Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


A Tradition Her Own: Womanist Rhetoric and the Womanist Sermon

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Khani Begum (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Philip Wander (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

John MaKay (Committee Member)


This dissertation argues that womanist rhetoric is a cultural discourse. It asks the questions, what is womanist rhetoric, who engages in womanist rhetoric, and what are the implications for womanist rhetoric in the everyday lives of Black women? I ask and answer these questions within the context of the Black Church as a cultural location and social institution. This allows for a rich and complex discussion of the organic elements of womanist rhetoric, which enter the academy but are not limited to the academy. I define the Black Church in both historic and contemporary terms to demonstrate the cultural location of womanism within African America.

Womanist rhetoric has three pillars: authentic womanist voice, gendered cultural knowledge, and ethical discourse for salvation. This dissertation uses a mixed-methods approach to present each of these three elements. Historic and literary womanist shape my definition of womanist rhetoric. In centralizing Black women's narratives through womanist discourse, Black women create spaces in which and through which they make their voices heard and their presence known. Through this engaged discourse within and outside of the Black Church, African American women have created and maintained spaces for authentic womanist voice. African American women daily embody the process of womanist rhetoric. Through an analysis of Wanda Davis Turner as a womanist minister, I am able to discuss womanist rhetoric in the context of the sermon.

Womanist rhetoric goes beyond womanist theory and beyond womanist theology to get at the root of the cultural meanings within the deep cultural spaces African American women inhabit daily. Through her sermon Sex Traps, Wanda Davis Turner presents herself as an authentic womanist voice within the Black Church. Her sermon and book series Sex Traps utilizes gendered cultural knowledge to explore issues of morality and the ethical discourse of salvation that constitute womanist discourse.