- Spiritual Activism and Praxis:Gloria Anzaldúa's Mature Spirituality
gloria evangelina anzaldúa (1942–2004) has been hailed as one of most important cultural theorists of the past fifty years. Her work, especially her groundbreaking Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), continues to animate many contemporary discourses, especially those concerned with cultural and linguistic hybridity, intersectionality, and women of color feminism. Yet one may ask: What is Anzaldúa's distinctive contribution to contemporary discourses of spirituality and religion? In a 1993 interview, Anzaldúa (Interviews) herself lays bare the relative inattention that critics have given to her understanding of spirituality:
One of the things that doesn't get talked about is the connection between body, mind, and spirit—anything that has to do with the sacred, anything that has to do with the spirit. As long as it's theoretical and about history, about borders, that's fine; borders are a concern that everybody has. But when I start talking about nepantla—as a border between the spirit, the psyche, and the mind or as a process—they resist.(7)
Building on the work of recent scholarship, this study takes up that challenge by reflecting on Anzaldúa's recently published, posthumous work, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, which stands as her most mature and explicit articulation of a nepantla, or "in-between" spirituality. I show that Light in the Dark offers us some important clues into the intricacies of Anzaldúa's spiritual vision. In particular, I underscore the importance of the praxis- and process-oriented dimensions of her understanding of what she calls "spiritual activism." Anzaldúa urges us to confront the destructive and violent aspects of our world through conocimiento, a nonbinary and transformative mode of thinking. But, in doing so, she urges us "to respond not just with the traditional practice of spirituality (contemplation, [End Page 119] meditation, and private rituals) or with the technologies of political activism (protests, demonstrations, and speakouts), but with the amalgam of the two: spiritual activism" (Light in the Dark 19). In many respects, Anzaldúa's understanding of spiritual activism significantly broadens her earlier forays into epistemology, which center around key concepts like mestiza consciousness, la facultad, and conocimiento.
I argue that Anzaldúa's articulation of spiritual activism in this text helps counterpoise her somewhat conflicting stances on spiritual realism.1 Over the course of her career, Anzaldúa wrestled with the question "Are spirits real?" Before the publication of Light in the Dark, she appears most often to subscribe to one of two positions: a realist position (which assumes that spirits are indeed real) and a pluralist position (which affirms that spirits are both literally and imaginally present). While Light in the Dark continues to echo both positions, it also introduces a third functionalist and pragmatic option that sets Anzaldúa's understanding of spirituality in a new light: what really matters, Anzaldúa suggests, is whether or not the spiritual journey makes positive changes in a person's life. In light of these three positions, I show how the functionalist position meshes best with Anzaldúa's underlying commitment to spiritual activism as a non-reductive form of praxis, thus providing an important alternative to the cul-de-sacs of metaphysical realism.
The first section of this essay offers a brief biographical sketch of Anzaldúa that serves both to contextualize her work and to provide a frame for understanding her own connection to spirituality. "Religion, whatever it is, is man's total reaction upon life," William James once wrote (39). Having a sense of the totality of Anzaldúa's life is thus a helpful step in appreciating both her deep commitment to various forms of activism and her own heterodox experiences of spirituality. The second section looks at Anzaldúa's discussion of spiritual realism and some of the internal tensions within it. In the third section, I show how a pragmatic reading of her mature articulation of spiritual activism provides a key to help her readers adjudicate these incongruities.
A Life Rooted in Activism
Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa was born a...