More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Womenby Joan M. Martin

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  • American Academy of Religion

    More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women by Joan M. MartinReview by: Diana L. HayesJournal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 223-225Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1466324 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 23:31

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  • Book Reviews 223

    be inclined to simplify Mandaeism. It is a most complex form of Gnosticism, and it possesses an overwhelming mass of literature, much of which is still un- translated. A revival is afoot, with three recent international conferences on Mandaeism (Harvard University; Wroclaw, Poland; Oxford University) and re- issues of two long-unavailable classics, Macuch and Drower's A Mandaic Dictio- nary and Drower's The Mandaeans ofIraq and Iran, by Gorgias Press. These years an international committee devotes itself to the preparation of a long-awaited English translation of The Ginza. Videos of Mandaean rituals are proliferating, and the Mandaeans themselves take a keen interest in scholarly treatments of their traditions. Some Mandaeans are even becoming educated as scholars of their own religion. Increased emigration to countries outside Iraq and Iran poses a possible threat to the continued life of the communities, but so far the Gnostics are resil- ient. Anyone interested in Gnosticism generally, in Hellenistic religions, and in Mandaeism as a rare survival (along with Christianity and rabbinic Judaism) from Hellenistic times will be well informed by reading Lupieri's work.

    Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley Bowdoin College

    More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women. By Joan M. Martin. Westminster John Knox, 2000. 220 pages. $24.95.

    More Than Chains and Toil provides an engrossing and analytical explora- tion of the perspective that African American slave women had of the work they were required to do as a result of their enslavement. The voices and experiences of slave women have, historically, been overlooked, as the author clearly shows, by both black male theologians and white feminist theologians. Thus, this work provides the reader with a very different interpretation of the significance of their labor to African American slave women themselves.

    The author notes that work is one of the "fundamental elements of human life ... that is both personal and social" (vii). It makes meaning of life; therefore, it is critically important that womanist theologians and religious ethicists have taken the "stuff" of black women's lives in order to bring them in their fullest selves out of the invisibility that history has placed them in. Thus, the work relies heavily on the actual voices and experiences of black women as they are revealed in ex-slave narratives. The significance of this usage is that historically our under- standing of slavery has been grounded in the narratives of male slaves and white owners.

    More importantly, Joan Martin seeks to focus on "the lives of enslaved black women as moral agents and their struggle to create positive meaning out of the very element which defines their lives-work" (1). She does this in four well- crafted chapters. The first chapter excavates and, thereby, emancipates their lives by using ex-slave narratives as a sacred text that enables one to see the enslaved women's moral agency. She then uses a womanist liberation ethical methodol- ogy coupled with poststructuralist theory and the legacy of African traditional

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  • 224 Journal of the American Academy of Religion

    religious morals to reveal the madness of slavery and black women's efforts to overcome it. This chapter is important for its critical discussion of Bourdieu's understanding of the "logic of practice" and Scott's discussion of "hidden scripts" not only to bring to life black women's experiences but also to reveal their moral agency. The third chapter, again grounded in the ex-slave narratives of black women, details more specifically the work ethic that the author believes is revealed as a result of the "perseverance and unwearied industry" of black women. She delineates four characteristics of this constructive work ethic:

    1. black women's theological and ethical understanding of the relation of God to slavery as the God of freedom, shelter, protection, and abundant life;

    2. womanish moral authority, instruction, and action as an intergenerational dynamic for communal maintenance, empowerment, and solidarity in the context of oppression/gender/class boundary crossing;

    3. black women's struggle for self-determination in the use of their own embodied labor, especially sexual and reproductive labor; and

    4. black women's work-related attitudes of self-determination and confidence in their own learned crafts and skills for individual and communal freedom.

    Finally, chapter 4 situates this work ethic as it relates to Christian tradition, bib- lically, theologically, and culturally (6).

    Thus, a black woman's constructive work ethic emerged as a result of her experiences as a slave, and the habits formed therein, yet was unchained from the false and dehumanizing meaning that slavery sought to impose on it. An ex- ample of this is the slave's denial of the distorted Christianity, which the master and mistress sought to impose on her. Using Sojourner Truth and Harriet Jacobs, as well as the voices of other black women culled from ex-slave narratives, Mar- tin clearly reveals how slave women were able to develop and pass on their own understanding of God and Jesus Christ as their Creator and Liberator who did not approve of their captivity or of the ill-usage they received at the hands of their owners. The black women's slave ethic or "motivating vision of livelihood" (80) grounds itself, therefore, not in a restricted understanding of humanity or free- dom but, rather, in the ongoing search for freedom and human wholeness over against the evils of human oppression.

    The author does an excellent job of meshing poststructuralist theory and womanist methodology in a way that further develops womanist theory while at the same time critiquing the limitations of poststructuralist thought as a means of discerning the significance of black women's lives. She also enables the reader to envision and experience how "blackwomen," a term she has purposely coined, redefined the nature of their work so as to provide for themselves not just a sense of freedom but, when and where possible, the actuality of freedom itself.

