Interpreting Through Our Eyes and Reading from Our Pens: A History of 19th-Century African American Women Writers’ Practices of Biblical Interpretation

“Nineteenth-century African American women writers exercised a sophisticated hermeneutics of suspicion that requires documenting as a part of North America’s biblical interpretative history. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Shively T.J. Smith Boston University Contact Me

About this first book grant for scholars of color

My project is a monograph situating 19th-century African American women writers as North American biblical interpreters. It addresses the historic omission of African American women as contributors to America’s biblical interpretative history, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically, the project narrates and analyzes the biblical histories and interpretative practices of Anna Julia Cooper, Maria Stewart, Virginia Broughton, and Zilpha Elaw as exemplars of a particular strand in American biblical history heretofore largely ignored in standard treatments of American biblical interpretation—none of which currently reference these women (e.g. Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation; Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters; History of New Testament Research, etc.).

An important contribution of this project is how it expands the sources of critical biblical studies beyond ancient Greco-Roman history, literature, philosophy, and papyrology by centering the histories, writings, methodologies, and literary forms of African American women at a pivotal moment in North American biblical history and study. To this end, the project uses archival methodologies, biblical interpretative approaches, historical and literary studies of 19th century African American women writers’ literary forms—particularly their public addresses, treatises, spiritual autobiographies, and meditations. My project limits its source material to the latter, intentionally omitting the narrative and poetic writings of women such as Frances Watkins Harper and the sociological writings of Ida B. Wells.