Delores S. Williams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Delores S. Williams
Notable work
Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talk
Theological work
Notable ideasWomanist theology

Delores S. Williams is a theologian notable for her formative role in the development of womanist theology and best known for her book Sisters in the Wilderness. Her writings over the years have discussed the role intersecting oppressions of race, gender, and class have played in the situation of black women. As opposed to feminist theology as it was predominantly practiced by white women and black theology as predominantly practiced by black men, Williams argues that black women's oppression deepens the analysis of oppression in theology. In Sisters in the Wilderness, Williams' primarily develops a rereading of the biblical figure, Hagar, to illuminate the importance of issues of reproduction and surrogacy in black women's oppression. According to Aaron McEmrys, "Williams offers a theological response to the defilement of black women.... Womanism is an approach to ethics, theology and life rooted in the experiences of African-American women".[1] The term "Womanism" was coined by a contemporary of Williams, Alice Walker, used in her 1979 short story "Coming Apart"[2] and again in her 1983 essay collection In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens.[2] Williams wrote the eighth chapter of Transforming the Faiths of our Fathers: Women who Changed American Religion (2004), edited by Ann Braude.

Womanism and its relation to Feminism[edit]

Womanism develops out of Black feminism and was first coined as a term by Alice Walker. Delores Williams' understands both Womanism and black feminism to be "organically related"[3] to white feminism, but found white women led movements excluded black women's experience in thinking about the nature of oppression. The emergence of both Black feminism and Womanism is thus due to black women's limited identifications with the issues presented by the Feminist Movement led by white women. While some white women advocated for more radical critiques of oppression that included race, many white women and often the most popular conceptions of feminism were centered on achieving individual and relational equality with white men as the means to eliminate sexism. For Black women, it is not only that equality would include the elimination of racism and classism, something that feminism did not directly address, but that it would also require a redefinition of equality in the first place rather than conflating it with white men's social position.

As a practice of thought, womanism intends to attend to the particularity and specificity of black women's experiences in order to cultivate methods and concepts which are adequate to their situation. The goal of the womanist movement was not only to eliminate inequalities but to assist black women in reconnecting with their roots in religion and culture and to reflect and improve on "self, community and society".[4]

Biblical comparison[edit]

Williams eloquently articulates the plight of black women by comparing the plight of the biblical character Hagar, a concubine of Abraham. Hagar was servant to both Abraham and his wife Sarah. Hagar’s role as handmaiden, giving birth to Ishmael when Sarah and Abraham were unable to conceive, functioned similarly to the role of black women during and after slavery. In particular, Williams' notes the ways Hagar's position in relation to Sarah was comparable to black women in relation to white women. Williams develops conceptions of reproduction and surrogacy from a rereading of Hagar's situation. She uses this method of rereading and her conceptual frames of reproduction and surrogacy to show the labor black women were forced to participate in during slavery (reproducing enslaved children or taking care of their master's children) and after slavery as laborers in the homes of white people. Williams' work shows the different positions black women had in relation to white women and the overlooked oppression of black women in theology and theory, including black liberation theology and white feminist theology.

Feminist-Womanist and Womanist-Black Liberationist dialogue[edit]

Williams supports dialogue between feminists and womanists as well as between womanists and black liberationists, asian feminist theologians, and mujerista theologians[5] – to achieve a greater good. While she is not naïve in believing that this would eradicate racism among the two groups, Williams finds a dialogical sharing of resources was important because "all women regardless of race or class, have developed survival strategies that have helped [them to] arrive sane at [their] present social and cultural locations". She recognizes that "there has been little to no conversations among women for the purpose of swapping stories about the nature of these survival strategies". She states in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion: "We feminist-womanist women need to remember, commemorate, and lift up for ourselves and subsequent generations of women the resistance events and ideas that have birthed and kept alive women’s rights struggle...create resistant rituals that can be enacted wherever feminist and womanist meet to share survival strategies and plan attacks upon patriarchal and white supremacist mind-sets and practices in American institutional life."[6] By sharing survival stories, new resources are developed for resistance.


  1. ^ McEmrys, Aaron (200). "Engaging the sacred wisdom of our sisters in the wilderness: A unitarian universalist/womanist dialogue". The Journal of Liberal Religion. 7 (1): 1–17.
  2. ^ a b Williams, Delores (1985). "Women's oppression and lifeline politics in black women's religious narratives". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 1 (2): 59–71.
  3. ^ Williams, Delores (1993). Sisters in the Wilderness. Orbis. p. xiv.
  4. ^ Sarah Pinnock, "Williams, Delores S.", in Bron Taylor (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Vol. 1, 2005, p. 1751.
  5. ^ Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |website= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. ^ Williams, Delores S. (1985). "Womanist/feminist dialogue: problems and possibilities". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 1 (2): 59–71.

Further reading[edit]

  • McEmrys, Aaron (2006). "Engaging the sacred wisdom of our sisters in the wilderness: A unitarian universalist/womanist dialogue". Discourse: The Journal of Liberal Religion 7(1), 1–17.
  • Pinnock, Sarah. (2005). "Williams, Delores S." In Bron Taylor (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Vol. 1, pp. 1751). Oxford University Press.
  • Russell, Letty M. (1993). Church in the Round: Feminist interpretation of the church. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Williams, Delores S. (1993). "Visions, inner voices, apparitions, and defiance in nineteenth-century black women’s narratives". Woman’s Studies Quarterly (Vol. 21, pp. 81–89). New York: Feminist Press.