Decolosing Research Series: Afropean Theology Utilising Nigerian/British Novels as Autoethnography in New Testament Studies
Sep 13th, 2022
This series of podcast episodes will focus on Decolonising Research, and feature talks from the Decolonising Research Festival held at the University of Exeter in June and July 2022.
The ninth epsiode of the series will feature Olabisi Obamakin from the University of Exeter and her talk 'Afropean theology: Utilising Nigerian/British novels as autoethnography in New Testament Studies.'
Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between. Hello, and welcome to the latest episode of rd in the in betweens. This will be the ninth now in our series on decolonizing research and for this episode we're going to hear from University of Exeter PGR Olabisi abama kin, and her presentation Afro pIan theology, utilizing Nigerian British novels and auto ethnography in New Testament studies. I am to
be the first scholar to construct and apply a feminist Nigerian British hermeneutical framework. This hybrid location is referred to as living with liminality. And it was coined African by David Byron, who first used the word with regard to the afro pop band zap mama in 1993. Afro paganism is unique in that it moves beyond the parochial West and the West thinking that has dominated Biblical Studies for centuries. And it moves towards an unfixed heterogeneous concept of identity that finally recognizes the long standing complex and heterogeneous relationship between Africa and Europe. Next slide please. My rationale for choosing to locate myself specifically within the subset of Nigerian Britishness within Afro pianism. It originates from my criticism of Johnny Pitts seminal book entitled Afro peon notes from a black Europe, in which he traveled across Europe in order to catch up black Europe from the streets up. He has been criticized for creating a uniform template in which all black people in Europe should fix. His methodology, which was an abstract travel narrative across Europe can also be accused of uncontrollably mimicking Neo colonial dynamic dynamics. Plus, demonstrating how ingrained colonial thought patterns aren't within scholarship. I argue that pits could be seen to have constructed another a morphism label in which to place black Europeans that takes insufficient amount of the nuances within hybrid ethnic cultural identities. My thesis therefore contends that one must particularize Afro paganism within an individual's lived experience, specific locations and relevant traditions. As a black Nigerian woman, black British Nigerian women of Nigerian descent. This formed my rationale for locating my project within the specific context of being a Nigerian British feminist. Rooting my thesis when the specific location allows me to nest my own specific identity and experience under the umbrella term of Afro pianism. Donna Haraway refers to this as situated knowledge. I will therefore henceforth be referring to this lens as a feminist Nigerian British lens. This new lens aims to address the gaps in current feminist womanist and post colonial feminist interpretation, which completely leaves out the experiences of Nigerian British women and your Parker's new book. If God stories why can't I highlights the cutting edge voice of women scholars in America within the field of Biblical studies, but notable by their absence is a specific black British, or here, Nigerian British feminists biblical interpretation. Next slide, please. Within Oh, sorry. Next slide, please. How's my project decolonial. Within biblical research in history, Europe and North America have been situated as the center of knowledge production, in order to maintain the ideology or superiority and the suppression of the other. These anchor centric and Euro American interpretive traditions have presented cerebral historical critical methods of interpreting scripture as the only founded an academic method of studying scripture when this is not the case, with regards to Africa, Adrian Hastings dates that African songs, musical instruments, languages and dance light at the very heart of its communal and artistic inheritance. I aim to therefore show this creative aspects of African epistemology by using novels as an important source of anthropology within my thesis, and also by incorporating autobiographical criticism.
This therefore, introduces a much needed rich diversity of global north and global south epistemologies within scholarship. Next slide, please. So my research has three main questions. The first question, please, Laura, is how can New Testament characters be read and interpreted in new ways through a feminist Nigerian British lens? The second question is, what are the unique questions that a feminist Nigerian British Africans will have been approaching the biblical text? And finally, what challenge does this approach pose to a discipline of Biblical Studies? Next slide please. In my thesis, I aim to look at six female New Testament biblical characters. The first is the Canaanite woman in Matthew chapter 15, verses 21 to 28. Then the woman who washed his feet with her hair, in Luke chapter seven, verse 36, to 50, the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four, verses seven to 42, the Pythian slave girl, in Acts chapter 16, verses 16 to 34 and finally commodious, his daughter, in Mark chapter six verses 1721. And Nigerian British hermeneutical lens aims to provide a new way in which to ask questions of this biblical characters. That that, for the first time reflects the specific concerns, values, and interpretive interests of the female Nigerian British experience. My lens does not provide historically grounded solutions to these questions. Rather, it aims to present the new possibilities and maybe the biblical text that have not been explored before and biblical interpretation. It is to be noted that this new feminist Nigerian British lens is not primarily intended to offer constructive theology, or to resource pastors with material with which to preach the church context. It is specifically intended to be disruptive be not destructive sorry, disruptive to the euro North American biblical interpretation daven domination within the academy. Next slide, please. Do too much complexity of the Nigerian British context. This study lends itself to a multidisciplinary methodology, method method methodological approach that incorporates methods from both the global north and Global South. Now therefore, it's five main elements within my African feminist Nigerian British lens. First, it includes Nigerian participants. Secondly, it includes feminist critical readings. Third, includes creative actualization. Fourth, is includes secular novels. And finally, it draws upon critical autobiography. In this way, it draws upon methods rooted in both global north and global south epistemology. It takes a multidisciplinary approach, drawing upon literary criticism, feminist studies, gender studies, postcolonial studies and anthropology. Next slide, please. To ensure that my feminist Nigerian British lens truly addresses the specific concerns and interpretive interests of female Nigerian British people, it is crucial that the key themes within this unique context are identified. In order to do this, I first studied several novels, written by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, who originates from a similar hybrid context to to meet so she is an American Nigerian novelist. So I use her work in order to create a scaffold of the potential scenes that might that may be present in Nigerian British identity. Next slide please.
Then read novels, specifically by female Nigerian British authors, such as Bernadine Evaristo inhabit gold and other and Emma theory and habit, don't touch my hair. I also drew upon my own experiences of being in Nigeria and British women, in order to help choose the themes that I felt most reflected the specific concerns, values and interpreted interests of Nigeria of British women. From my research, I found that there were there were four main themes that emerged from these novels. The first mother and daughter is generally intergenerational relationships. Second, Afro hair, third, marital relationships, and fourth, retrieving a last Nigerian epistemology. In order to stimulate and inform a fresh engagement with the biblical characters, I will be using the themes within these novels. The rationale for using novels secular novels, to illuminate themes within the biblical text originates from the 1870s, in which fictional novels began to acquire the respect once only accorded exclusively the biblical narrative. Previous scholars, such as Northrop, have since used sector novels alongside the biblical text, in order to illuminate mythological structures within the Scripture. scholars such as Alison Longfellow have also reached reimagined scriptural themes using secular novels. In her book, Bible and Bedlam, Louise Lawrence also use novels written by the author, Betsy head to elucidate new lines of inquiry than the Pythian slave girl in Acts chapter two. Oh, next slide, please. So on the next slide, okay, sorry, previous slide. My thesis uses novels in a similar way to Lawrence, by using secular novels written by Nigerian feminist offers, in order to illuminate the theme within Afro paganism. Although these authors did not have an explicit interest in biblical interpretation, and do not identify themselves explicitly as Afro pIan. My rationale for choosing them to embody the afro pIan theme is because they're written by Nigerian British women. As such, their work offers a new way into New Testament biblical study that moves beyond the binary ethnic categories within feminist postcolonial scholarship, and develops a more hybrid intersectional approach. These novels will be used to stimulate creative imagination about the possibilities within the story by using the characters but then, as analogies for the biblical biblical characters. I will not explore each thing and outline how you use it to illuminate new questions of the biblical character. Next slide, please. So the social location of Afro paganism brings a unique complexity to intergenerational family relationships, specifically with regards to mothers and daughters. The implications of occupying a hybrid racial identity, a multi generational as each generation moves beyond a national identity towards the unfixed heterogeneous concept of identity. This thing, and specifically explore the theme of mother and daughter relationships. And in order to do that I use Ben Dean every stone is gone women either. As an author ever Risto strives to explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora diaspora, to play with ideas, conjure up original and innovative fiction and forms and to subvert expectations and assumptions. Her novel go woman either, especially able to disrupt flats, and parochial assumptions regarding black female characters in the UK, in order to convey the diverse ways that characters respond to their context. The incident and the intergenerational relationship between mothers and daughters is a central theme then, then this novel is amplified by generational element within the novel girl woman other
This theme is going to help me re reimagine the Canaanite woman. And it does so by making me aware of issues such as race and ethnicity and in intergenerational patterns. Next slide, please. Don't touch my hair, written by Mr. Barbieri. It's an iconic piece of literature, which is half autobiography and half black cultural history, and it has captured the attention of scholars. within it. The theory presents her own autobiographical experience of having Afro hair of having her hair policed and denigrated as a child brought up in in Ireland. It also explores the cultural and colonial history behind the decimation of Afro hair that stands right from the afro from ancient times, right up until social media in modern times. In this book, to bury aim to uncover the racist underpinnings of the categorization of Afro hair in the UK. Hair is the central theme within Afro paganism. This theme of Han will be used to explore the assumptions that previous scholarship has made with regards to the woman who was Jesus's feet with her hair in Luke chapter seven. The aim is to bring out new questions and new possibilities that no one has ever thought before. Did this woman have normative hair in her context? Does she have Straight European hair? Was she perceived as other because of her? What pretty what prejudice prejudices? Could she have faced on account of her hair? How did these insights offer a new reading also women who washed his feet with her hair in the chapter seven perspectives, the 15th. We will be revisiting this at the end and you'll be using it as an example of how to apply my new framework. Next slide please. In QA, Where is your husband, written by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn opens with his mother praying for her to be delivered from singledom and completely humiliated her in front of her friends and her family. This incident highlights two unique and significant themes within black bands. But that could open a whole new door for new interpretation of the women as as in John chapter four. Nigerian British women are especially subjected to parental and wider kinship obligations to marry. Ideally, a Nigerian or a member of Nigerian diaspora and they are pressured to reproduce. This phenomenon is endemic within the UK and is known to result in psychological pressure and most Nigerian British young women. This insight regarding Blackburn's book creates a whole new and exciting line of inquiry with regards to the Samaritan woman. Was she pressured potentially into getting married? Was she a victim of her parents pressure? These are questions that this book illuminates when biblical text net five years historic epistemic injustice has deemed all non western cultures to be inferior, and enforced the marginalization of elements of indigenous epistemic frameworks. Over time, due to a colonial mentality rooted in the erasure of Britain the arrival of British missionaries to Nigeria in 1842. Europe a diaspora like myself have become increasingly distant from their culture and language. The novel butterflyfish Britain by relevant ecology allies with nascent movement scholarship that have sought to objectively contextualize indigenous social relations and culture, which in the past has been described as primitive, crude, backward and they have Koji, who is a female black British author, born in Benin, uses her novel to successfully tilt the worlds of Western reasons, and introduce them to new ways of looking at the world based on an African epistemology.
Within her narrative, a koji intentionally shifts between the real and the unreal and explores multiple temporalities in concurrent It tracks in order to radically disrupt Western epistemic readings, and to affirm that Africa symbology is valid. This book seeks to retrieve and affirm a lost Europe epistemology that has inspired me to look at the Pythian slave girl in Acts chapter 16 in a different light, it has inspired me actually to think about questions that hasn't been asked before of the text. How is money viewed in an African context? These questions haven't been illuminated by the text by the by the nozzle, and open a new line of inquiry from political text. Next slide, please. So this is my supervisor. Her name is Professor with Lawrence and I'm talking about her earlier about the rationale behind us novels as as tools in which to really illuminate things from the biblical text. So in her book by William Bedlam, she used a book by Betsy head of question of power, which is kind of like a magnet narrative. And she's an African author Bessie head. So Louise retinues, used her work in order to illuminate new question of the Pythian safeguard, and her work really inspired me to do the same. Next slide. Lost my place. Yes, in my work, I also incorporate my own personal experiences of being a Nigerian British women. In the last 20 years, the genre of memoir has gone undergone a complete shift. This shift has led to the creation of a sub genre called critical autobiography that reflects the craft of classic. What's great that critical autobiography is a sub genre of memoir, and does not conform to the traditional definition of nonfiction. This allows room for this ever evolving stop genre of memoir that contains attributes that is not normally attributes nonfiction, is a trickster methodology that is particularly relevant to liberation are in orientated African Bible reading. In a call critical autobiography, is successful and liberated reading of biblical characters, as it provides context specific language that can enrich and complicate older biblical images that have become timeworn, one dimensional and dualistic. Due to the effects of of the global north colonizing Africa, black people, like myself, have only encountered representations of themselves as the object of the surveyors gaze, the exotic native other of anthropology. In southern theory, Raewyn. Connell highlights that historically, westward expansion for the Global North, including silencing the voice of the Global South, leading to the global north domination, but as currently seen in literature, autobiography, or auto ethnography is therefore a powerful method of methodological tool, especially with an African feminism, as it avidly contest essentialism and recognises the plurality of women's lives, rather than privilege for a theory. One notion of a woman black women's voices have been doubly oppressed with regards to race and gender. Due to the intersection of both racial and gender discrimination or spa graphic cuisine therefore, is a powerful means for previous colonized women to take back control of their voice and assert cultural agency and uncover their original native views. As interesting a quote, my personal experience is a valid source of research.
