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  • Reshaping the Ear:Honorable Listening and Study of Ecowomanist and Ecofeminist Scholarship for Feminist Discourse
  • Melanie L. Harris (bio)

Alice Walker, Delores S. Williams, ecowomanism, sin of defilement, social justice, women of color

I want to enter Laurie Zoloth's "At the Last Well on Earth: Climate Change Is a Feminist Issue" through an ecowomanist analytical lens. Ecowomanism is an approach that centers the voices, theoretical, religious, and ecospiritual activism of women of African descent and other women of color. It uses race-class-gender intersectional analysis to highlight the impact environmental health disparities have on communities of color in the age of climate change. Rather than ignore the plight of thousands upon thousands of African American and Latino/a families living in food deserts and the historical connections this social injustice has to white supremacy and access to land rights and clean water, ecowomanist approaches raise awareness about environmental racism. As I have explained in my previous work, ecowomanist approaches link "a social justice agenda with earth justice recognizing the similar logic of domination at work in parallel oppressions suffered by women of color and the earth."1 Insisting [End Page 158] upon the importance of women of color's voices in an age of climate change, ecowomanism highlights the insights, activism, and writings that many womanist environmental writers have contributed to the environmental movement for decades.2

Ecowomanism attends to both theory and praxis. Emerging from the field of womanist religious thought, it carries a commitment to validate the voices and perspectives of women of African descent and women of color and a deep commitment to justice in multiple forms. The term womanist was coined by literary artist, writer, and activist Alice Walker.3 As such, her work contributes broadly to the fields of womanist theology, womanist biblical hermeneutics, womanist homiletics, womanist ethics, and more. Walker's own environmental activism has inspired millions. Many of her essays including, "The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (Off Your Land and Out of Your Lover's Arms): Clear Seeing Inherited Religion and Reclaiming the Pagan Self," and "Only Justice Can Stop A Curse," draw connections between the parallel oppressions that women of color have faced historically due to white supremacist and patriarchal notions, and the sufferings of the planet.4 Critical reflection on these connections sets a frame for ecowomanist thought.

It is significant that religious scholars, theologians, and ethicists who adopted the term womanist also employed literary methods to enhance their own theological exploration. For example, pioneering womanist ethicist Katie Cannon used literary methods in her work mining ethical codes and mores of African American women by carefully studying the work of Zora Neale Hurston.5 Like Walker, Cannon dives into the black women's literary tradition to set forth ethical systems and approaches that are effective for black women today. Based in part on this precedent, ecowomanism is also interdisciplinary, combining methods from religion, literature, geography, history, and the sciences to help [End Page 159] uncover the ethical mores necessary for developing black women's and women of color's approaches to environmental justice.

Ecowomanism also highlights the significance of African, Native American, and indigenous cosmologies for the shaping of ecowomanist ethics. Noting the relationships among spirit, humans, and nature alive in many of these cosmologies, ecowomanism uplifts the religious and ethical mores embedded in these women's theologies that articulate an ethical mandate to care for the earth. In keeping with third-wave womanism, ecowomanism stresses the importance of validating women of color's perspectives on climate change and corrects the myth that feminists and womanists are absent from the discourse. In fact, women of African descent and many women of color have been engaged in the environmental justice movement for decades. Instead of ignoring these voices, ecowomanist discourse centers the voices of women of color and their theoretical, theological, and ethical perspectives on the environment and thus contributes a countermemory that corrects Western theoretical frames in the discourse of religion and ecology.

Though not a womanist, Zoloth too seems bothered by theoretical frames that ignore women's voices. Critiquing the impact of modernity...


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pp. 158-162
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