5 Black Latin American Women Theologians & Biblical Scholars You Should Know About

Although Latin American theologies have progressively embraced an intersectional approach, particularly as it relates to class and gender, they have often been a “teología incolora.” Reflecting on this and her own process of concientización, Argentinean theologian Nancy Bedford writes,

Maybe because from the perspective of the dominant culture in Argentina, the African heritage of the Río de la Plata tends to be forgotten or devalued; as a theologian that lived and worked in Argentina, I never thought too much about the relevance of this cultural and philosophical heritage for my theology. I used to include the writings of James Cone… in the contemporary theologies program, but it didn’t occur to me to reflect too much about my own privileges as a person with white skin. Racism seemed wrong to me but I didn’t understand that it was a structural reality that benefited me just for being white, regardless of my personal attitudes. In fact, I hadn’t thought too much about the theological ramifications of the topic nor had I sat –as a feminist theologian– at the feet of womanist theologians. Racism seemed to me as a secondary problem in our [Latin American] context.[1]

This tendency of seeing racism as a secondary problem in the Latin American context seems to be pervasive, particularly in relation to issues of anti-Blackness. One reason is that those doing Latin American theology in academia are mainly white and light-skinned Latin Americans. This is also true for USA Latino/a/e theologies, which have almost exclusively been constructed on the notion of mestizaje – an identity that centers Spanish heritage and identity, limitedly acknowledges Indigenous identity and excludes African heritage. In the USA, the latter has been translated in the racial imaginary as “Brown,” and is often applied to and reclaimed by almost everyone with some Latin American ancestry regardless of their phenotype.[2] This along with the myth of a Latin American racial democracy and the USA understanding that Latin American identity and Blackness are mutually exclusive have impacted the way we theologize, resulting in what Bedford calls “una teología incolora” or “monocromática” – a theology that “doesn’t provide space for a structural and systemic reflection that takes as a starting point the lived experiences and demands” of Black and Indigenous people.[3]

Although learning from the whole African diaspora is key for us as Latin Americans, it is essential that we platform the voices of Black Latin American theologians who are doing theology in word and deed in our contexts, especially Black women.

For a long time, I have held tight to the work of Agustina Luvis Núñez and Geraldina Céspedes Ulloa (included in this brief list) because I couldn’t find other Black Latin American women theologians in academia. My list of two has grown to five. I know there are more but I haven’t had the joy of coming across their work. If you have other names, please send them my way so that I can expand this list for the benefit of all. Also, it is worth noting that although I acknowledge a dual definition of “theologian,” for the purpose of my lists, I include those who have attained a doctoral degree in the field and have been published. My hope is that their work is seriously considered and engaged by academics and students, as well as those outside of academia.

Here are five Black Latin American women theologians and biblical scholars you should know.

Maricel Mena López

Maricel Mena López is a Colombian biblical scholar and researcher in the Roman Catholic tradition. Currently, she serves as a professor of Old and New Testament at the Universidad Santo Tomás in Bogotá, Colombia. Mena López earned a bachelor’s in Religious Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia; and a master’s and a doctorate in Religious Studies from the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil. Her doctoral project focused on Afro-Asian roots in the Hebrew Bible. From 2002 to 2005, Mena López also completed a postdoc in Latin American feminist hermeneutics at the Escola Superior De Teologia in São Leopoldo, Brazil. Her research work has been awarded by both the Universidad Santo Tomás (2017) and the Fundación Universitaria San Alfonso (2010).

A prolific researcher, her publications include Biblia y ciudad: Pedagogías del buen vivir en contextos urbanos (Ediciones USTA, 2017), Panorama bíblico latinoamericano: Aproximación desde lo femenino y la negritud (Fundación Universitaria San Alfonso, 2010), and Espiritualidad, justicia y esperanza desde las teologías afro-americanas y caribeñas (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2007). She also penned the book chapter “Because of an Ethiopian Woman: Reflections on Race, Gender, and Religion in the Biblical World” for Feminist Intercultural Theology: Latina Explorations for a Just World (Orbis Books, 2007).

Her most recent article, “Women, Deities, Sacred Prostitution and Religion 1 Kings 11,1-13: Readings from a Black and Feminist Hermeneutics,” was published by Revista Mandrágora in 2021. To access it, click here.[4]

María Cristina (Tirsa) Ventura Campusano

María Cristina (Tirsa) Ventura Campusano is a Roman Catholic biblical scholar and theologian from the Dominican Republic. Since 2010, she has served as research professor at the Universidad Teológica de América Central in San José, Costa Rica.[5] She holds a doctorate in religious studies with an emphasis in Old Testament from the Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil, and a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in pedagogical mediation from the University De La Salle in Costa Rica. Her areas of research include eco-theology from a feminist perspective, Christian ethics, and intercultural pedagogy.[6]

Her publications include Relaciones entre Biblia y culturas: Un abordaje desde personas afrodescendientes de Limón en Costa Rica(Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, 2009), y Cuerpos peregrinos: Un estudio de la opresión y la resistencia desde el género, clase y etnia en los Salmos 120 al 134 (DEI, 2008). You can also read her book chapters “Globalization and Women’s Bodies in Latin America” in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theology (Oxford University Press, 2012), and “A Look into Hesed in the Old Testament: From the Present Sociocultural Situation of Costa Rica, in The Bible and Catholic Theological Ethics(Orbis Books, 2017).

Agustina Luvis Núñez

Agustina Luvis Núñez is a Puerto Rican theologian living and doing theology on the island. A life-long learner, she holds several degrees, including an MDiv from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, and a Master in Theology and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. She currently serves as assistant professor of systematic theology and academic dean at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.

