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African women's theologies of survival : intersecting faith, feminisms, and development.

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This study intersects the disciplines of gender and development, feminist studies, and women’s theology. It is located within the socio-economic and political context of the region of Vulindlela, on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Its subjects are poor and marginalised indigenous African women of faith who live in the area and attend the local Anglican churches. Engaging the theoretical debates of these three areas of gender studies, it argues that indigenous African women live by subjugated survival theologies. These working theologies are forged within a context of struggle for literal survival and give expression to the voices of millions of women in South Africa. Survival, it contends, intersects faith, feminisms, and development. Two potential locations of survival theologies of poor and marginalised women are identified in the study: the Mothers’ Union (MU), the Anglican women’s prayer union which is a part of the indigenous manyano movement, and a contextual Bible study group of women from the area. In the MU, an established site of women’s theology, rituals such as the wearing of the church uniform, extempore praying and preaching, and fundraising are practices which reveal aspects of subjugated survival theologies. In the contextual Bible study group, a new social site was established through the efforts of the author, in order to create a place for the safe articulation of these theologies. This aspect of the study explored the extent to which collaborative work amongst women across race and class is possible and the ways in which it furthers the liberative agenda of the women’s project. Employing postmodern notions of identity, subjectivity, agency, and historicised local knowledges, this study argues that survival faith needs to shape the way feminist paradigms understand notions of liberation, activism, and solidarity. It contends that these subjugated survival theologies pose a challenge to the academy and to the practice of the church because they are, in part, a resistance discourse which has not been recognised. The voice and agency of poor and marginalised women of Vulindlela is highlighted throughout and, the study argues, it is these voices that have been neglected in the women’s project. It is the subjugated knowledges of poor and marginalised women of faith that have to be recognised and recovered, if the women’s project is to truly reflect all South African women.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2000.


Women in development--South Africa., Women in Christianity--South Africa., Feminism--Religious aspects--Christianity., Liberation theology--South Africa., Theses--Theology.