Introducing a Mormon Womanism

Mar 05, 14 Introducing a Mormon Womanism

In Alice Walker’s text In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Walker identifies a term called womanism. The term itself is derived from the word “womanish” or opposite of “girlish” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious. Walker goes on in describing it as “a black feminist or feminist of color.” Since the book was published, there have been many valid critiques of the definition and has since split into Africana Womanism, an ideology that focuses specifically on black women of the African diaspora.

I’ve often felt inspired by Walker’s work, as well as the work of Black feminists bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde and womanist theologians, Delores S. Williams and Jacquelyn Grant . It was in this inspiration that I sought to find a home for the oppression that occurs for black women and other women of color. The history of race within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique among other Christian denominations and as such, deserves a separate analysis that specifically focuses on women of color and a name that reflects both the cultural and spiritual identities of this particular group. Thus came the term Mormon womanism.

Thinking about a Mormon womanism drew me back to the reality posed by Delores S. Williams in her seminal work on the study of womanist theology, Sisters in the Wilderness. ‘I am a black woman,’ she wrote as she described laying the framework that she would use to study womanist theology. It is from those words that I draw ideas on approaching inequalities along the lines of race, gender, class and sexual orientation at the intersection of Mormonism.

Mormon Womanism

1. By design, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual experiences of black women have served as the center point in the study of womanist theory. Mormon womanism will continue in this tradition. Mormon womanism centers on the experiences of women of black African descent as it pertains to the our narrative within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each proposed component is connected to various aspects of the effects of the priesthood-temple ban on this specific group. Mormon womanism affirms the acts of faith and hope as means of survival and eventual liberation in the Eternities.

2. Recognizes the importance of the act of self-naming. Drawn from Trinitarian belief of Jesus as God and translated into black African-American Christian tradition, removes place of oppressor as final judge and ideas of an oppressive god.

3. Rejects oppression and prejudices in all forms. Establishes solidarity with anti-racist platforms. Acknowledges presence of and opposes white supremacy and subsequently anti-Blackness in public discourse. Does not attempt to supersede racism with any other form of oppression or prejudice as women of color experience various oppressions, simultaneously. Also: acknowledges and rejects intraracial sexism and internalized racism.

4. Relies on holistic approach to well-being. Seeks to understand connection of the body and the spirit in regards to the exclusion of members of black African descent from participating in various temple ordinances and exaltation. Values scripture and personal revelation as tools for survival of the spirit.

5. Establishes community as center for activism. Dedicated to building communities of resistance (example, support groups) to maintain survival of body and spirit. Celebrates past, present and future.

Janan Graham

Janan Graham is an independent researcher of Africana Women's Studies. Her writing focuses on culture, society, politics, and religion through intersectional, Black feminist, Womanist and Mormon feminist lenses. Janan's current research topic is Black/Womanist theology in Mormonism. She writes for her personal blog, A Life Diasporatic as well as contributes monthly to the Young Mormon Feminists blog.

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  1. anonymous for this /

    Once again, thank you.

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  2. anonymous for this /

    I thought I had already posted, but apparently it didn’t ‘take’.

    Thank you for this.

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  3. EOR

    I jumped the gun and left my comment on your Facebook link, so I will just copy it here. Feminism, and now Mormon Feminism has failed women of color in significant and tragic ways. I have tried to understand why throwing our fellow sisters under the bus has been the palatable decision and I have no answers that make any sense. I am grateful for Womanism, and I am grateful that the souls of all women of color are finally being represented with their voices. Maybe someday the bridges between Feminism and Womanism can be gapped, but until that day I honor your journey and will reach my hands across the divide as far as I can.

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  4. I have been disillusioned with feminism of late, both Mormon and otherwise, as I have started to learn better about all the ways it has failed to represent people of all races, economic classes, etc. I am very glad to read this article, and I will continue to strive to expand my understanding and my ability to listen in the way needed to bridge the above mentioned divide.

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  5. This is wonderful. I’m all about intersectionality and I’ve been learning much about womanism in the last few years since I’ve been at my job (publishing multicultural books for children). I love this application of womanism to our faith, and hope it can make a positive difference on the way Mormon feminists approach intersectionality (I’ve been disappointed lately by Mormon feminism as well).

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  6. Bean421 /

    Janan, this was such a great introduction to Mormon womanism. Your efforts and desire to explore and talk about the experiences of WOC through the lense of faith is commendable. Thank you for being such a strong voice!

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