Mercy Amba Oduyoye (born 1934) is a Ghanaian Methodist theologian known for her work in African women's theology. She is currently the director of the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana.
Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye was born on her grandfather's cacao farm in Amoana, near Asamankese, Ghana, in October 1933. Her name, Ewudziwa is of Akan origin and was given to her in honor of her grandfather. Oduyoye's story begins from her location where African theology, the impression of African women, and African culture influenced her greatly. She was the first child born to her parents, Charles Kwaw Yamoah a teacher and pastor who became president of the Methodist Church in Ghana and a "strong-willed" mother, Mercy Yaa Dakwa Yamoah. Oduyoye has eight siblings in her family.: 155 As a young girl, concepts such as Gender and motherhood began shaping her into a young woman. Oduyoye talks about the importance of Matrilineal kinship in her Ghanaian upbringing where women held a vital part in their family, passing down their names.: 155 However, later on, she was married into a patrilineal kinship by her Nigerian husband as a part of the Yoruba culture.: 155 Oduyoye never had kids. As a young girl, she does not recall the effects of gender binary because she suggests, she and her brothers all helped around the house without separation of tasks.: 155 Therefore, gender construction was a new element to Oduyoye because it never existed in her household. Although, the main difference she remembers is how the firstborn in African families, the eldest daughter was unmistakable “the second mother.”: 156 In this sense, cultural practices became one of the main issues for Oduyoye to criticize in her later years. As big as her family was, all Children went to post-secondary education, and some trained as nurses.: 155
Oduyoye attended Mmofraturo, a Methodist girls boarding school in Kumasi, Ghana, where Biblical scholarship was a required study.: 174 In 1948, as a teenager, she experienced the atmosphere of Ghana's independence as Ghanaian boycotted European goods.: 157 In the Ghanaian Administration was Kwame Nkrumah, the President and later the Prime Minister of Ghana from 1959 to 1966. These beginning in Oduyoye's life gave her insight into patriarchy and the view of Europe as a Commonwealth. Also, her sense of Pan-African increased. For president Nkrumah at the time, "...Ghana's Independence meant nothing if the rest of Africa was not Independent.”: 157 This quote inspired Oduyoye's work because she saw liberation as intrinsic to African Women's Theology.: 157 Nkuruham thought education could help Africa regain its power back instead of continuing to help Europe in collecting wealth. Therefore, Ghana offered free secondary school education for students in exchange for them to “...work for the Government for five years in any part of Africa" after their completion.: 157 Oduyoye's analysis of Europe was critical because she thought about her grandfather's Cacao farm. The economy is very much interconnected from her perspective to politics because she says, “Cocoa is part of my heritage; it provided financial support and stability.”: 156 Oduyoye saw how Europe subjugated Ghana's wealth through power structure. Also, marriage in African Culture interconnects with wealth. The most leading case for polygamy in Africa, is connected to successful men, economically.: 20 In 1959, Oduyoye decided to go to the University of Ghana to study theology. However, at the time, theology was not a popular subject of study for many universities undergraduates, namely women, and she felt alone when she decided to pursue it.: 158 Later on, she realized that many African women studied theology as they went on to pursue masters and further studies in the field. Hence, it is important to note why Oduyoye claims she is not the first African Women Theologian because she distinguished how all these women practiced/studied theology in Africa. The purpose for the name African Women's Theology means; “we are African, we are women, and we are a theologian.”: 158 Oduyoye earned a Bachelor of Theology degree from the University of Ghana in 1963, a second bachelor's and master's degree from Cambridge University in 1965 and 1969. In her time at Cambridge, she realized how the education structure was not different at all. The fact rested on how the system of study in Ghana was “based on the Cambridge system.”: 158 Now, Oduyoye is considered one of the leading Protestant African theologians.
African Women's Theology
When Oduyoye finished her studies at Cambridge, she taught at Princeton University in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she taught other campuses in the United States, Europe, and Africa few are Harvard University, Union Theological Seminary, and the University of Ibadan.: 21 In this period of teaching, she realized that “people who wrote about Africa and Christianity in Africa, were not Africans.”: 160 Also, the Africans who wrote about Christianity were men, having only “male face in mind.": 9 These facts made Oduyoye continue to pursue activism in challenging the status quo in Africa where women were silenced, in this case voicing for African women and theology. As she notes, “liberation theology became my theology voice.”: 159 Oduyoye led a few organizations besides her teaching career, such as the Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologian (EATWOT). From 1967 to 1979, she was youth education secretary for the World Council of Churches; from 1987 to 1994, she was Deputy General Secretary for the same organization. She has taught at Harvard University, Union Theological Seminary, and the University of Ibadan. She has also served as president of the World Student Christian Federation and founded the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989.: 7–22 : 153–164 During her time in the US, Oduyoye experienced the Black Liberation theology and womanist theologymovements. The subject “liberation theology was not sensitive to feminist issues" was a criticism from Oduyoye.: 159 She saw issues of sexuality that feminist in the western part of the world stress as their main topic not applicable to African women. In the US, Alice Walker brought about a campaign through a novel and documentary, Mary Daly published Gyn/ecology on the issues of genital mutilation as a primary concern for all women.: 11 Contrary to this, Oduyoye says that womanist theology from the African perspective underlines poverty and discrimination upon women. Secondly, the problem for Oduyoye was Westerners only report about the good works of the missionaries and their benefit upon the population of Africa, all too good to be true.: 160 She disrupts the above narrative and insists Africans have a culture and tradition nonconformitive to western ideals.: 14 For Oduyoye, “the Bible is not British culture or French culture or European culture.”: 161 In totality, her work around African women's theology, in this case, was improving what African men have started. Theology in Africa was a two-winged theology, where men and women were making the appropriate improvement together, narrating two necessary viewpoints.: 20 The approach missionaries had on converting a person to Christianity by giving up one's culture seemed inappropriate. Oduyoye saw the need to revitalize African theology as “...a prerequisite to other independences.": 8 Oduyoye has written four books and more than eighty articles focusing on Christian theology from a feminist and African perspective. Oduyoye has been awarded honorary degrees by University of Amsterdam (1991), Stellenbosch University the University of the Western Cape in 2002 and Yale University in 2008.
