Developing a Vocabulary of Feeling: The Spirituality of Black Feminist Self-Repair

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In this dissertation, I analyze the critical, creative, and personal work of Toni Morrison, Hortense Spillers, and Alice Walker in order to suggest that spirituality can be a useful component of Black feminist self-repair. Within the scope of Black women’s literary history, I argue that Morrison, Spillers, and Walker each functioned as three figures from Afrodiasporic spiritual traditions: the griot, the conjurer, and the medium, respectively. This project contends that there is significant overlap between spirituality and magic, the latter of which is defined as the use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world. In the context of this project, I interpret “magic” as a collection of stylistic choices, inherited traditions, and behaviors that enable Black Americans to repair the psychic, physical, and emotional damage that has been internalized in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade and Jim Crow segregation. This practice of self-repair through magic draws on ritual activities and observances that exist within both Afrodiasporic spiritual traditions as well as a body of Black feminist literary knowledge that has been passed down through generations of Black women writers. I contend that Black Americans’ ability to perform self-repair through spirituality is a practice of world-making that is rooted in Black feminist thought.






Bennett, Amanda (2023). Developing a Vocabulary of Feeling: The Spirituality of Black Feminist Self-Repair. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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