Autobiography enables female researchers from ethnic minority like myself, to specifically locate themselves and in their research, and gift their readers with a privileged insight into their worldviews and ontology, which otherwise would be completely unacceptable. It gives an invaluable opportunity for minority researchers to feel empowered to share their story. arrays were before they had been silenced. Next slide, please. And return this book chapter, liberating African theology. He states that if now if there is no responsibility for post colonial scholars to expose the dehumanization of Africans, colonial Imperial dispossession, robbery and oppression, all of which have 14 African peoples, and to ensure that African culture and custom ologies are revived and resented. In his article, what is African biblical hermeneutics, a Darmowe desire scholars of African descent to be liberated from internalized colonized consciousness in which they adopt the colonizers epistemology in conducting Biblical Studies. He empowers them to instead use their genius to redefine their own particular hermeneutics. Contrary to global North epistemology, the African worldview can be described as mythopoetic, placing a heavy emphasis on symbols, myths, and stories. Global South epistemology places a heavy emphasis on orality and memoirs. This is shown in the many works of memoirs by black female authors such as a woman alone, by Betty head, or unbowed.
Women have been told in the past, that their experiences cannot be considered universal, but only particular and trivial. By using autobiography. It gives women like myself a voice within scholarship, where previously we have been silenced. Next slide, please. Finally, I use creative actualization to create a new interpretation. Creative actualization allows women to enter the biblical story with the help of historical imagination, artists that were creation and creativity. It gives the biblical interpreter creative license with which to create new possibilities to the assumptions that have been made about female New Testament biblical characters in western paradigms. Although this methodology originated in the Global North, women in Africa have always invented creative ways of retelling biblical events in a way that African women specifically can relate to. My feminist Nigerian British reading of biblical characters, aims to combine both global north and global south mythologies by using logos written by Nigerian British women in order to stimulate new creative possibilities. Okay, that's five G's. We can quickly do it really quick quickly. So the steps needed to apply my feminist hermeneutical framework because of biblical text, I wanted to make it as simple as quick as possible, quick and easy as possible. So the first step is to pick an afro peon theme. So like the ones that I picked that I said at the beginning, so you would pick one, and then you would pick a New Testament character that you would like to explore. Second step is to pick a novel. So any Nigerian British novel that you feel could illuminate new questions of the biblical text of the of the biblical character? Step three. So then you would think about your own autobiographical experience of being in that context with with regards to the thing, whether it be about hair or about marriage. So we're gonna see an example of that at the end. Step four. So you will apply a feminist critical lens to the biblical text. This means applying what Firenza calls a hermeneutics of suspicion with with regards to the biblical text, which means that you'd be suspicious of how it's been interpreted and interrogate the text. Basically, it will recognize that actually, the Bible was written by men, and therefore men will privilege men, and therefore, as a woman, now, looking at the biblical text, my work aims to put women at the center and look at their stories. Finally, you will use creative actualization in order to think about the possibilities that have been ignored or or that could have occurred that had been ignored by Western paradigms. And next slide, please. Okay, so today we're gonna just do a really brief example of applying this hermeneutical framework to the woman who was Jesus's feet with her hair in Luke chapter 35 to 50. So throughout the centuries, oh, click please. Thank you. Dominant Western interpretations of this woman have hyper sexualized her hair in order to portray her as a prostitute who erotically massage the feet of Jesus. Next slide, please. However, in the West, or sorry, the No, back east, so long hair in the West, has for centuries, been both a gender side and a sex symbol in our society. Doorman exegesis has therefore ignored alternative possibilities to explain this woman's on bound hair. And for those who don't know the story of this woman in the Bible, so this woman,
