Pagans on the Fringe of the AAR

 

 

 

Once again, I will be seeking an alternate activity to attending the American Academy of Religion’s presidential address in Denver next November. Such activities will probably involve bars, restaurants, and friends whom I see far too infrequently.

I might be tempted if Dr. Gushee’s “performing religion” actually included donning sackcloth and ashes. That’s biblical. But I have always wondered, do you put on a loincloth or tunic made of burlap and then pour ashes over yourself? Or do you rub ashes into your skin like some Hindu saddhus and then wrap a strip of burlap around your loins for minimal modesty? These are important ethnographic details!

But this is the AAR’s heritage: mainline Protestant Christians talking about themselves, even though the tent appears to have enlarged considerably since the early 1960s.

There is a fault line in the AAR. It is not between monotheists and polytheists—the former hardly realize yet that the latter exist. Nor is even so much between global East and global West.

Instead, the fault line remains between people who do god-talk in some form or other — who accept a supernatural dimension — and those who view religion purely as a human construction, like politics. The latter may call themselves Marxists, postmodernists, or to use the language of one scholarly group, they pursue “historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches to the study of religion.”1)North American Association for the Study of Religion

They are the ones who criticize other (Christian) AAR members for treating the annual meeting “like church.”

Where does Pagan studies fit into all this? Our program unit operated on an ad hoc basis from 1998–2004 and has been a full-fledged “unit” (formerly “group”) among all the other AAR units from 2005 to the present. Here is the list: scroll down to Contemporary Pagan Studies.

We scholars of Paganism have been accused of being too “curatorial,” taking care of “our people,” It’s a fair criticism of a what is still a new field, and I would not mind seeing more “historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches” as we go along.

And I expect the polytheist studies/monotheist studies divide to remain for quite some time, insofar as it is still mostly invisible.

Notes   [ + ]

Call for Papers: A Special Issue of The Pomegranate on Pagan Art and Fashion

From Caroline Tully (University of Melbourne, Australia), guest editor of an upcoming issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies devoted to Pagan art and fashion.

A beautiful young woman drapes her long auburn hair over a human skull, pressing it close to her face like a lover. Another, clad in black and holding a wooden staff, poses like a model in a photo shoot on location in an incongruous forest. Long, elaborately decorated fake fingernails like talons grasp shiny crystals, evoking the “just so” beauty of a staged magazine spread. In the world of the Witches of Instagram, the art of photography meets business witchery and feminist activism.

Is it (still) the season of the witch? Luxury fashion house, Dior, has a tarot-themed collection; witchcraft featured in recent issues of Vogue magazine; young witch-identifying women perform “fashion magic”; and an alchemist-fashion designer has invented colour-changing hair dye, inspired by a scene in the 1996 movie, The Craft. An angry yet luxurious sex-positive feminism is in the air; goddesses, witches and sluts are rising up again, a decade and a half after Rockbitch stopped touring and almost thirty years after Annie Sprinkle’s first workshops celebrating the sacred whore.

Exhibitions showcasing the work of living and dead occult artists have been on the increase for several years now, most recently Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art Since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and Barry William Hale + NOKO’s Enochian performance at Dark Mofo in Tasmania. Multidisciplinary artist Bill Crisafi and dancer Alkistis Dimech exemplify the Sabbatic witchcraft aesthetic; Russ Marshalek and Vanessa Irena mix fitness and music with witchcraft in the age of the apocalypse; DJ Juliana Huxtable and queer arts collective House of Ladosha are a coven; rappers Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia are out and proud brujas; and singer Lana del Rey admits hexing Donald Trump.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion, edited by Caroline Tully (caroline.tully@unimelb.edu.au). How are Paganism, modern Goddess worship, witchcraft and magick utilised in the service of creative self-expression today? Potential topics might fall under the general headings of, but are not limited to, Aesthetics, Dance, Fashion, Film and Television, Internet Culture, Literature, Music, and Visual Art.

Submissions due June 15, 2019.

For information on the submission process see: https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/POM/about/submissions

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-1.html

For more information about this special issue read Caroline Tully’s interview on The Wild Hunt.

 

Does No One Read the Description?

I was in my first month as managing editor of the (long-gone) Colorado Outdoor Journal when an article came in about fishing in Utah. Hello? “Colorado” is in the title.

When I was freelancing for commercial magazines, I was told always to read at least a couple of issues before submitting an article query, advice that I passed along to my students. The same would hold with academic journals — you would think — since they are often so narrowly defined.

On May 16th, an article came in through The Pomegranate’s online submission process (which requires filling in various fields in the Online Journal System) titled “The Holy Qur’an: The Origin of Human Discourse in Ethics.”

Less than a week later, one of the co-authors, who appeared to be teaching in the Islamic Education Department at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, is writing to me wanting know my editorial decision on the piece.

