Religious Discursive Spaces

Oct 28, 2018 | 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM | Loft 2

Don Holmes, MA  University of North Carolina Chapel Hill  

Phillis Wheatley’s Black Religious Rhetoric through Discursive Spaces

Brought from Senegambia in July 1761 as chattel property, Phillis Wheatley knew no English and was not catechized on the Christian religion. By the time she was fourteen, the African slave girl would publish her first poem in the English language and later become the first person of African descent to publish a book (Poems on Various Subjects, Moral and Religious, 1773) in the Americas. Wheatley’s absorption of the English language is a remarkable feat that many scholars still question. This essay is in pursuit of this answer. I interrogate the discursive spaces—the enslaver’s home, the church halls, and the religious rallies—as possible spaces that both encouraged and inspired her religious rhetoric. I theorize Wheatley’s education on English could have begun in the belly of the schooner Phillis, which “delivered” her from Africa to America. I examine Wheatley’s construction of religious rhetoric throughout her advancement of the English language. What is miraculous about Wheatley was her ability to transform English into a system of codified messages and connotations that encoded new(er) meanings on white hegemonic structures in the late transatlantic slave world(s).

David Harris, MA  Methodist Theological School

Rebel in the Palace: Woman-Centered Subversive Resistance in Biblical Literature

While many are familiar with the text of the Bible, very few recognize the subversive actions that are found within its pages. Most often, these subversive actions, often described in the biblical narratives as acts of resistance, are performed by female characters. Many are familiar with the championed stories of Esther and Deborah, for example, but what about these stories speaks to the nature of their subversiveness? Furthermore, why did the authors of the biblical text choose to embody prominent acts of resistance within the female characters?

This work analyzes two biblical characters from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Esther and Pharaoh's daughter) through the lenses of what I describe as "woman-centered subversive resistance." Examining the actions and speeches of these women within the biblical narrative and the subsequent results of their actions, this paper will also present ways in which the use of gender within positions of influence plays an active role in how readers read and reflect upon these stories. Finally, consideration will be given to the contemporary applications of this work with regards to the intersection between women in positions of influence and the effects of their own subversive acts of resistance.


Don Holmes, BA

Don Holmes is a 4th year PhD student in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests are in early African American literature, specifically the 18th and early 19th centuries. His dissertation will survey early black writers of the Anglophone and their methods in critiquing and subverting systems of racial geographies (institutions of white supremacy). Don currently teaches English composition.

David Harris, MA

David Harris is a recent graduate of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, where he obtained a Masters of Divinity degree specializing in Black Church and the African Diaspora, and a Masters of Theological Studies degree specializing in Biblical Studies. He is currently taking a "temporary break" from the classroom before pursuing a Ph.D. David presented the paper “Through the Storm, Through the Night...We Gon' Be Alright: A Survey of African-American Protest Music” at last year’s HLA@TIFA conference.