Chiavola Birnbaum


Chiavola Birnbaum, Ph.D., is a multicultural historian whose Liberazione della Donna: Feminism in Italy won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 1987. Her subsequent exploration of submerged beliefs and negated cultures, Black Madonnas: Feminism, Religion and Politics in Italy (Northeastern University Press, 1993; Italian edition, Black Madonnas. Femminismo. Religion e Politica inItalia. Bari, Palomar Editrice, 1997) has been acclaimed by scholars ranging from Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School to feminist scholar Donna Haraway, poets, multicultural historians, anthropologists,sociologists, and cultural theorists. A Gramscian Marxist study of vernacular beliefs, it has been called "a daring multi- and supra-disciplinary work," "groundbreaking," and an "inspiring analysis of submerged knowledges for contemporary democratic movements." In October 1998, Lucia Birnbaum received the prestigious Valitutti Award for non-fiction for Black Madonnas. In 2001, she published Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers with iuniverse press.

In 1996, for her books and work for a just world, Dr. Birnbaum was inducted into the International African American Multicultural Educators Hall of Fame. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Italian Research and Study Program for the International Area Studies at UC Berkeley.

Lucia holds a doctorate in European and U.S. history from the University of California at Berkeley. A founder of the Peace and Freedom Party in 1967, she was an assistant professor of U.S. history at San Francisco State University, a few days from achieving tenure when she was fired for participating in the student/professor strike against racism and imperialism. Thereafter an independent scholar, she frequently travels to Italy for research and teaches and lectures in the U.S.

In May 2002, Lucia was awarded Serpentina's Enheduanna Award for Excellence in Women-Centered Literature.

Lucia Birnbaum’s recent publications and presentations

“Hope for peace is heartened by DNA evidence that all humans are descendants of an African mother…” presented at the Permanent Convention of Women Against War, Bari, Italy, February 6-7.

“Dopo la Dea.” Presented to women’s spirituality conference organizers at the Armonia Center, Bologna, Italy, February 20–21.

Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers (iUniverse, 2001). Italian edition (La Madre O-Scura), Cosenza, Italy: Media Mediterranea, 2004.

Dark Mother of Sardinia Study Tour, Sardinia, May–June.

Received an award from the American Immigration Law Foundation as one of five “extraordinary Italian Americans,” honored for scholarship and civil rights activism; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 11.

“Remembering Our Black Mother.” Presented at the XXI Valcamonica Symposium on Prehistoric and Tribal Art: New Discoveries, New Interpretations, New Research Methods; also presented Italian edition of Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers (La Madre O-Scura); Darfo-Boario Terme (Bs), Italy, September 8-14.

“Dark Mother: An Emerging New Paradigm Replacing the Hegemony of White Western Elites.” Presented at the 16th Annual Cheikh Anta Diop International Conference, Temple University and Ankh Institute, Philadelphia, October 1.

Acceptance of Dark Mother: African Origins and Godmothers for a French edition by Menaibuc, an African press located in Paris; for distribution in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, October 2.

Honorary Lecturer: University of California, San Diego, Italian Department. Presented paper on “Dark Mother,” November 12.

Lecturer in public series: Faiths of the World, San Diego Public Library, November.

Served as editor for Volume 1 of an anthology entitled She is Everywhere! An Anthology of Writing in Womanist/ Feminist Spirituality (iUniverse, March 2005), featuring papers by students and faculty in the CIIS Women’s Spirituality program. Wrote “Preface by a Strega Nonna” for volume 1.

“Gathering Consensus on the ‘Dark Mother.’” Presented at the Conference on the Virgin, Galeria Tonantzin, San Juan Bautista, California, December 11


Lucia Birnbaum was invited to a number of conferences in Fall 2004, suggesting the convergence of scholarship in Women's Spirituality with that of several other disciplines.

An international conference of archeologists held in Italy September 8-14, 2004 invited Lucia to present La Madre O-scura, the italian edition of her book, dark mother, as well as a paper on the methodologies she used in the study. Lucia presented her book with a paper entitled, "Black Mother and the Change of Paradigm." The title of her methodologies paper for the conference was: "Memory of the Black Mother."

This XXI Valcamonica Symposium 2004 of Archeologists, held at the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici, Darfo-Boario Terme, near Brescia, hosted "scholars from 36 countries to establish a state of the art in terms of 'New Discoveries, New Interpretations, New Research Methods.'"

The 16th Annual Cheikh Anta Diop International Conference in Philadelphia, October 1 and 2, 2004 invited Lucia to present her work "on the African origins of homo sapiens sapiens, that is, the genetic origin of modern humans in South and Central Africa, particularly in regard to the aniconic signs of veneration of the African dark mother" to the conference, which focused on "Classical Africa: Foundations for Postmodern and Post-Western Renewal."

Lucia's paper, "The Dark Mother Phenomenon in European Thought: Recent Findings," was part of the panel, "African Origins: Concepts and Practices." This conference, which annually celebrates Cheikh Anta Diop, whose classic work Civilization or Barbarism challenged conventional racist interpretations of Africa, is regarded as "an intellectual and disciplinary advance in Afrocentric studies."

On October 13, the Library and Department of Literature of San Diego State University invited Lucia to inaugurate the traveling exhibit, "Black Madonnas," sponsored by the Department of Italian Culture, Queens College, New York.

November 4-6, 2004, at the annual conference of the American Italian Historical Association, Lucia chaired a panel of contributors to an anthology she edited, She is Everywhere! Anthology in Writings in Feminist Spirituality. Participants in the anthology who presented their work included Louisa Calio, Mary Beth Moser, Karen N. Villanueva, and Laura Amazzone.

The book jacket of La Madre O-Scura (Cosenza, Italia, MEDiterranea MEDia, Collana donnemondo, 2004) describes the significance of Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum's work: