Delores Williams is a womanist theologian. In her writing she references the lack of inclusion of Black women in black liberation theology, the focus on Israel’s liberation to the detriment of the “oppressed of the oppressed” and “the figures in the Bible whose experience is analogous to that of Black women”. Womanist theology focuses on the experiences of Black women as foundational to its theology with a goal of liberation for all by focusing on the most underrepresented and marginalized people, Black women. Womanist theology is also a liberation theology that came as a critique of Black Liberation theology due to the lack of inclusion of Black women.
Womanist theology applies the intersectional analysis of systemic oppression developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw to draw parallels between Black women and people in scripture who face systemic oppression due to multiple facets of their identities, including race, gender, and class. In this passage, Williams referenced “the oppressed of the oppressed”. Intersectional theology, Postcolonial feminist theology, and Black Liberation theology also look at systems of oppression, but only Womanist theology specifically uses the experience of Black women as a foundation for their theological method.
Womanist theology applies a hermeneutics of suspicion with scripture, and does not take scripture literally but does include it as a foundation. Williams directs theologians to find passages in scripture that they can relate to as individuals as well as the “biblical faith, events and biblical characters with whom the community has identified”. Theologians are also instructed to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion, looking at the sociopolitical context of scripture as it was written as well as the context and biases of the interpreters along the way.
Faith in tradition is also a piece of the womanist theology foundation. Theologians are directed to look at what has been “revealed in sermons, songs… liturgy, ritual” which are part of the tradition. It is not faith without reason though, as Williams is asking theologians to look at those pieces of tradition and apply socio-political analysis to them to find the biases that will come through in their scriptural interpretation. Finally, she asks for a thoughtful look at who is missing from the stories of biblical writers, as womanist theology is inclusive of all people by focusing on those who are most often left out.
Williams would likely interpret scripture from a place of questioning and focus on the most oppressed. She would look for stories of Black women specifically as well as stories of the “oppressed of the oppressed” whose situations are most able to be identified with by a Black woman. She would pay attention to systems of oppression including racism, sexism, and misogyny, and interpret the stories from the perspective of the oppressed rather than the oppressor.
Womanist theology connects to the stories of Mary and Jesus Christ from a perspective of shared pain. The story of a young pregnant woman with few resources giving birth with little support while temporarily unhoused due to outside circumstances can share key experiences with a contemporary person. A mother losing her son to government forces, forced to watch him suffer and die with only the hope of his salvation in the afterlife is an unfortunate but common circumstance for Black mothers. Williams would look for those stories that she can connect with and that tell the story of her community, to bring hope and connection to her community. She would not interpret the stories literally, but see characters as symbolic of the struggles of oppressor and oppressed.
To learn more about Delores Williams, visit: https://www.religion-online.org/author/delores-s-williams/
Hi, I'm Root a student at United Theological Seminary training to be an Interreligious Chaplain.