- Object Relations, Buddhism, and Relationality in Womanist Practical Theology by Pamela Ayo Yetunde
This book is a gem. While it may not be apparent from the title, this work provides readers with insights into the intersections of Buddhism, womanist theology, and practical theology. Using social scientific measures to study the impact of lovingkindness meditation, the core of this book is constructed around qualitative and quantitative data collected from a community of African-American lesbian interviewees. Yetunde argues that the assumption that Buddhist meditation practice leads to "detachment from others and cultivates introspection is not supported by my research on the psycho-spiritual experiences of African-American lesbians in the Theravada Buddhism-inspired Insight Meditation tradition" (p. 2). Her sources include interviews, her own personal experiences in the Insight Meditation Community (IMC), an ample bibliography as well as references to the Pāli canon. The book is written for a broad audience, from those interested in womanist theology, pastoral counselors, scholars interested in the relevance of Insight Meditation techniques among in same-sex loving communities and in communities of color, and those interested in a close reading of Western psychological theories of the self in comparison with the abhidhamma analysis of "no self." At other points, she is writing specifically for African-American women and men who are interested in personal transformation. She explores the ways in which those on the margins cultivate resiliency, particularly "women who live in a context where their humanity is in question based on gender, race, sexuality, and religious biases, discrimination, and oppression, but also for others who are challenged by US society's disdain for people who are deemed radically different" (p. 2). There are three foundations for this book: the Buddhism of the IMC, womanist theology that is largely Christian, and psychological theories about the self, which she calls "object relations."
In chapter 1, Yetunde begins with an outline of what Buddhism is, as an introduction for those not familiar with Buddhism and with a more focused discussion of the IMC. Her definition of Buddhism is the classic definition found in Theravada Buddhist traditions: a short synopsis of the Buddha's path to awakening, his teaching of the Four Noble Truths, which include the Noble Eightfold Path and then the "four [End Page 323] immeasurables" of the Brahma Viharas. She acknowledges a few points at which scholars of Buddhism disagree about each of these teachings, but concludes her overview of the teachings with this observation: "No matter the origin and meaning [of the Brahma viharas], cultivating compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness, and sympathetic joy are part of the Insight Meditation community practice" (p. 13). She grounds her introduction to Buddhism in the tradition of Insight Meditation and provides a short introduction to the founding of the Insight Meditation Society in 1975, and candidly discusses the absence of dharma teachers of color in that organization: "The impact of having teachers of color may not yet be fully known, but there is greater awareness that the absence of people of color who are dharma teacher has meant that the Insight Meditation communities were virtually silent on the subjects of justice, pluralistic scriptural interpretation, interracial dialogue, and critical race social analysis" (p. 5).
Chapter 2 introduces readers to her second foundation of the book, the Buddhist-inspired womanism of Alice Walker. Yetunde has a very direct writing style, with significant theoretical contributions phrased as if they were simply modest observations. Her thesis for this chapter is one of those such arguments: She points out the definition of womanism was originally extracted from the short story in which it first appeared, and as a result, was used to establish a womanist theology that was not only overwhelmingly Christian but also virtually heterosexual. Yetunde highlights this twist with a single adjective: "Ironically, womanist theology evolved over the decades without reliance on Buddhist thought and without reliance on African-American lesbian epistemologies" (p. 19). Yetunde recounts developments within womanist theology to repair that rift, drawing heavily on Delores Williams's work. Yetunde continues to use Williams throughout...