Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 187–202 | Cite as

Between Activism, Religiosity, and the Public Sphere: the Intellectual Insurgency of bell hooks

  • Hue WoodsonEmail author


In the collaborative project Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (1991) with Cornel West, when interviewing West, bell hooks traces “the roots of (her) own critical consciousness” to her early experiences in the Black church and with religion in general, to the extent that her role as an intellectual is predicated on “spiritual practice.” It is through this practice that hooks perceives her role as an intellectual as one that “links religiosity to solidarity with the poor,” in a measured effort that avoids what she refers to as “the commodification of religion.” To be sure, this form of commodification limits what an intellectual can and should do, when she views that role within the intersectionality of meaningful activism, critical religiosity, and the engaging of the public sphere. For hooks, an intellectual must be deeply invested in “the kind of compassion, love, and openness” necessary for inclusiveness in the face of increasingly exclusive practices of the Black community, ultimately employed in how larger society devalues and degrades Black women and Black womanhood. Because of this, hooks ascribes to an insurgent intellectualism that, while recognizing her own situatedness between activism, religiosity, and the public sphere, is contingent on a kind of process thought: her intellectual insurgency is always “becoming” and contains a phenomenological intendedness with moving beyond her ontological blackness and epistemological womanhood towards a metaphysical intellectualism and a deontology fundamentally inherent in it. She presents a Black feminist/Womanist thinking into an insurgent Heideggerian-like question of the meaning of being, as both a Black woman and a Black intellectual. To do this, her insurgency in the role of the public intellectualism is grounded on both Frederick Douglass’ notion of “a heavy and cruel hand” (1853) and James Baldwin’s belief that being relatively conscious means “to be in rage almost all the time” (1969).


bell hooks James Baldwin Black intellectualism Cornel West Intellectual insurgency Philosophy 



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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tarrant County College, Northwest CampusFort WorthUSA

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