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Word, Like Fire

Maria Stewart, the Bible, and the Rights of African Americans
Valerie C. Cooper

BUY Cloth · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813931883 · $45.00 · Jun 2012
BUY Ebook · 224 pp. · ISBN 9780813932071 · $45.00 · Jun 2012
BUY Paper · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942629 · $25.00 · Dec 2018

Maria Stewart is believed by many to have been the first American woman of any race to give public political speeches. In Word, Like Fire, Valerie C. Cooper argues that the religious, political, and social threads of Maria Stewart's thought are tightly interwoven, such that focusing narrowly on any one aspect would be to misunderstand her rhetoric. Cooper demonstrates how a certain kind of biblical interpretation can be a Rosetta Stone for understanding various areas of African American life and thought that still resonate today.


Maria Stewart’s work is shot through with biblical nuances and references that only someone with strong biblical knowledge and expertise within the field of African American religious history can tackle. Given Prof. Cooper’s expertise in both areas, she has the ability to synthesize and interpret the work of Maria Stewart in a way no other scholar has done yet. She provides a fresh and original look at the work of Maria Stewart.

Albert G. Miller, Oberlin College · author of Elevating the Race: Theophilus G. Steward, Black Theology, and the Making of an African American Civil Society, 1865-1924

With this book Valerie Cooper joins a growing number of scholars who have found significant historical riches in studying the religious lives of ordinary African Americans. Her careful editing of an important 1831 essay from the little-known Maria W. Stewart, along with her own careful historical investigation of Stewart and sensitive interaction with up-to-date scholarship on African American engagement with the Bible, make this an unusually well-rounded effort. The book illuminates both the historical world of Maria Stewart and the latest debates on the religious lives of black Americans. This is a fine book.

Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame

Cooper (Univ. of Virginia) examines Maria Stewart as an evangelical preacher and theologian whose intricate life and brief career as a public lecturer can only be fully understood by attending to the biblical imaginary.... Cooper ably situates Stewart amid other African American evangelical women like Jarena Lee and Sojourner Truth to produce a very useful and attentive study of an important figure in 19th-century religious history.


"This book is essential for nineteenth-century historians interested in how activists understood their role in American society. It is also an important book for scholars involved in gender analysis."

Rita Roberts, Scripps College · Journal of American History

"Cooper’s work stuns as a refreshing take on Stewart’s contributions to America’s long enduring conversations on matters of race and gender."

Jermaine Thibodeaux · The Journal of Southern Religion

About the Author(s): 

Valerie C. Cooper is Associate Professor of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.

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