I first heard of feminism in seminary. Growing up as a poor, uneducated fundie in a small town, where would I have learned about it? I came to it naturally, though. Being raised for several years by a single mother I knew that women were just as smart and resourceful as men. I guess I was surprised to learn that others didn’t see it that way. This was in the eighties and angry feminism was around—I was occasionally attacked in class for my naiveté. After all, I had attended Grove City College not because of its conservatism but simply because I didn’t know any better. This is a lengthy preamble for a book that would’ve helped me a lot as a youngster, although I wouldn’t likely have known to read it. Nyasha Junior’s An Introduction to Womanist Biblical Interpretation is a very useful guide to those who don’t really know what womanism is.
I’ve been in biblical studies long enough to know that I really don’t know much. There are critical approaches to the Bible I’ve never even heard of. Not too shabby for a field that has already been written off as moribund by the academy. In any case, the title “womanist” doesn’t really say much beyond an implication of gender. Junior’s book explains that. Womanism didn’t really grow out of academia as much as it did out of African American women’s experiences. I admit that it took this book to teach me that. What is really being addressed, however, is how womanism is becoming, or is starting to become, an interpretive school. The Bible is in the public domain. It’s anyone’s book. Indeed, it strikes me as odd that translators copyright their work, especially if they believe it is the word of God. The word of God comes with a price tag, I guess. African American women have long been readers of the Bible. What, though, characterizes this method?
That’s the question with which Junior wrestles in this informative book. Just as being female doesn’t make a scholar a feminist, she notes, being an African American woman doesn’t make one a womanist. And we all approach texts with a method, explicit or not. “Objectivity” doesn’t really exist and even literalism is an interpretive approach. Junior traces the history of both feminism and womanism, especially in regard to biblical interpretation. Her struggle should reflect that of any scholar—how do I regard the text regardless of my demographic? While many churches have slumbered in doctrinal dreams, progress in reading the Bible has marched forward. The real danger often comes in the form of labels. This book, written just as a method is starting to be formed, is a trustworthy guide to both the history and to the larger questions.