Devyn Forcina ‘22
On Sept. 16, the McFarland Center welcomed Dr. Teresia Mbari Hinga to Rehm Library for her talk “African, Christian, Feminist and More: Tracing African Women’s Theo-ethical Footprint: Issues, Themes and Concerns in the 21st Century.” This talk was a part of Catholics & Cultures, an initiative of the McFarland Center that seeks to understand and analyze the diverse lives of Catholics worldwide. Dr. Hinga is a native of Kenya and is an associate professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University.
In addition to teaching courses on women in religion and contemporary religious issues, Dr. Hinga is a founding member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. This group examines the roles of religion and culture in promoting injustices, like sexism, but also in their roles in facilitating peace. The Circle’s goal is likened to “a quest for inclusiveness” that names the positive and negative religious factors affecting women’s lives.
“Africa is a big continent which is historically deep and geographically wide,” Dr. Hinga said at the start of her lecture. “I offer a perspective, not the perspective, based on my reading of the context and my experience as an African and as a woman.”
Dr. Hinga noted three examples of Afro-women’s applied ethics. The first is her group, the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. Her second example was Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, and Maathai’s book, “The Challenge for Africa and Replenishing the Earth.” The third example was Leymah Gbowee and “the women who wore white” in the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in 2003.
Dr. Hinga most notably spoke about the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians and its history. The group was founded in 1989 in Accra Ghana, by Mercy Amba Oduyoye. Its logo is of a woman crouching, and Dr. Hinga spoke about this powerful image: “Daughter of Africa, rise. You are not dead: even if you’ve been treated like you are.”
“Circle thinking is challenging hierarchical thinking. It symbolically signifies our intentional inclusiveness because a circle can accommodate as many people as needed. We are committed to naming issues of ethical concern particularly to women in Africa and beyond. We are in the process, we are not finished, we are becoming, we are blossoming. Reverence is more than respect.”
Dr. Hinga explained how the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians pushes for pluralism and not just for tolerance. Due to negative connotations and definitions of ‘feminism,’ the Circle intentionally avoided labeling themselves as feminist, instead referring to their goals as related to ‘African women’s ethics.’ She emphasized that “in practice, however, they adopted feminism properly understood as the thought that ‘women are people,’ and not ‘objects for sale’ or ‘sexual slaves.’”
Issues that concern African women may be local but they have global ramifications, which Dr. Hinga described as being syndemic, or the product of a kind of social synthesis. For example, some of these contemporary issues include climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those unable to attend the live event may find Dr. Hinga’s talk on the MacFarland Center’s “Listen and Learn” website page once it is made available for public viewing.