Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil
Emilie Townes will discuss her new book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, which provides an analytical tool to understand how and why evil works in the world as it does. Deconstructing memory, history, and myth as received wisdom, the volume critically examines racism, sexism, poverty, and stereotypes.
Emilie Townes is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School. She is a pioneer in womanist theology, a field of theological and ethical reflection in which the historic and present-day insights of African-American women are brought into critical conversation with the traditions of Christian theology. In her teaching and writing, Townes has explored womanist perspectives on theological themes, linking the subjects of race, gender and class and issues such as healthcare, economic justice, poetry, and linguistic theory. She has also explored the interrelationship between culture and evil. Her latest book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave, 2006), provides analytical tools to understand how and why evil works in the world as it does. Townes holds an A.B. from the University of Chicago, an A.M. and D.Min. from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from The Joint Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary/Northwestern University Program in Religious and Theological Studies. An ordained American Baptist clergywoman, she was the Carolyn Williams Baird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary before moving to Yale in 2003.
In July of 2008, Prof. Townes will succeed Robert Wilson as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Yale Divinity School. Prof. Townes will be the first woman and the first African American to serve as the school's top academic administrator.
Evil has been a theological concern for Emilie Townes since her childhood in the American South, when the frequent sermons she heard about God’s universal love seemed to conflict with the harsh reality of racial segregation. Today, as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School and president of the American Academy of Religion, the distinguished theologian has a lifetime of experience and training to draw upon, but the implications of evil in the world are no less disturbing or challenging. Indeed her most recent book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, returns to the central question of theodicy: how can we say that God is good and just when evil exists in the world?
For Townes, who visited the Boisi Center in October to discuss her work, the first step in answering that question is to rephrase it. Christians should no longer ask: “Why does God allow evil to happen?” Townes said that instead the question should be: “Why do we create suffering for each other?” She noted that ethicists and theologians strive mightily to parse these questions in treatises on injustice and inequality, but real social change is painfully slow. The reason, she argued, is that the powerful role of the imagination is too often ignored as a contributor to the structures of evil in the world. The imagination holds things in place within the subconscious in ways we cannot even appreciate, even as it helps shape our belief and behavior.
Part of her project, then, as a womanist theologian is to question the way we think about basic categories of our experience—race and gender chief among them—as they relate to the structures of evil in the world. (For more about womanist theology, see the transcription of an interview with Professor Townes on our website.) These structures will persist, she argued, as long as persons fail to see one another in a more sincere and genuine way—as particular persons of flesh and blood, not as universalized “social projects.”
Emilie Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (Palgrave, 2006).
Emilie Townes, Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care (Continuum, 1995; reprinted by Wipf & Stock, 2006).
Stephanie Mitchem, Introducing Womanist Theology (Orbis, 2002).
Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, ed., Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society (New York University Press, 2006).
Katie Geneva Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Scholars, 1988).
Delores Williams, “The Color of Feminism: Or Speaking the Black Woman’s Tongue,” Journal of Religious Thought 43 #1 (Spr-Sum 1986), 42-58.