From Alice Walker’s Definition of a “Womanist” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose Copyright 1983.
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
In 1983, Alice Walker published her book of womanist prose In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. Within, she outlines four definitions of a womanist. In the third definition, Walker mentions that a womanist has love for the spirit. To the women who formed the first womanist movement, “loves the spirit” had a specific, concrete meaning based in Christian theological ideas. It seems to me that recently this interpretation of loving the spirit has taken a backseat to more secular, personal understandings implemented by black women. These modern, “3rd wave” womanists may not associate womanism with its beginnings in religious scholarship, or may actively seek separation from structured theological womanism.
Walker’s definitions served as a theoretical and methodological framework for the first womanist movement in the mid 1980s. A small group of black female scholars of religion, including Katie G. Cannon, sought liberation from a society that is both sexist and racist. Sensing the Black female consciousness left out of both the black and feminist theological movements of the 1960s, womanism was their expression of spirituality and faith that found its root internally, rather than in the margins of external movements. Fighting for consideration and representation in theological scholarship, the womanist movement was rooted in deeply religious ideology. However, Walker’s definitions of womanism fail to mention theology-- Christian or otherwise. In her essay Must I be Womanist? Monica Coleman critiques that first generation of womanist theologians, saying: “Walker writes that a womanist “loves the Spirit,” womanist religious scholars seem to have read, “loves the Christian Spirit.”