Symposium Introduction

Dr. Keri Day’s book Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives, can be seen as a lengthy meditation, indeed a recapitulation of the words of artist and black feminist poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, and her acclaimed poem/play/novel For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf:

i found god in myself

& i loved her/ i loved her fiercely1

Day weaves an extraordinary breadth and range of scholarship—Christian theology, black feminist literature and social theory, European continental philosophy and critical theory, and womanist theology—to argue that the world’s global political economy—neoliberalism—operates through mechanisms and procedures which render black women, women of color as expendable and discardable. However, the constitutive excrement of women of color to neoliberalism make their acts of humanity, of care and of agency the very condition of possibility, both from outside and within neoliberalism for forms of resistance, of desire of other possible worlds within this world by the work of our own hands. For Day, this work is what she marks as “religious,” informed by deep, enfleshed, erotic connection for one another, which translates into contingent, creative and immanent love and hope, based on a sense of the sacredness of the black feminine, of women of color and their activity in the world.

In an introduction and five tightly argued chapters, Day forcefully deploys a diasporic conception of her key terms: neoliberalism, religion, womanist and black feminist. These terms mark both hegemonic, if always evolving, conditions of political subjugation and economic oppression, and the myriad formations of what Day calls “Divine” in fleshly actions of women of color as constituted and reconstituted in their dispersion throughout a world marked by colonial formation. Given that diaspora marks both real and imagined homes and familial relations, it should be no surprise that she adroitly moves through a discussion of US black women, and global iterations of women of color, as well as moves seamlessly in discussing the sacrality of the black feminine in Christian and non-Christian ways. Her work, as it dismantles the myth of progress and offers a realized eschatology, or critiques the reduction of persons to things in resisting the acquiring mode, or yearns for a recovery of sensuality and sexuality as foundational to our sacrality and our politics in loss of the erotic, or begins to move from deconstruction to constructive acts of remembrance and resistance in love as a concrete revolutionary practice and hope as a social practice—Day engages in what I might call critical fabulation.2 Day, like many black feminists, will not allow Western discardability and subjectivity to define agency and the black sacred sense of ineffability, which grounds black women and women of color feminine activity in the world. Critical fabulation resists enclosure that predicates truly transformational change on an eschatological inbreaking from outside the signs and marks of life women of color—black feminine sacred—exude by breathing, walking, praying, shouting, dancing, singing, mobilizing, agitating and demanding when already presumed dead by neoliberalism. Critical fabulation offers, against archival absence and disciplinary silence, the imaginative recovery of the hopes of dead ancestors, and their unrealized dreams of justice, as possible pathways of resistance against teleological fate and neoliberalism’s presumed finality.

Her interlocutors on this forum—Melanie Jones, Sarah Azaransky, Christophe Ringer, and Ellen Ott Marshall—both engage her emphases and offer critical questions for her and this forum’s readers to consider. How does Day both privilege and distinguish between black feminist and womanist resources for the religious imagination and resistance they may offer to neoliberalism? In Day’s effort to conceive of these resources in ways that no doubt start in the lived and fleshly experience of women of color, how can the analytic of black feminine subjectivity be retained as she moves from black feminist theories of intersectionality—which often expose the legal invisibility of the interlocking oppressions made flesh in black and women of color women—to more subtle, affective, erotic and emotional connection for political action through more recent feminist articulations of assemblage theory? Does the turn to the erotic and the affective guarantee their disposition for resistance, or is the erotic and the emotions always already contested and contaminated within the neoliberal world? And if contaminated, by what ethically justifiable means might the erotic be retrieved? Given Day follows Audre Lorde’s distinction between the erotic and the pornographic, does Day discount the very ways the pornographic, the abjection of black feminine life, may be retrieved, though violent and oppressive, for signs of resistance, and marks of imagination? Finally, given Day’s commitment to no inbreaking from the outside, no transcendent power guaranteeing the outcome of our fight against neoliberalism, can this humanocentric divine immanence offer a concept of God that lives up to the sacred formations and practices of black and women of color women whose religions conjure up imaginations of and physical fights for justice in this world?

  1. Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide / When the rainbow is enuf, reprint ed. (New York: Scribner, 1997), 63.

  2. See Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26 (2008) 1–14, esp. 11; and I am also thinking about the work of Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley and M. Jacqui Alexander. See Jafari S. Allen and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, “A Conversation ‘Overflowing with Memory’: On Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s ‘Water, Shoulders, Into the Black Pacific,’” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 18.2 (2012) 249–62. M. Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

Sarah Azaransky


This Crisis Is Not New

We live on the other side of the end of history. Liberal democracies have not occasioned the final stage, an end point, to social and political progress. On the contrary, out of mid-century liberalism has emerged a global political project that pushes wealth and power upward, violently suppresses dissent, and extends economic valuation to all aspects of our social and political lives. History indeed continues, but now with a singular moral logic—that market competition is the most efficient and effective way to administer to public goods, from neighborhood schools to international health crises. What is good is what is most efficient; what is right is what enables competition and market exchange.

