In Memorium - Teresia Mbari Hinga
Remembering her life as a pioneering African Christianity feminist.
Teresia Mbari Hinga, Ph.D., Associate Professor of African Religions bowed to a protracted battle with cancer on March 31, 2023, in Chicago Illinois, surrounded by her family and friends. She was born on January 25, 1955, as the youngest of seven children in the village of Ndumberi, Kiambu in British-occupied Kenya. Dr. Hinga earned a B.Ed. in English Literature and Religious Studies, which she passed with first-class honors from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Nairobi University. She earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies/African Christianity from the University of Lancaster in England in 1990. Dr. Hinga had taught at Santa Clara University since 2005. Before that, she was on the faculty of DePaul University, Chicago in 1994-2005 and taught at Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya (1987-1994).
As a scholar, Hinga was an African Christian feminist who pioneered the fields of African feminist theology and ethics. She was the author of African, Christian, Feminist: The Enduring Search for What Matters (2017). She was also a founding member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in Accra, Ghana in 1989. She promoted the Circle throughout her career. She was also a founding member, and on the executive committee, of the African Association of the Study of Religion (AASR), a member of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA). She was on the board of the Journal of Global Catholicism and a member of the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) Network until her death.
In offering his remembrances of Dr. Hinga at the RS Department reception, Dr. Philip “Boo” Riley remembered her through words that many in the department also identify her with. Among those Riley shared were:
Glocalization. Teresia loved that word. Among its many meanings is how local regions like ours here in Silicon Valley reflect and are defined by global dynamics, good and bad. She herself was a walking embodiment of glocalization. Whether it was bringing concerns and themes from Africa to bear on our curriculum and programs or her networking with and supporting immigrant groups in the community, she always had Kenya with her in Silicon Valley.
Scholar of Grassroots activism. Teresia produced an impressive and varied record of scholarship. But as her colleagues know, she did not hole up in her office or the library—scholarship came alive for her, as is evidenced in, for example, her helping to found the SCU Anti-Human Trafficking Study Group in 2015 w/ several colleagues across the university and in our department. From the very beginning of her career in Kenya, for Teresia scholarship led to and/or was rooted in, grassroots activism.
Hummingbird. This small bird was a big symbol for Teresia. One of her heroes, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, who was the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, tells the story of the hummingbird who, seeing a forest fire was the only one to help, going to the pond and drawing water with its beak and dropping the water on the fire drop by drop. When ridiculed by the other animals, the hummingbird responded, “I am doing the best I can.” In a tribute to Wengari’s environmental activism, Hinga beckoned us “to get off the wrong bus and to ignite the hummingbird spirit in all of us.”
Riley concluded his remarks by announcing that the RS Department is creating the Teresia Hinga Hummingbird Prize. The prize title recalls the inspiration Prof. Hinga got from Wangari Maathai, for whom the hummingbird symbolized resiliency and persistence in the face of enormous challenges. This annual award, which will support the work of a student in one or more of the areas in which Prof. Hinga worked, will begin in the 2023-24 academic year.