Researcher of the Month – June 2020, Dr CL Nash

Dr. Nash’s speciality is in a constructive approach to historical theology. Her doctorate argued that an enslaved woman was an overlooked theologian who queried theodical issues in Nineteenth Century America. Currently, she has expanded this examination to include nationalist rhetoric that’s religiously inflected. Dr Nash is a visiting Research Fellow for the Leeds Centre of Religion and Public Life. 

Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?

I began thinking of myself as an academic when in seminary. I had a voracious appetite for learning more about the ways biblical scholars and theologians addressed issues of race, class and gender. The resilience demonstrated by my own previously enslaved anc
estors helped me forge my own fortitude. Later, my doctoral work focused on an enslaved woman as an overlooked theologian. By identifying her theodical queries,
ontological assumptions, and Christological frameworks, I was able to identify African American women’s intellectual history through the use of autobiography. My core concern has been with public professions of religion and theological utterances at the matrix of social power structures, and the way their adherents move through education, health and economic sectors.

 Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?

I had my first ‘spark’ of passion for theology when introduced to theologians such as Emilie Townes, Katie Cannon, Mercy Oduyoye and John Pobee. I always read them alongside other intellectuals including Angela Davis and Michel Foucault.

By partnering with womanist theologians at conferences, and in personal research endeavors, I was able to strengthen my focus on the history of Black epistemological thought and the way this influences various theological categories including theodicy, ontology and ecclesiology. In 2000, I met Professor Esther Mombo (St. Paul’s University, Limuru Kenya) and served as a Guest Lecturer. During this time, we located a shared
interest in the way the intersection of race/ethnicity, class and gender inform our understandings as theologians. I consistently bear witness to the disproportionate pain of people who operate on the margins of society. However, the recently videotaped lynchings of African Americans has made the world a witness to this evil. My keen interest is in conducting research, writing, seminars and policy initiatives that will create a more just world for us all.

 What are you currently, or about to start, working on?

I am currently co-writing a chapter on theodical interpretations of racial disparities revealed in COVID-19 for Routledge Press (winter 2020). While studying the precarity of Black female health in this work, I further analyse Black women’s vulnerability to high maternal morbidity, disproportionate co-morbidities (such as high blood pressure, diabetes), over-incarceration, and other issues of Black women’s safety that are largely overlooked. Ultimately, this will be addressed through a think tank or research centre. Thus, I am also actively seeking funding and publishing avenues to address this and counter society’s misogynistic impulses toward women of African descent.

I am currently finalising an article on the late womanist thinker, Katie G. Cannon (spring 2021), and I have just completed a womanist reading of an Old Testament text that I use to create an “ethic of advocacy” for CBE Publishing (Sept 2020). This has been alongside my current primary research project that deals with historic and contemporary approaches to nationalism and the way the Christian Church often works in tandem with its racialised claims.

In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two?

By identifying the role of the Christian Church in its treatment of the most vulnerable today, I interrogate the relationship between religion and public life. I started this several years ago, when I conducted over 100 ethnographies of women in Kenya from varied ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and religious beliefs. I queried the impact of their faith as it relates to social and religious demands upon their bodies (i.e., female circumcision, wife-beating, polygamy). By interrogating social practices and the rhetoric in households, Christian pulpits and public discourse surrounding women’s bodies, we were better able to understand the way these public forms of discourse were religiously inflected. Since then, I continue to articulate concern with religious entities and dogmatic utterances from the Christian Evangelical Church that still attenuate Black cries for justice.

The Academy is not isolated from these disparities. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, only two percent of full-time professors are Black Americans. What does this mean for me as an academic? My work and my presence is the embodiment of a religious ethos in public. My work proclaims the Christian Church must challenge systems of oppression that have become symbolised as the proverbial “knee on the necks” for people of African descent – vividly demonstrated with the murder of George Floyd.

As nations, we must reclaim the bended knee as a symbol of humility and not inhumanity. Across the globe, we can use our bended knees to signal solidarity, where we kneel as one thousand, but we rise as tens of thousands.

Image Credits: Dr CL Nash

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