Neoliberalism has a particular history. And whether we trace it to a group of European economists in the 1930s or to Reagan’s and Thatcher’s slashing of social safety nets in the 1980s, neoliberalism has indeed transformed how human beings are in relationship to each other and their larger communities. In this way, as Keri Day so astutely points out, neoliberalism is not merely a global economic project, but “also a cultural project in that it distorts what it means to be responsible moral agents in our globalizing world today” (4).

Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism responds critically to our current political moment with penetrating womanist analysis and calls for action. Day clarifies from the beginning, and underscores throughout, that neoliberalism is premised on a faulty and anemic anthropology of human being as individualized agent who adjudicates each relationship, each community engagement, with a cost-benefit analysis. In my socioeconomic class, this larger regime encourages human beings to be entrepreneurs of self—getting more educated and more skilled, acting as helicopter parents, perhaps meditating daily—not to become more human, but to become more efficient (and, though this category is rarely invoked, less vulnerable). This understanding of human being is wrong because we are in fact dependent and interdependent (and yes, vulnerable). We are, as Day reminds us, dependent on each other, on the natural world, and on God / the Creator / Ultimate Reality.

Ironically and tragically, as Day points out, neoliberalism has underscored interdependence by making more vulnerable already targeted populations, including poor women, children, and men, people of color from all economic classes, queer people of all colors, and disabled people, among many others. At the same time, neoliberalism has “sapped our strength from our moral muscles” (to borrow Bayard Rustin’s powerful phrase) by valuing everything according to whether it is profitable.1 Neoliberalism willfully neglects what a robust economy would actually provide—enough food for everyone, free education at every level, a healthy natural world, and shared efforts to create conditions for justice and, thus, for peace.

Day’s Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism is important because she offers specific ways to confront this totalizing phenomenon. The book’s central chapters demonstrate how resistance to the acquiring mode and how the erotic and love are “concrete revolutionary practices[s]” (105). These three moral practices coalesce in the climax of her argument, hope as a revolutionary social practice. This is my favorite chapter, because Day offers an extended historical case of the Madres movement, a group of mothers who protested the abduction of their children by the Argentinian government from 1976 to 1983. The Madres are exemplary of many aspects of our moral past we urgently need to understand, in order to craft contemporary religious and moral practices that can respond effectively to injustice. Day analyzes social, political, and economic relations of power to which these women were responding, and how women’s activism challenged existing norms of public and private and of gender and civic leadership. The Madres invigorated religious and social understandings of motherhood with urgent political meanings, drawing especially from widely-held reverence for the Virgin Mary. Day insists that “by joining together, these mothers were unintentionally creating a new form of political participation, outside the traditional party structures and based on love, care, and cooperation” (139). The Madres model what I believe is crucial for those of us writing and teaching social ethics in the United States: “these women’s spirituality would not allow them to see the future as redeemable without returning to and rectifying the past” (154).

I am grateful not only to the content of Day’s book, but also to its form, which will make it an effective classroom text. Day consistently defines her terms clearly. Whether neoliberalism, love or erotic, Day specifies the potential scope of categories and how she will use them. This is crucial for a set of categories to which a reader will bring her own priorities and emphasis. It’s also essential for a term like neoliberalism that can describe so much it can start to seem meaningless because it describes everything. Day’s attention to defining her terms is what I want my students to practice in their own writing; and I anticipate that her writing will be underlined frequently in my classes as I encourage students to imitate her precision.

As important to Day’s work here is her ability to reap insight from a variety of sources, some which may, at first glance, seem inimical to her goals. For example, Day’s reading of Kierkegaard’s religious inwardness brings into relief how our capacity to see ourselves as God created us to be is important for us to be able to undertake just action on behalf of others; this is particularly important, Day argues, in the context of neoliberalism, where the “acquiring mode” that Kierkegaard railed against has seeped into all aspects of our lives.

In recovering Kierkegaard’s account, Day is circumspect about the Danish philosopher’s dependence on primarily Christian theological understanding and about whether virtue ethics should describe black women’s moral agency. Yet through a close reading of womanist scholars (especially Katie Canon and Melanie Harris), Day shows how Kierkegaard’s account of virtue can speak to contemporary womanists’ concerns. Furthermore, her scrutiny of Kierkegaard’s terminology—when he appeals to “religious” feelings by nevertheless using christocentric language—puts Day on the vanguard of social ethical thinkers who are accountable to what she calls “growing interreligious sensibilities within postmodern religious thought” and practice (67). Day points out significant shortcomings in Kierkegaard’s work, and nevertheless she is able to engage him to push her own thinking forward.

