Neomi De Anda is a 2014 First Book Grant for Minority Scholars recipient for her project A THEOLOGY OF BREAST MILK: A LATINA PERSPECTIVE. According to Neomi, “The breadth of connections which can be made between theology, breast milk and breastfeeding were much larger than I expected.”
LI: Neomi, tell us about yourself and your current work.
ND: I am currently an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. I came to UD from the Catholic Theological Union where I was the Director of the Oscar Romero Scholars Program and the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program. Both my current position at UD and my previous one at CTU have been extremely influential to who I am as a scholar/activist. I am a Lay Marianist Catholic. Moving to Dayton has allowed me and my husband, Martin Rosenau, to become more involved with the Marianist Family, particularly small community life and endeavors of social justice and peace.
LI: What was the core concern that shaped your First Book grant?
ND: Establishing long traditions of connections with women’s bodies and divinity was the main concern which guided this project. The project emphasizes the image of breast milk from a variety of perspectives to look beyond women as only sexual objects for pleasure and procreation. The image of breast milk engages all of life, especially as understood through Nahua and Christian cosmologies.
LI: Tell us more about your project: A Theology of Breast Milk: A Latina Perspective.
ND: The book uses an ecofeminist lens to engage images of breast milk as have been found in various moments of Latina history, religious study, and theology. These moments include goddesses found in the Codex Borgia, lactating and nursing Madonnas of the Americas, images of breast milk as found in European and African Christian writers, breast milk references and allusions found in Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and finally, a small ethnographic piece on how Latinas today connect the image of breast milk with divinity. Beyond making connections between women’s bodies and divinity, this book also uses this image of breast milk as a way to critically engage how women and women’s bodies have not only been objectified but have also contributed to imaginaries of divine life.
LI:What surprised you most about your project?
ND: So many pieces of this project have been surprising. I have been extremely surprised by the amount of support I have received from both friends and strangers regarding this project. Part of the book includes devotions to María de la leche from New Spain to the current boundaries of the USA. Many people have sent me images of Lactating and Nursing Madonnas which they find in their travels around the country and around the world. One priest even sent me a flash drive with over 10,0o0 images he had collected. I have felt so blessed by the enthusiasm this project has brought from so many wishing to engage the topic. I am grateful for each and every one of these people as well as the Latinas who shared some very intimate thoughts through my ethnographic research.
LI: Anything else you’d like share about your project and your FBM experience?
ND: My year as an FBM grantee along with the strong support from the University of Dayton allowed me to travel to complete research which had been suggested by mentors from the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and the Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI/HTIC), but I had not previously been able to engage during the writing of my dissertation. Along with this additional research, I was also able to write the majority of the book in this timeframe. Furthermore, the additional support for research yielded enough material for a second book of devotions on the topics of breast milk, nursing, and lactation. This book has been requested by women’s groups, spiritual directors, and other ministers. I hope to have this devotional book completed in the next three years. While, A Theology of Breast Milk: A Latina Perspective primarily addresses a scholarly audience, this book of short writings, questions for group and individual reflection, and prayers targets a popular audience.
I would like to thank the North American Center for Marianist Studies (NACMS) who provided me, as a Visiting Scholar, a writing desk and great lunch discussions during my grant year! Many thanks to Michael De Anda, my brother, who shared his expertise in art and design and note taking in the research process. ¡Gracias a Néstor Medina! last year’s other FBM grantee, for the cyber conjunto sessions which allowed me to talk through this project. Finalmente, thank you to The Louisville Institute for the FBM grants!