March 17, 2017 – Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who recalls being drawn to the ornate “drama of Mass” as an Igbo child growing up Catholic in Nigeria, reflected on how faith relates to her work during a talk at Georgetown yesterday.
Adichie recalled the divisiveness in her country between the Protestants, mostly members of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Nigeria, and the Catholics, as she talked with Paul Elie, senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs as part of Georgetown’s Office of the President’s Faith and Culture Lecture Series.
“The rules were very clear, you did not attend weddings if the weddings were held in the CMS Church if you were Catholic,” said the author of the much-lauded novel Americanah. “Conversely, if you were CMS, you did not attend Catholic weddings. So in a sense, [it] was this new Christianity that brought … division to Igboland.”
The members of both groups would argue about the intricacies of the Bible and which religion was “right,” she said.
Adichie admitted she often led arguments that overflowed with scripture passages she knew by heart among her friends at school.
Faith and Feminism
As she got older, the author found that her natural curiosities sometimes conflicted with her Catholic faith, especially when it came to feminism.
Best known for her 2013 novel Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, Adichie’s works include two other novels and a short story collection translated into more than 30 languages.
But it is in her latest work released this month, Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, that she outlines more of her feminist viewpoints.
She noted at Georgetown that she came from a culture that did not fully value women.
“For me, and not just Catholicism, I think religion … is not a women-friendly institution,” she said. “Religion has been used to justify oppressions that are based on the idea that women are not equal human beings. ”
In her new book, which originated as a letter to a friend on how to raise a feminist child, she explores the importance of embracing differences, openly discusses appearance and sexuality, and rejects traditional gender roles and the notion of “likeability.”
“There’s a particular insidious, dangerous thing that women are socialized to do from the very beginning, to be almost what you’re not in order to gain the world’s approval,” she said. “It shrinks the spirit and souls of girls and limits them from reaching their full potential.”
Though Adichie left the Church shortly before Pope Benedict XVI was inaugurated, she said she’s been drawn back to it by the hope she has found in Pope Francis’ teachings, and by the birth of her daughter last year.
“I wanted to give my child the option of faith, so she’s been baptized Catholic,” she explained.
“The presence of God is greatest in love,” she said, referring to the feeling she gets when holding her daughter. “Even when she was born, there’s just something deeply magical and something that makes me think there has to be something more.”