Book Review- African Christian Feminist: The Enduring Search for what Matters

Dr. Teresia Mbari Hinga’s Biography

Dr. Hinga was born in Kenya. She received a B.Ed. in English Literature and Religious Studies from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Nairobi University, also in Kenya. She earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies/African Christianity from the University of Lancaster in England.
Her thesis on the role of women in African Christianity focused on women’s power and liberation in the African Independent Church. Dr. Hinga’s research focuses on religion and women’s issues, particularly in Africa, African religious history, and expression in the global religious landscape, religion and public policy, and the ethics of globalization.
She is a founding member of the “Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians,” a pan-African association of women who study the role and impact of religion and culture on African women’s lives. She is also a member of the Black Catholic Symposium of the AAR and of the Association for the Academic Study of Religion in Africa (AASR).

 

Book Review

African, Christian, Feminist: The Enduring Search for What Matters. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017, 244 pp.

Some works hold captive the imagination of their readers while leading them to explore new insights that will shatter previously held beliefs. African, Christian, Feminist: The Enduring Search for What Matters by Teresia Mbari Hinga is one such work. The responsibility of a decolonial scholar is to always query all that has been handed down by agents of empire politics and narratives while resisting the bias to take for granted what has been written. In fact, to write is to reduce surplus of meanings to the perspective that is being articulated. As a decolonial scholar, Hinga offers her readers a different narrative worth exploring in the retelling of the complex histories of African societies and peoples. Hinga’s work makes a strong case for retrieving the religio-political and cultural roles of African women that have been lost to the annals of history due to the manipulative role of colonialism in the continent of Africa carried out by European colonialists and missionaries.

By beginning this work with the retelling of the contributions of Kimpa Vita (Dona Beatrice), a prophet, mystic, and political figure in the Kingdom of Kongo prior to the transatlantic slave trade, this work situates itself as an avant-garde for a call to take seriously the intellectual contributions of African women in the area of African feminist theology. Hinga makes a case for a new way of being Christian on the continent of Africa, one that allows for faith expressions to be authentically African and inclusive of all voices, persons and genders. It also calls for African theology to centre its focus on the multiple social, political, religious, economic and cultural issues defining the lives of Africans.

This work is divided into four major parts. Part One engages head-on the colonial traumas experienced by Africans. Such traumas have led to the silencing and erasure of female voices and their creative insights in the theological discourses going on all over the continent. By affirming the relevance of inculturation to the practice of Christianity on the continent, the author traces the grassroots work that is being done by African women in their respective social locations.

Part Two explores pathways for realising expressions of African Christianity and theologies that address the ambiguities, challenges and opportunities faced by many on the continent. Reflecting on the relevance of the Bible to African Christians, the author sheds light on the many ways that biblical exegesis ought to be done by African theologians. Affirming the relevance of diversity and inclusivity, a chapter is dedicated to the various Christological themes that arise while doing theology in Africa. Part Two concludes with a chapter dedicated to how faith in Jesus Christ ought to lead to the liberation of African women. Such liberation ought to affirm the multiple faces of Christ embraced by African women.

Part Three dives into a systematic study of systemic poverty. The crisis of HIV/AIDS; patriarchy and violence against women; and the contemporary crisis of land-grabbing being perpetrated on the continent are addressed with the intent to offer credible solutions to these systemic issues plaguing the African continent and its people. The author concludes this section by retrieving a Gikuyu theology of land that centres ownership and its usage within the domain of communal flourishing as a corrective measure for the individualistic approach introduced by the colonial agents that has led to endemic poverty on the continent.

Part Four provides a pedagogical model for doing transformative theology with the intent to make students of theology become more aware of the need to embrace a sense of global consciousness. The challenges faced by our world today are mainly caused by the primacy of individualism at the expense of otherness. The author makes a case for the relevance of embracing vulnerability as a pedagogical tool for transforming lives by telling her own story of journeying towards transformation. She explores insights which she has gained from leaving her home in Africa to study religious studies and theology at institutions in the Global North. She sheds light on how her experiences as an academic and scholar-teacher at a Jesuit institution in the United States positions her to act as a bridge of friendship and collaboration for communities in the Global South and the Global North.

How are Africa’s stories to be told? In response, Hinga appeals to the polyphonic narratives that define the tapestry of memories defining the imagination and aspirations of Africans. African feminist theology is inherently prophetic. It seeks to decentre the vision of Africa created by religious and secular colonial agents of Europe who seek to reduce African history to a footnote within the larger narrative of European hegemonic posturing on the African continent. Hinga’s work offers emerging scholars on African studies a clear path to follow.

Though the work offers concrete steps to follow in addressing the enduring marginalisation of women in contemporary African societies, religious or secular, the work fails to state clearly how a reimagining of gender roles within the context of relational encounters can become a clear means of decentering the rigid gendering of bodies in African societies. This work ought to show how, within the larger context of Africa, one becomes a woman not at the service of patriarchy but rather as a mimesis of resistance to patriarchy itself. Perhaps, this call for centering mimesis in gender performativity can become a new research line that Hinga can pursue in a follow-up to this work.

Finally, reading this work one is compelled to appreciate the depth and breadth of scholarship and multiple interlocutors that the author makes relevant to her vision for how theology ought to be done in Africa. Furthermore, this work speaks to multiple disciplines like African history, missiology, cultural studies, feminist studies, colonial/post-colonial and decolonial studies, and social and cultural ethics, and above all else this work has created a new pathway for doing African feminist theological studies. Theology ought to be interdisciplinary, and this work has made a strong case for how this can be done.

Prof. SimonMary Aihiokhai
University of Portland

To purchase:  https://www.orbisbooks.com/african-christian-feminist.html

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