Jesus is sitting down, and she comes completely uninvited, and lets down her hair, and washes her feet, what's it what is His feet with her hair, and I noticed it with oil. For scholars have always interpreted this woman as being some sort of prostitute or of being some sort of erotic woman, because in that context, apparently, having long hair was indicative of being a prostitute. But when you interrogate the text further, you realize that actually this assumption is based on Western epistemologies. It's based on Western context, where bear in in the West, long hair has been used as a sex symbol. It may not be that concept in African concept. So next slide, please. By using me to Barry's book, don't touch my hair. She introduces the key concepts that will be Afro pain, epistemology, hair has power in different ways. Click please. She goes on to say to this day, oh, back is, to this day, an African and Afro diasporic cultures, people remain hesitant about their cell falling into a stranger's hands. If someone had access to your hair from a comb. For example, they could do witchcraft or a bear on you. Clip please. My ultimate biographical experience of othered hair in a western context also highlights the fact that hair can be a symbol of displacement and rejection, not just sexuality. This is reflected in the fact that I am often asked, When am I going to do my hair, alluding to the fact that my hair is bad and needs to be tamed. By juxtaposing Don't touch my hair, and my own autobiographical experience along kind of give a context, it allows me to ask new and exciting questions. What was the potential power of this woman's hair at that time? If we desexualize her hair? What could she have been doing? If not erotically inside in the feet of Jesus? My feminist Nigerian participants exposes the male dominated Eurocentric assumptions regarding hat that has informed this dominant interpretation of this woman being a prostitute. And it has highlighted the fact that hair is considered completely differently within a Nigerian British context. Therefore, within Nigerian British interpretation, this woman's hat could be a symbol of colonization, otherness, and displacement within a context for women's hair, had a cultural and religious barriers. How taken out her hair therefore, may not be an indication that she was a prostitute, but could be an act of liberation, as she can refuse to conform to the expectations placed upon her this allies with my experience of having an afro within a Eurocentric context. Next slide. And then next slide please. Next, please, skip this because of time. Oh, no backpack back please. So Oh, back please. On one. Thank you. In this light, and a feminist Nigerian British Oh, no, forward please. Sorry. In light of this, a feminist Nigerian interpretation of this character. Ultimately, two picks her as the positive, heroic female prophet s, who vocalized her resistance to the claim realism and patriarchal control of her day through the haptic of her hair. This woman, on doing her hair in public, in order to dry Jesus's feet, was not a sexual thing at all, as Western Western Think Western interpretation has said, Instead, it could be a prophetic act. She could have been using her her to symbolically. Yeah, you could have been using a hat to embody Christ's function within the end the end times to wipe every tear from people's eyes. She could have also been touching, touching his hair, talking Jesus's feet in order to prophetically prepare Jesus's body for burial. So next slide. So yeah, how? How could an African interpretation, challenge Biblical Studies? Firstly,
it disrupts your North American domination within Biblical studies. So it interrogate interpretations that have just been taken as normal and taken as normative. Secondly, it exposes the assumptions that have been made about identity and where it lies. So a lot of these interpretations haven't been questioned. And so my interpretation exposes these assumptions that have been made. And finally, it challenges the academy about what constitutes realistic knowledge. So by using autobiography, and using novels within biblical texts, that hasn't been done before, that kind of challenges Western epistemology by saying, Actually, no, you can use novel as a source of data, you can use my own experience as a source of research is valid. And actually, the fact that it hasn't been valid up to this point is actually a indication of colonialism. That needs to be decolonized. And we need to make sure that other people have a voice at the table.
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.