in light of alternative spiritual beliefs, most notably Gnosticism. Full article
Open AccessArticle
“Precious Lord”: Black Mother-Loss and the Roots of Modern Gospel
Religions 2019, 10(4), 285; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040285 - 23 Apr 2019
Abstract
Thomas Dorsey’s 1932 gospel song Take My Hand, Precious Lord is one of modern gospel music’s most canonical works. Although its composition by Dorsey in the wake of his wife’s sudden death in childbirth is a widely known oral history, the cultural implications [...] Read more.
Thomas Dorsey’s 1932 gospel song Take My Hand, Precious Lord is one of modern gospel music’s most canonical works. Although its composition by Dorsey in the wake of his wife’s sudden death in childbirth is a widely known oral history, the cultural implications of a wider history of health care disparities in the US leading to higher rates of black maternal and infant mortality have not been seriously considered. This article studies the history of black maternal and infant mortality in Chicago during the Great Migration as it bears on the mournful sounds of the gospel blues and its gender-inflected beginnings. The history of early gospel, I argue, was profoundly influenced by black women’s sympathetic identification with the experiences of migration and mother-loss Nettie Dorsey’s death represents. While Thomas Dorsey is distinguished as “the father of gospel music,” Nettie Dorsey might be fruitfully imagined as the spectral “mother” of gospel in its mournful expressions of black women’s spiritual consciousness. As such, she stands in for an alternate history of modern gospel musicality, one helping African American religious and musical history see and hear better what Emily Lordi calls “black feminist resonance” in black musical production in the golden age of gospel. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Set Thine House in Order: Black Feminism and the Sermon as Sonic Art in The Amen Corner
Religions 2019, 10(4), 271; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040271 - 16 Apr 2019
Abstract
In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois discusses the historical and cultural beginnings of the black preacher as “the most unique personality developed on American soil.” He writes, “[the black preacher] found his functions as the healer of the sick, the [...] Read more.
In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois discusses the historical and cultural beginnings of the black preacher as “the most unique personality developed on American soil.” He writes, “[the black preacher] found his functions as the healer of the sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong…Thus as bard, physician, judge, and priest within the narrow limits allowed by the slave system rose the Negro preacher.” Far from being a monolith, the preacher figure embodies many complexities and variances on how the preached Word can be delivered. This begs the question, in what ways can we reimagine DuBois’s black preacher figure in his words, “the most unique personality developed on American soil,” as a black woman? What remains to be seen in scholarship of the mid-twentieth century is an articulation of the black woman preacher in African American literature. By reimagining and refiguring a response to DuBois’s assertion above, how is the role of the black woman preacher and impact of her sermons portrayed in African American literature? Using the art of the sermon, the intersection of music, and James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner as a central text, this article examines the black woman preacher in character and African American women’s spirituality in twentieth century literature. I argue that the way in which Margaret Alexander, as a black woman preacher in the text, creates sermonic spaces of healing and restoration (exegetically and eschatologically) for herself and others outside of the church becomes a new mode of social and cultural resistance. This article works to re-envision the black woman and reposition her in the center of religious discourse on our way to unearthing the modes of transfiguration black women preachers evoke in and out of the pulpit. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Spiritual Eroticism and Real Good Loving in Tina McElroy Ansa’s The Hand I Fan With
Religions 2019, 10(4), 267; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040267 - 15 Apr 2019
Abstract
By situating herself in the historical dialogue about Christianity, women, and sexuality, the author examines what many may consider an oxymoron—spiritual eroticism. The essay provides a definition of spiritual eroticism, one which takes it beyond intense sexual encounters but instead grounds the idea [...] Read more.
By situating herself in the historical dialogue about Christianity, women, and sexuality, the author examines what many may consider an oxymoron—spiritual eroticism. The essay provides a definition of spiritual eroticism, one which takes it beyond intense sexual encounters but instead grounds the idea in the story of Oshun, the African deity of beauty, sensuality, and fertility. Spiritual eroticism is explored in Tina McElroy Ansa’s The Hand I Fan With. Full article
Open AccessArticle
“Are You Sure, Sweetheart, That You Want to Be Well?”: The Politics of Mental Health and Long-Suffering in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters
Religions 2019, 10(4), 263; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040263 - 12 Apr 2019
Abstract
In analyzing the woman-centered communal healing ceremony in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, this article considers how these types of womb-like spaces allow female protagonists to access ancestral and spiritual histories that assist them in navigating physical illnesses and mental health [...] Read more.
In analyzing the woman-centered communal healing ceremony in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, this article considers how these types of womb-like spaces allow female protagonists to access ancestral and spiritual histories that assist them in navigating physical illnesses and mental health crises. It employs Bell Hooks’ Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery alongside Arthur Kleinman’s definition of illness as social and transactional to demonstrate that the recognition of illness, and the actualization of wellness, necessitates collective and communal efforts informed by spiritual and cultural modes of knowledge, including alternative healing practices and ancestral mediation. Full article

Other

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Open AccessEssay
Community and Naming: Lived Narratives of Early African American Women’s Spirituality
Religions 2020, 11(8), 426; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11080426 - 18 Aug 2020
Abstract
Through the story of Francis Sistrunk, nineteenth century enslaved and later freedwoman in east central Mississippi, this essay illustrates that, despite few surviving written narratives of early black women’s spirituality, their experiences can emerge from the silences. Much like paleontologists who recreate narratives [...] Read more.
Through the story of Francis Sistrunk, nineteenth century enslaved and later freedwoman in east central Mississippi, this essay illustrates that, despite few surviving written narratives of early black women’s spirituality, their experiences can emerge from the silences. Much like paleontologists who recreate narratives of the past through fossils, in the present world of literary studies, we have the advantage of an expanse of resources that, when pieced together, can convey voices from the past to the present. This includes resources such as extant oral and written communal and family narratives, generational ideals and practices, digitized records from official and personal documents, and the recent emergence of DNA technology that provides its own narratives. From the earliest arrivals to the Americas, African diasporic populations maintained an understanding of community and spirit as an integrated oneness empowered through the word, particularly in the word-act of naming. Francis’ story reveals that this spiritual ethos was a generative source, not only for survival, but for some black women it was a mechanism for inscribing their presence, their narratives, and their legacies for future generations. Francis Sistrunk’s story re-emerges through the mining of sources such as these, and reveals that enslaved black women reached for and seized power where they found it to preserve the record of their existence and humanity and to record the story of their enslavers’ injustices. Full article
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