This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
Yolanda Pierce, professor and dean at the Howard University School of Divinity, said she remembers having a moment when she realized that the greatest theologian she had ever known was neither in the books she had read in school nor anyone she was teaching about in her classroom.
She realized the greatest theologian she had ever encountered was her grandmother.
“My grandmother and the older church women in the church in which I grew up taught me everything that I know about my faith.” said Dr. Pierce, the first woman to be appointed as dean in the Divinity School’s 150 year history.
She wanted to honor her grandmother in her book, “In My Grandmother’s House: Black women Faith and the Stories We Inherit.”
What is womanist theology?
Pierce, who is a womanist theologian by training, says it began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the first generation of Black women were entering the academy. She says they found that a lot of the black theology was written by Black men for Black men and a lot of feminist theology was written for white women by white women.
“Nobody was talking about the rest of us,” Pierce said.
She said they created what’s now called intersectionality, “Where race and class and gender and socio-economic status all come together,” she continued, “that’s how we understand God.”
Pierce also told WTOP during an interview at First Baptist Church of Highland Park in Landover, Maryland, that people must be cognizant of history. She said everything we’re going through now our ancestors have already been through.
“All of the legal challenges to our rights. All of the challenges to the ownership of our own body.”
Pierce said all of the financial depressions, not recessions, have already happened, yet somehow our ancestors found a way. “Our grandmothers and our great grandmothers, our aunties, and our big mommas, they made a way out of no way.”
Pierce said how we teach the next generation of women is critical, how we teach them our stories and our strategies.
Womanist theology discusses strategies for survival, she said.
“Sometimes you have to be as cunning as a fox in order to survive,” Pierce said. “And when we teach those lessons, we create a situations in which we’re not only surviving, we’re thriving.”
Pierce was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has been dean at the Howard University School of Divinity for four and a half years. Pierce received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University. She has two M.A. degrees and a doctoral degree from Cornell University.