    This work presents a critically challenging counterpoint to depictions of black women as mammies and Jezebels, one-dimensional caricatures void of life and volition. Rather, the author shows how black women defined themselves as lib- erated beings in and through their work by owning the fruit(s) of their labor when it served to help create and maintain a vibrant black community despite the limi-

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  • Book Reviews 225

    tations placed on that community and its members, especially black women, by those on the outside. It reveals the critical role that black women played during slavery not only to create community but also to maintain it and help it prosper.

    Martin's work also shows the critical significance of concrete human action and interaction in developing an understanding of work and, thus, a work ethic. An ethic of enslaved black women cannot be found in universals or economic abstractions. Meaning can be found only when it is rooted in actual praxis that is preserved and passed on to later generations. As the author notes in her conclu- sion: "Enslaved women perceived work as 'productive' and 'fulfilling' when it contributed to the community in the ongoing struggle for emancipation and free- dom. When we use our labor to meet material need, we realize our true human- ity and enable our participation with God as co-creators" (152).

    More Than Chains and Toil breaks new ground by focusing solely on the working lives of black women. It ably sets forth the theological bases for black women's refusal to be defeated by their circumstances. It thereby expands our understanding of black women and slavery and how the meaning of work is af- fected by the circumstances of those engaged in it. This work is an excellent text for women's studies and gender studies, as well as feminist and womanist theol- ogy courses.

    Diana L. Hayes Georgetown University

    Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from the Representational Mode of Thinking. By Carl Olson. State University of New York Press, 2000. 309 pages. N.P.

    The question of affinities between postmodern philosophy and the eastern wisdom traditions, of profound interest to a spectrum of scholarly disciplines, re- mains far from settled, but there has been no dearth in recent years of bold attempts to advance the question toward settlement. On the shelf next to, or perhaps below, such seminal studies as Robert Magliola's Derrida on the Mend (Purdue University Press, 1984), Coward's Derrida and Indian Philosophy (State University of New York Press, 1991), and Faure's Chan Insights and Oversights (Princeton University Press, 1996), we can now place Carl Olson's Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy, a book uneasily poised between its own strengths and weaknesses. Olson's study is a collection of essays fashioned as a kind of imagined dialogue between representa- tives of the two titular "schools." One presumes that the title alludes to Robert Pirsig's cult novel, Zen and the Art ofMotorcycle Maintenance (Bantam Books, 1984). If the allusion to Pirsig is meant to convey a further, deeper relationship between the two books, I for one have failed to discern it.

    The author states in his conclusion in the final chapter, titled in Derridean fashion "Signing Out": "Although there are certainly many similarities between Buddhist philosophy and forms of postmodern philosophy [the chief one being that both attempt to overcome representational thinking] . . . ,the differences

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    Article Contentsp. 223p. 224p. 225

    Issue Table of ContentsJournal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 1-271Front Matter [pp. 2-182]Articles, Response, and Rejoinder on the Theme "Religion and Empire"Editor's Note [p. 1]Introduction: Religion and Empire [pp. 3-12]Religion and Other Products of Empire [pp. 13-44]Faith and Empire: Conflicting Visions of Religion in a Late Reformation Controversy: The Augsburg "Interim" and Its Opponents, 1548-50 [pp. 45-74]Byzantium, Orthodoxy, and Democracy [pp. 75-98]Religion and Empire: Belief and Identity among African Indians of Karnataka, South India [pp. 99-120]Response: Constructing and Deconstructing Empires [pp. 121-128]Rejoinder: Thoughts from the Belly of the Beast [pp. 129-133]

    Death, Neurosis, and Normalcy: On the Ubiquity of Personal and Social Delusions [pp. 135-156]Review EssayReview: Tracking Global Evangelical Christianity [pp. 157-173]

    Responses and RejoindersScience and a Personal Conception of God: A Critical Response to Gordon D. Kaufman [pp. 175-181]Rejoinder to Mikael Stenmark [pp. 183-186]

    Book ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 187-191]Review: untitled [pp. 191-194]Review: untitled [pp. 194-198]Review: untitled [pp. 198-201]Review: untitled [pp. 202-204]Review: untitled [pp. 204-206]Review: untitled [pp. 207-209]Review: untitled [pp. 209-212]Review: untitled [pp. 212-215]Review: untitled [pp. 215-217]Review: untitled [pp. 218-220]Review: untitled [pp. 220-223]Review: untitled [pp. 223-225]Review: untitled [pp. 225-228]Review: untitled [pp. 228-232]Review: untitled [pp. 232-234]Review: untitled [pp. 235-237]Review: untitled [pp. 237-240]Review: untitled [pp. 240-243]Review: untitled [pp. 243-244]Review: untitled [pp. 244-248]Review: untitled [pp. 248-250]Review: untitled [pp. 251-254]

    Review: Erratum: City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization [p. 254]Books Received [pp. 255-271]Back Matter

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