Christianity and African Traditions
The Africa continent has many believers; Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. Therefore, God plays a vital role in societies and cultures. Forming the distinction of whether God is a woman or man becomes very important in some cultures. Like the myths and Folktales offered in traditional teachings. Some cultures prefer to show men as powerful while women are not. The taboo in Nigeria is how women use witchcraft powers against men because they do not succumb to the natural order of things, showing men as above women.: 174 Sometimes, the narrative is Christian women become attached to Jesus as a Prophet who can relate to the suffering and pain of the world. In this case, the patriarchal system subjugates women. Gender plays a critical role in relationships, such as in Yoruba or Akan cultures. Oduyoye sees the need to hold churches accountable as she emphasizes men and women have equal status before God.: 181 Hence, in marriage, contracts should not be looked upon which party benefits but a live a life of the partnership.: 146 Oduyoye sees the need to re-evaluate African traditions because she sees colonialism as a system that interfered with them, such as martial law by the British in Lagos 1864.: 161 Oduyoye encourages women not to remain quiet but realize they hold the brick in forming churches in their communities. She seems theology in Africa outside the western interpretation because both men and women play a role in the body of Christ which is the Church.
Oduyoye is recognized for her work in transnationalism because she has broken barriers and acted as a force of nature voicing for the voiceless if it meant going past the African Continent. Global feminist theology is her focus in transnational work. Oduyoye operates in a post-colonial narrative to revitalize Indigenous cultures from the western phenomena. In her second assembly of EATWOT in New Delhi, India 1981, Oduyoye addressed what she termed as “irruption within the irruption.: 21 For her, gender division has taken root in the Global South inspired by colonial structures. Oduyoye uses the trait of hospitality and sisterhood to help people in the Global South deal with the effects of shared oppressions.: 22 In a way, when countries in the Global South help one another, they act in genuine solidarity because they share the same experiences.: 22 Collaboration is a dream that can help achieve impactful achievement. Oduyoye leaves the legacy of doing something where it is needed. She shows the role of confidence and sophistication that lies in individuals to chase after in changing the world as they see it fit.
- 'Reflections from a Third World Woman's Perspective: Women's Experience and Liberation Theologies', in Irruption in the Third World the Challenge to Theology (1983)
- Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1986. ISBN 9781606088616, OCLC 758532712
- 'Women and Ritual in Africa' in The Will to Arise: Women, Tradition, and the Church in Africa (1992)
- 'Feminist Theology in an African Perspective' in Paths of African Theology (1994)
- Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy Maryknoll, NY Orbis Books 1999. ISBN 9780883449998, OCLC 258564319
- Introducing African Women's Theology Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2001. ISBN 9780829814231, OCLC 611377765
- Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa Maryknoll, New York : Orbis Books, 2004. ISBN 9781570755439, OCLC 55109167
- Oredein, Oluwatomisin (2020-10-23). "Mercy Amba Oduyoye Centers African Women Within Christian Theology". Sojourners. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
- Amoah, Elizabeth (2006). "Preface". In Isabel Apawo Phiri; Nadar, Sarojini (eds.). African women, religion and health: essays in honor of Mercy Oduyoye. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. pp. xviii. ISBN 9781570756351.
- Oluwatomisin Oredein (2016). "Interview with Mercy Amba Oduyoye: Mercy Amba Oduyoye in Her Own Words". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 32 (2): 153–164. doi:10.2979/jfemistudreli.32.2.26. JSTOR 10.2979/jfemistudreli.32.2.26. S2CID 151907949.
- 1934-, Oduyoye, M. A. (Mercy Amba) (1995). Daughters of Anowa : African women and patriarchy. Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-999-4. OCLC 782239625.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- Kwok Pui-lan (Spring 2004). "Mercy Amba Oduyoye and African Women's Theology". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 20 (1): 7–22. JSTOR 25002487.
- "Prominent theologians to be honoured by Stellenbosch University". 28 August 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
- "The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, annual report 2001-02". 3 March 2016. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
- Mary E. O'Leary, "Yale graduates 3,100 under sunny skies", New Haven Register, 27 May 2008.
- Oduyoye, Mercy Amba (493–504). "The African Experience of God through the Eyes of an Akan Woman". CrossCurrents. 47 (4) – via JSTOR Journals.CS1 maint: date format (link)
- Oduyoye, Mercy Amba (1995). Daughters of Anowa : African women and patriarchy. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-999-4. OCLC 32666657.
- "Special Issue in Honor of Mercy Amba Oduyoye". Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (Indiana University Press). 20 (1): 1. 2004 – via LGBTQ+ Source.
- Phiri, Isabel Apawo; Nadar, Sarojini, eds. (2012). African Women, Religion, and Health: Essays in Honor of Mercy Amba Ewudziwa Oduyoye. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-62032-092-1.
- Pemberton, Carrie (2003). Circle Thinking: African Women Theologians in Dialogue with the West. Brill. ISBN 90-04-12441-1.