Her areas of interest include Pentecostal and feminist theologies, as well as Caribbean theologies. She has also contributed to multiple edited volumes, including Otros Caminos: Propuestas para la crisis en Puerto Rico(Isla Negra, 2012), for which she penned the chapter “La crisis, momento oportuno para afirmar las marcas de la iglesia,” and El sexo en la Iglesia(Publicaciones Gaviota, 2015), for which she wrote “Liberación: Reflexiones teológicas sobre el abuso sexual y nuestro rol como Iglesia.” Luvis Núñez also wrote the entry “Caribbean Theology” for the Global Dictionary of Theology: A Resources for the Worldwide Church (IVP Academic, 2008). Her book Creada a su imagen: Una pastoral integral para la mujer was published in 2012 by Abingdon Press.

Agustina on being a Black woman in Puerto Rico:

To be a Black woman in Puerto Rico is a question mark, a constant questioning from society of her capabilities, moral values, integrity, and even her sexuality and libido. It means having to prove what is assumed of other people. To be a Black woman in Puerto Rico is to be always

You can read more about Agustina’s life, continued work, and legacy here.

Geraldina Céspedes Ulloa

Roman Catholic theologian Geraldina Céspedes Ulloa was born in Fantino, Dominican Republic. She holds degrees in Theology and Philosophy from the Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala and the Instituto Filosófico Pedro Francisco Bonó in the Dominican Republic. Geraldina also holds a doctorate in Systematic Theology from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain. Céspedes Ulloa is a member of the Congregation of Dominican Missionaries and has been serving marginalized communities in Santo Domingo, Guatemala, Madrid, and Mexico.  She is also a founding member of the Núcleo Mujeres y Teología de Guatemala.

Her most recent book, Ecofeminismo: Teología saludable para la tierra y sus habitantes, was published by PPC Editorial on September 2021. Her other publications include Las teologías de la liberación ante el mercado y el patriarcado(Verbo Divino, 2014), and “Sources and Processes of the Production of Wisdom,” in Feminist Intercultural Theology: Latina Explorations for a Just World (Orbis Books, 2007).

Geraldina on a liberating theology:

Today, it is not possible to talk about a liberating theology that illuminates the path toward the construction of another possible world without seriously taking into account the ethical and spiritual commitment to answer to two of the major cries of our time: the cry of the earth and the cry of women.

Silvia Regina de Lima Silva

Silvia Regina de Lima Silva is a Brazilian theologian in the Roman Catholic tradition, who since 2008 has been serving in the Ecumenical Department of Research (DEI by its Spanish abbreviation) in San José, Costa Rica in a multiplicity of roles, including director. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Theology from the Pontificial Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; a specialized undergraduate degree in Theology (licenciatura) from the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana in Costa Rica; and a master’s in Religious Studies. Lima Silva is currently a Ph.D. student in Society and Culture Studies at the University of Costa Rica. Since 2010, she has been a faculty member of the Ecumenical School of Religious Studies at the National University of Costa Rica.[9]

Her publications include Relaciones entre Biblia y culturas: Un abordaje desde personas afrodescendientes de Limón en Costa Rica (Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, 2009); En territorio de frontera: Una lectura de Marcos 7:24-30 (Editorial Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones, 2001); and “Negra Hermosa: Teología negra latinoamericana – historia y desafíos,” in Construyendo puentes entre teologías y culturas(Amerindia, 2011).

Silvia Regina on the Black body:

Our body was always a slave body, a sacrificed body, a body given to work and exploitation. After slavery, our bodies were exploited by the capitalist system and seen as a place of profit-making through exploited labor. And when it was in the interest of the ruling powers, they called ours a “rebellious body” […]

Today, we’re struggling to recognize the beauty of this body. Our body reveals the creative beauty of God. We have to seriously criticize the way the body has been abused and viewed […] [O]ur body is the place we meet God! The place of revelation![10]

[1] Nancy Bedford, “A la sombra de la palmera de Débora: Hacia una antropología teológica desde Nepantla,” in Teología feminista a tres voces (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2017), 265.

[2] This introductory paragraph comes from Juliany González Nieves, “Agustina Luvis Núñez: A Life of Wandering through the Horizons of God’s Justice,” in Challenging Bias against Women Academics in Religion, Colleen Hartung, ed. (Books@Atla Open Press, 2021), 217-218.

[3] Ibid, 266.

[4] Source: https://usta.academia.edu/MaricelMenaLópez

[5] Source: https://cr.linkedin.com/in/mar%C3%ADa-cristina-ventura-campusano-1b6862108

[6] See contributor bio in Lúcás Chan, Yiu Sing, James F. Keenan, and Ronaldo Zacharias, eds. The Bible and Catholic Theological Ethics. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2017. See also, Mercedes García Bachmann, “Leer el Antiguo Testamento en clave feminista,” in Teología a tres voces (Santiago de Chile, Chile: Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2017), 53.

[7] Agustina Luvis Núñez, “Religión, género y negritud,” interviewed by Bárbara Abadía Rexach and Kimberly Figuero Calderón, Negras, Cadena Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico, February 20, 2020. Translated by Juliany González Nieves.

[8] Geraldina Céspedes Ulloa, Ecofeminismo: Teología saludable para la tierra y sus habitants (PPC Editorial, 2021). Translated by Juliany González Nieves.

[9] Source: http://www.ecumenica.una.ac.cr/index.php/conozcanos/personal/personal-academico?start=10

[10] Silvia Regina de Lima Silva quoted by Mev Puleo, The Struggle is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation (New York: State University of New York, 1994), 108-109.

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