Original Research - Special Collection: Change agency in a 21st-century South Africa

Black women’s bodies as reformers from the dungeons: The Reformation and womanism

Fundiswa A. Kobo
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 3 | a5015 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i3.5015 | © 2018 Fundiswa A. Kobo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 April 2018 | Published: 07 August 2018

About the author(s)

Fundiswa A. Kobo, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, South Africa


While it cannot be denied that the 16th-century Reformation, which challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian moral practice in a just manner, indeed came with deep and lasting political changes, it remained a male-dominated discourse. The Reformation was arguably patriarchal and points to a patriarchal culture of subordination and oppression of women that prevailed then and is still pertinent in the church and all spheres of society today. The absence of Elmina and the silenced yet loud voices and cries from the female dungeons below a Dutch Reformed Church in the upper levels of the castle in the retelling of the narrative of the Reformation leaves much to be desired and has a bearing on how black women perceive the Reformation 500 years later. The article thus problematises the Reformation through the heuristic eyes of Elmina Castle in Ghana as the genesis of the ‘dungeoning’ of black women justified by faith. The article argues that black women are reformers from the dungeons following the historical experience of reformation and the Reformed faith as racist and sexist, among other ills experienced by blacks in the Global South, with black women literally kept in the dungeons below a Reformed Church building as they were in Elmina with a biblical inscription, Psalm 138, on the threshold of its main door. This article thus points to irreconcilable contradictions maintained by the Reformed faith that continues to bury black women in the ‘dungeons’ even today. The enfleshment of black bodies in the dungeons of the Elmina Castle underneath a Reformed Church building is seen as the historical and heuristic starting point of engaging Reformed faith from a womanist perspective.


Reformation; Reformed; Patriarchy; Womanist Theology; Black Theology of Liberation; Dungeons; Elmina Castle


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