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Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Intersections in African American Theology) (Innovations, African American Religious Thought) Paperback – November 1, 2009
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About the Author
M. Shawn Copeland is Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College, and Past President of the Catholic Theological Society of America. From 1994 to 2003 Copeland was Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Marquette University and from 1989 to 1994, she taught at Yale University Divinity School. She serves as adjunct Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans.
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She wrote in the Introduction to this 2010 book, “[This book] focuses on the Christian question of what being human means on the body, most particularly on the bodies of black women… Five basic convictions ground my discussion of theological anthropology: that the body is a site and mediation of divine revelation; that the body shapes human existence as relational and social; that the creativity of the Triune God is manifested in differences of gender, race, and sexuality; that solidarity is a set of body practices; and that the Eucharist orders and transforms our bodies as the body of Christ… The argument here covers difficult, often precarious ground. First, this book makes slavery visible… This book also makes visible black bodies in pain. I have chosen to reproduce accounts of torture, sexual assault, and lynching, but I do not do so casually… In the middle of the book, the principal historical and social context for thinking about bodies shifts to exercises of imperial power… The book concludes with a return to accounts of the abuse of black female bodies, then takes up reports of lynching… In spelling out the meaning and implications of life in Christ, that theology can neither ignore nor mitigate the experiences that complexify being human and the real questions these experiences instigate… Thus, a theological anthropology worthy of reclaiming black women’s bodies is worthy of reclaiming HUMAN bodies. This is the task I have set for myself.” (Pg. 1-6)
She explains, “Theologians and ethicists of African descent have begun explicitly to address the position and condition of the black body in Christian theological anthropology… Their critical analyses of the human condition and its incarnation in the black human condition, particularly the experiences of the black female embodiment, imply new categories for theological anthropology. These categories include blackness, being, body, incarnation, beauty; power and oppression; sin and grace; suffering and compassionate solidarity; history, memory, and freedom.” (Pg. 22)
She observes, “For on a global scale bodies---especially poor, dark, despised bodies---are forced through the winepress and consumed by totalizing dynamics of domination. The memories of these dead invokes dangerous memories, which protest our forgetfulness of human others, our forgetfulness of what it means to enflesh freedom in our time and place. But there is one who does not forget---Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ of God. He does not forget poor, dark, and despised bodies. For these, for all, for us, he gave his body in fidelity to … the reign of God, which opposed the reign of sin. Jesus of Nazareth is the paradigm of enfleshing freedom; he IS freedom enfleshed.” (Pg. 52-53)
She suggests, “Jesus of Nazareth is the measure or standard for our exercise of erotic power and freedom in the service of the reign of God and against empire. He is the clearest example of what it means to identify with children and women and men who are poor, excluded, and despised; to take their side in the struggle for life---no matter what the cost… Through his body, his flesh and blood, Jesus of Nazareth offers us a new and compelling way of being God’s people even as we reside in the new imperial order.” (Pg. 65)
She argues, “The words ‘queer’ and ‘Christ’ form a necessary if shocking, perhaps even ‘obscene’ conjunction. By inscribing a queer mark on the flesh of Christ, I NEITHER proposed NOR insinuate that Jesus Christ was homosexual… Just as a black Christ heals the anthropological impoverishment of black bodies, so too a ‘queer’ Christ heals the anthropological impoverishment of homosexual bodies… Only an ekklesia that follows Jesus of Nazareth in (re)marking its flesh as ‘queer’ as his own may set a welcome table in the household of God.” (Pg. 78)
She states, “My thesis here is quite basic: The Enlightenment era’s ‘turn to the subject’ coincided with the dynamics of domination. From that period forward, human being-in-the-world literally has been identical with white male bourgeois European being-in-the-world. His embodied presence ‘usurped the position of God’ in an anthropological no to life for all others… [The revelation of Jesus] directs us to a new anthropological subject of Christian theological reflection---exploited, despised, poor women of color… this thesis involves not only a critique, but also a judgment… this judgment exposes the way in which we ALL have betrayed the very meaning of humanity---our own, the humanity of exploited, despised poor women of color, and the humanity of our God.” (Pg. 88-90)
She notes, “Racism opposes the order of Eucharist. Racism insinuates the reign of sin; it is intrinsic evil… As intrinsic evil, racism is lethal to bodies, to black bodies, to the body of Christ, to Eucharist. Racism spoils the spirit and insults the holy; it is idolatry. Racism coerces religion’s transcendent orientation to surrender the absolute to what is finite, empirical, and arbitrary, and contradicts the very nature of religion. Racism displaces the Transcendent Order and selects and enthrones its own deity.” (Pg. 109-110)
She says, “At the [Eucharistic] table Jesus prepares, ALL assemble: in his body we are made anew, a community of faith---the living and the dead. In our presence, the Son of Man gathers up the remnants of our memories, the broken fragments of our histories, and judges, blesses, and transforms them. His Eucharistic banquet re-orders us, re-members us, restores us, and makes us one.” (Pg. 128)
She concludes, “I came to realize that this [book] might be read on several levels. Certainly, it is a constructive exercise in theological anthropology… In writing about body, race, and being, I have tried to work dialectically, but with an eye toward the foundations. At the same time, I believe, this book may be read as a meditation on Toni Morrison’s great novel Beloved. Hence, it gestures concretely toward a theology of re-membering and remembrance. This work may also serve as a meditation on the blues… For the theologian of the black experience, writing theology may also evoke the deepest sorrow, the deepest gratitude, the deepest love.” (Pg. 130)
This book will be of keen interest to anyone studying Womanism, Black Theology, African-American Studies, and contemporary Spirituality.