Day’s book, completed before the most recent US presidential election, speaks presciently to our current crisis. The role of “projective disgust” as “hierarchical domination and injustice . . . built upon the disgust of neighbor due to that neighbor’s differences” succinctly describes how the current administration has consolidated racism, misogyny, antipathy for disability, xenophobia and general misanthropy into a political platform (what Rembert Browne has called “making hate intersectional”)2 (117). And yet Day reminds us importantly that this crisis is not new, that greed has a history, and to resist neoliberalism we can come together in beloved communities to enact different futures of “love, care, and justice” (186).

  1. Bayard Rustin, “In Apprehension How Like a God!” William Penn Lecture (Philadelphia: Young Friends Movement, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1948), 4.

  2. Rembert Browne, “How Trump Made Hate Intersectional,” New York Magazine, November 9, 2016,

  • Keri Day

    Keri Day


    Response to Azaransky

    I appreciate Sarah’s overall overview and response to my book. There is one particular observation that Sarah makes that provides opportunity for me to offer greater clarity than what the book provides. She states:

    As important to Day’s work here is her ability to reap insight from a variety of sources, some of which may, at first glance, see inimical to her goals.

    I think Sarah’s observation of my usage of thinkers and sources that are often seen as contradictory is accurate. There is a debate within the field of theology and religious studies more broadly that sees subaltern discourses as in radical discontinuity with perspectives that might be understood as “canonical” or traditional. However, scholars have not come to a consensus on this assumption. In part, my goal was to demonstrate that subaltern perspectives like womanist and black feminist religious ideas often sit in radical continuity and discontinuity with other dominant historical sources (even if the only thing in common is critique itself). For example, my conversation on Søren Kierkegaard as well as Paul Tillich communicates how womanist religious perspectives affirm yet critique and expand traditional perspectives in the areas of theology, ethics, and political economy. As I discuss in chapter 2, little work has been done on Kierkegaard’s religious critique of capital through his idea of “money as abstraction.” Although many womanist and black feminist religious perspectives would unquestionably take issue with Kierkegaard’s notion of religious inwardness (they want to speak of religious inwardness in relation to radical pluralism), his conversation on “money as abstraction” and larger critiques of hegemonic Christianity deeply resonate with black feminist and womanist religious projects. In other words, rather than thinking about subaltern discourses through the language of affirmation or rupture to traditional theology, I find these discourses to be doing both when engaging Western philosophical and theological ideas.

    Whether subaltern discourses affirm or opt to overturn dominant theological ideas, such discourses are disruptive. In my discussion of the erotic in chapter 3, womanist and black feminist religious perspectives disrupt Tillich’s discourse on the ontological unity of love through arguing that the erotic might function with and through agape but nevertheless can be seen as a form of love that singularly sponsors political action and revolution in response to cultural and psychosocial forms of oppression. Some womanist and/or black feminist religious perspectives radically disrupt traditional theological themes or ideas. Consider my argument in chapter 1 on realized eschatologies. While I make room for a tension between apocalyptic and realized eschatology, womanist scholars such as Karen Baker-Fletcher do not, arguing for a realized eschatology, a radical departure from much of theological scholarship on Western eschatological utterances. These examples gesture towards how womanist and black feminist religious perspectives radically sit in continuity and discontinuity with more dominant Christian discourses in the West.

    I imagine that the constructive theological and ethical arguments I offer show how womanist and black feminist religious perspectives engage and move beyond thinkers who are often seen as “canonical.” I do not engage Western philosophy and theology in order to legitimate womanist and black feminist arguments. Rather, I do this to historicize those very arguments. Part of understanding the “epistemological shape” of womanist and black feminist religious discourses involves not only historically identifying the intellectual horizon out of which these perspectives emerge but also noting what they are categorically rejecting and reconstructing.

    In Minima Moralia, Frankfurt School critical theorist Theodor Adorno stated, “One must have tradition in oneself to hate it properly.” Partly Jewish, Adorno understood well the importance of thinking dialectically about how marginalized or subaltern people are shaped in both European and non-European terms when speaking about cultural identity, knowledge, and morality. Speaking from “nowhere” is intellectually and culturally dishonest. Even Palestinian post-colonial theorist Edward Said understood that his ideas were as indebted to Michel Foucault as they were to Giambattista Vico. The point here is that even subaltern discourses must think dialectically about their own intellectual formation and production within structures of empire (how subaltern discourses speak with, against, and beyond dominant discourses). I wanted to bring these theoretical and methodological insights to bear on my own religious arguments against neoliberalism. This can only be done through historicizing religious perspectives among marginalized communities such as womanism and black feminism. We must think together a diverse set of sources and voices.

    I think the work of situating subaltern perspectives on the broader horizon of theological and religious debate remains essential to arguing well the form and content of womanist, black feminist, and other subaltern perspectives. And this is why Sarah’s observation here captures the spirit of this text in terms of sources and voices.

Ellen Ott Marshall


March 20, 2018, 1:00 am

Christophe D. Ringer


March 27, 2018, 1:00 am

Melanie C. Jones


April 3, 2018, 1:00 am