African, Christian, Feminist

The Enduring Search for What Matters

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Teresia Mbara Hinga
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , December
     2017.
     224 pages.
     $45.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626982499.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The root of who one is can be contained within certain descriptive words. For Teresia Mbari Hinga, those descriptors are “African,” “Christian,” and “feminist.” For African women, whose voices she lifts up through this book, Hinga breathes life into a discourse that arguably implicates the religious imagination and social ingenuity of half the African continent as a whole. To hear African women is to double the imaginative capacity with which to theologically address the issues Africa has dealt with in the past, currently wrestles with, and will have to reckon with in future.

The enduring search for what matters anchors the message of Hinga’s work. What matters in the lives of African women has not been seen or properly recognized by those with more power and influence in theological and ethical circles. When they do see it, the accounts of African women become buried underneath voices that do not do justice to African women’s experience and standpoint. But African women understand parts of social and cultural life that would lend clarity to religious practice and inquiry. African women’s voices, questions, and work understand that “who matters” bears just as much critical weight as “what matters” in the articulation of African theology. 

Hinga wants to see African women’s voices determining their own theological destinies and speaking theological truth into matters that had not considered their voices before. What matters is the enduring hope that African women might be contributors to the religious thought forms that have both stolen life and breathed life into African communities and the African diaspora, into the world around them and the world beyond them.

An African Christian feminist perspective interrogates cultural formations and communal concerns that both arise from within and are imposed upon African contexts. Hinga gives voice to many areas: from chronicling the emergence of African women’s religious voices and outlets, to examining where African women’s experience intersect with christological approaches, to illuminating correct identity narratives given Africa’s colonial history, to addressing the social and physical epidemics of individual and communal bodies, to extending material and tangible analyses that directly connect African cultural life to the earth, to naming the pedagogical questions and standards that undergird an African Christian feminist theology and ethic. The concerns of African women are numerous.

Hinga’s explication of African women’s theological position and work alongside and through efforts such as the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, but juxtaposed to the feminist theological movement in the West, alerts us to the diverse work of African women’s religious inquiry and vocality. Hinga reveals the numerous poverties that Africans endure that lead to physical, environmental, and social suffering. The health of African women—cultural, physical, spiritual, and otherwise—is contingent upon a deeper reflection on the issues African women name critical to the wellness of themselves and the communities around them.

Hinga’s collection of essays provides an overview of African women’s theological standpoint that would otherwise be hard to articulate. She illustrates how African women have always been in theological conversation even if not understood as such, including their part in the liberation theological formation and struggle. Given African women’s contextual approach to doing theology as African and woman, Hinga’s work essentially argues African women’s theology is a discourse in itself, one that must be considered within the tradition of liberation theology, but distinct all the same. 

However, despite holding progressive views on theology’s liberative potential for the “least of these,” Hinga’s work only appears to peripherally engage different points of contact that could yield fruitful dialogue within the African diaspora. Her mention of liberation theology and womanist theological discourses could bear greater weight in the text. Given the inculturation analysis Hinga employs concerning Western Christianity’s influence, African culture’s permanence, and Western feminist discourse’s foundational thoughts, it would seem that more critically reflective space could be given within African women’s theological analytics to explore how and where African and African-American religious thought might intersect and interact with each other. Though her work focuses on continental African voices, her own analytical voice extends beyond that, yet only slightly interacts with other religious voices that bear points of similarity to hers (African-American culture and African-American women’s religious discourse). Additionally, the hetero-focus of Hinga’s interrogation of sexuality and the HIV/AIDS narrative and problem in Africa could further yield generative scholarship if expanded to include other forms of sexual being and interaction including but not limited to queer social, cultural, and sexual narratives and data.

This book introduces the world to the nuances of African women’s daily lives and asserts a religious response from the place of those impacted most. Understanding this as a limited work, from feminism to pedagogy, Hinga tries to runs the gamut on theological topics and concerns African women deem important to engage. Though she only scratches the surface of the numerous conversations that need to be had in theological and ethical arenas, African, Christian, Feminist: The Enduring Search for What Matters provides a clear starting point from which to begin to learn from the African Christian feminist what indeed truly matters.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Oluwatomisin Oredein is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Theology & Ethics at Memphis Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Teresia Mbari Hinga is Associate Professor in the Re­ligious Studies Department at Santa Clara Uni­versity. Born in Kenya, she received her Ph.D. in religious studies (focusing on Gender in African Catholic Christianity) from Lancaster University in England in 1990. Her scholarly/research interests include women and religion, religion and contemporary moral issues, and religion and ethics in the public square. She is a founding member of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians and the Associa­tion of African Women Theologians.

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