“ ‘Hidden in the Word’: Maria Stewart, the Bible and Politics” with Dr. Valerie Cooper

Massanutten Regional Library, 2 February 2013, 2-4 p.m.

In the 19th century, women like Maria Stewart were pioneering preaching and teaching ministries using the King James Version of the Bible as their central text. Stewart, an African American believed by many to have been the first American woman to give a political speech to an audience that contained men, used the Bible to argue for the rights of women and blacks in ways that echo Evangelical biblical appropriation today. In this presentation, Dr. Cooper will discuss the implications of Stewart’s biblical hermeneutics for political speech in the 19th century as well as the 2012 presidential election.

Valerie C. Cooper is an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. She received her doctorate from Harvard University and both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University. In her research and teaching, Dr. Cooper examines issues of religion, race, and society. Her book, Word, Like Fire: Maria Stewart, the Bible, and the Rights of African Americans (The University of Virginia Press, 2012), analyzes the role of biblical interpretation in the work of Maria Stewart, a pioneering nineteenth-century African American woman political speaker.
As co-director of the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion, Dr. Cooper is currently overseeing a series of lectures and seminars on religion and politics to be held at the University of Virginia ahead of the 2012 elections. Along with political scientist Corwin Smidt, she wrote an essay on the role of religion and race for the recently-published “Righteousness and Justice”: Religion, Barack Obama, and the 2008 Election, from Routledge Press.
In her current research, Dr. Cooper is evaluating the successes and failures of the racial reconciliation efforts of Christian congregations and ministries from the 1990s to the present. In addition to examining why such efforts frequently fall short of their stated goals, she also hopes to propose methods for achieving meaningful cross-racial relationships in America’s still very segregated churches and religious organizations. The Project for Lived Theology at the University of Virginia has awarded Dr. Cooper a grant to support her research and writing on this topic. The product of this research will be a book, The Test of Power: Racial Reconciliation in the Church, which is to be published by Abingdon Press.