- Making a Way Out of No Way: a Womanist Theology
Monica A. Coleman achieves remarkable rigor in bringing together in one volume her long-standing interests in process philosophy and theology, womanist theology and ethics, African diaspora studies, West African religions, and African American women’s literature. Making a way out of No Way (2008) is a tour de force in contemporary African American constructive theology and especially in womanist discourse on the religious experience(s) of African American women. Coleman insists on understanding black women’s religious experience through the lens of their complex subjectivity, which is irreducible to singularity or totality. As typically found in academic womanist theology, Coleman does not begin her theology with definitions or the all-too-often overused “womanish” trope on which womanist theology has historically established its discipline. However, Alice Walker’s trope, which begins her collection of poems, In Search of my Mother’s Garden, is taken for granted throughout the book.
Definitions pale to Coleman’s commitment to “theology as autobiography.” For her, narratives are powerful resources for locating not only her own concerns and interests in African American constructive theology (ix–x). They also locate the concrete actuality of black women’s lived experience (as something understood) and the manner in which their religious experience is performed as living experience (as something ongoing) (1–10). As with the best of black existential inquiry into black experience, the situational moments of black women’s conscious lives (suffering, struggle, survival, resistance, and more) are not only subjectively given in lived experience. They also provide substantive content to black women’s religious experience (11–44). They provide a rich and complex interpretation of black women’s sufferings and pains as much as their joys and celebrations. For Coleman, such situational moments are occasions within the world and the substantive content of her own constructive theological interests (45–167).
Coleman constructs a contemporary womanist soteriology within the framework of a “postmodern theology” (45–83). For her, process theology is a postmodern theology that “describes the relationship between God and the world in ways that are consonant with the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries”; [End Page 268] it honors the social world which is determined by difference; it holds in check theological claims in relation to the empirical data of experience; it “explains the constant sense of change in the world and how we exist in the midst of stability and instability”; it “analyzes the factors that prevent the world from being the beautiful, harmonious, adventurous place that God desires”; and it most adequately addresses both evil and suffering within the world and religious pluralism (45).
Coleman’s theological framework is derived from her study in the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead; the process theologies of David Ray Griffin, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, et al.; African American process thinkers such as Henry Young and Theodore Walker; and Black critics of process theology. Well acquainted with the historic rarity of African American theologians building their constructive works on process philosophy and theology, Coleman acknowledges the difficult questions that Black existential and liberation theologies marshaled against process metaphysics, including the following: Can process theology speak meaningfully to the experiences of black women? Is process theology an adequate basis for the rigorous critique of oppressive regimes? Often rejected for its philosophical obscurantism, others ask whether the vocabulary of process theology is “compatible with the metaphorical language and emotional experiences that have served black women during their most difficult times?” (78–83).
In light of such questions, why frame the concerns of a womanist theology of salvation in terms of this “postmodern framework?” Coleman offers four reasons: Such a framework offers “a language that has a rich past, resonant with spirit and memory, and evokes images particular to the experience of black women.” It provides “a view of the world that connects the pursuit of justice that does not negate the wealth of the past while living in a twenty-first century world.” It...