Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, says of Dr. Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum “You are one of the most forward thinking, history conscious, and integrative thinkers… You are doing the work that truly turns the tide.”
In a break with tradition, the ASWM Board of Directors awarded both Dr. Birnbaum and Dr. Elinor Gadon the 2016 Demeter Award for Leadership in Women’s Spirituality. Dr. Birnbaum was honored in recognition of decades of visionary scholarship as a Founding Mother of Feminist Spirituality, Cultural History and Political Awareness. Her continuing intellectual leadership ,as a cultural historian, educator and mentor, focuses on questions about the origins of submerged cultures.
Beginning over thirty years ago with the English and Italian publications of Liberazione della donna: Feminism in Italy (1986, l988), and Black Madonnas: Feminism, religion, and politics in Italy (1993), Dr. Birnbaum’s work has enlightened and continues to inspire readers with knowledge concerning the hidden herstory of our quintessential African cultural heritage and foremothers. Incorporating knowledge from history, anthropology, and genetics, she examines the transformative power of the image of the primordial Dark Mother and female divinity that was carried out of Africa on waves of human migration.
Her more recent intellectual inquiry brings to light that Black Madonnas and other dark women of the world provide a metaphor for healing millennial divisions of gender and race, along with concerted movements for justice. These works include: Dark mother: African origins, and Godmothers (English 2001, Italian 2004, French 2007) and The future has an ancient heart: caring, sharing, healing, from the African Mediterranean to occupy everywhere. (Italian and French 2012, English 2013) .
Her most recent memoir, Black bird and a pear tree: Legacy of migrations out of Africa — caring, sharing, healing; my story hoping to inspire all of you to tell your stories and nonviolently transform the world deals with issues no less important than, in her own words, “whether the survival gifts of sharing, caring and healing — inherited by all of us in our genetic unconscious — in our preconscious, as well as glimmers in consciousness — will help us surmount world crises — environmental, economic, political, nuclear, moral — crises today …that are apocalyptic in dimension.”
In praise of her transformative teaching, Dr. Mary Pat Ziolkowski, author, Fierce Shakti. . . . A Transpersonal encounter with the black goddess Kali Ma, says
Lucia’s style of teaching is circular. . . What that style leads to is the most amazing transformative experience. She helps students ground in their own cultural spiritual traditions of origin as a way of centering themselves. . . and then she takes us on a tour of the dark mother across continents and cultures.. . . . Academically rigorous. . .she provides such a container for each women’s wisdom to come through.
It is no coincidence that two of of Dr. Birnbaum’s students, Dr. Mary Beth Moser and Dr. Annette Williams, have also been honored for their scholarship. Both are recipients of ASWM’s Kore Award for Best Dissertation in Women and Mythology.