So (a) she/they is unclear what “peer-reviewed journal” means and (b) she/they missed all the language on the main page about “Pagan,” “polytheist,” “reconstructionist,” etc.

Maybe “Pomegranate” just sounded Middle Eastern?

I sent a PDF of the last issue with my response, just to make the point that their piece outside our remit. Very far.

The Anthropology Cult at CIIS

Some people in the Pagan studies field have a special place in their hearts for the California Institute of Integral Studies. This memoir (about events a decade ago) might help to explain why. It’s a “never been told story.”

We showed up willing and able to do whatever it took for the cause. Angana exploited us beyond recognition. She effectively used jargon and the discourse to force us to restructure, brutally interrogate and dismantle our sense of self in the most pathological way possible. It’s a classic cult grooming technique; it just so happened that the languaging in this cult used social justice concepts.

New Issue of The Pomegranate Published

Issue  19.1 Table of Contents

Articles
“Discourses of Paganism in the British and Irish Press during the Early Pagan Revival”
G.J. Wheeler

“Pagan Leaders and Clergy: A Quantitative Exploration”
Gwendolyn Reece

“From Folklore to Esotericism and Back: Neo-Paganism in Serbia”
Nemanja Radulovic

“Contemporary Germanic/Norse Paganism and Recent Survey Data”
Joshua Marcus Cragle

Book Reviews — open access
Jennifer Snook, American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Barbara Jane Davy

Edward Bever and Randall Styers, eds., Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017)
Reviewed by Michael D. Bailey

Thomas Besom, Inka Human Sacrifice and Mountain Worship: Strategies for Empire Unification (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013), 309 pp., $65 (hardcover).
Reviewed by Caroline J. Tully

Siv Ellen Kraft, Trude Fonneland, and James Lewis, eds., Nordic Neoshamanisms (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Reviewed by Robert J. Wallis

Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Rose T. Caraway

2017 Pagan Studies “Call” Completed, Will Be Published Soon

As I mentioned, my term has co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group ended this year. It’s been a log run, if you figure that this effort to bring Pagan studies into the academy started in 1995, with an informal “who are we” meeting, more of the same in 1996, and a first proposal for an official program unit in 1997.

That proposal was shot down by the program committee, who said in effect, “You have no proven that you cannot get your needs met elsewhere, such as in the New Religious Movements Group.” (It was already getting to the point where some NRM scholars felt that Pagan stuff was dominating their program to the detriment of other subject matter.)

So we started our own “additional meeting,” listed in the program book but not official—and we had to pay a fee. We heard papers presented and discussed them, just like in a regular session.

Some internal changes at the AAR made it possible to get our first official session in 2005; meanwhile, doctoral student Cat McEarchern had taken over the “additional meeting” and built it into an all-day event for a couple of years in the mid-2000s.

I shifted to the steeering committee of the new, official Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and eventually took my turn as co-chair. I will not miss the annual ritual of having to draft a call-for-papers within two weeks after the annual meting, so that the program committee can confirm it in January for the next annual meeting. This usually happens during finals week, at least for North American universities. How was it done before email? Lots of calls from your office phone, I suppose. It takes a lot of unpaid hours to run the AAR or any similar society.

I will post the text of the call here when it is official. Meanwhile, it was great to see Amy Hale and Shawn Arthur get the job done with relative ease.

Thoughts on Pagan Studies after the 2016 AAR Meeting (2)

1. A Colorado Springs hotel banquet hall, early 1980s.

A young business reporter at the Colorado Springs Sun, I am attending a big luncheon meeting of the Colorado Association of Realtors (CAR) because the speaker is someone whom I want to cover.

Before we eat, a Protestant Christian minister delivers an invocation in the name of Jesus Christ. The CAR public relations director, a “business friend” of mine,1)We have some other connections — I learn that as a teen she babysat my uncle’s kids in Denver leans over and whispers, “So much for our Jewish members.”

“So much for the Wiccan journalist,” I think silently, but I am used to being the tiniest minority.

2. A San Antonio, Texas, hotel banquet room, 21 November 2016

For the last time (see previous post), I have risen early to attend the 7:15 a.m. breakfast meeting of AAR program-unit chairs. It’s usually a light buffet meal followed by announcements about new staff appointments, policy changes, and the like. But this time, speaker after speaker veers off into The Election.

All weekend, in fact, I had been subjected to a lot of “inflation” in the psychoanalytic sense. The wrong guy won the election; consequently, the American political system would collapse and indeed, life as we know it was threatened on a planetary scale. Because it’s all about us Americans and what we do.2)Disclaimer: I did not vote for Donald Trump, but he is not the End of the World either. Get a grip, people.

Like the Christian minister at the luncheon, every speaker assumed that every other person in the hall shared his or her political position.

This assumption was richly ironic, considering that the AAR is always talking about strength-through-diversity, etc. The hall held atheists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, even a couple of Pagans, with all racial groups represented — but politically, apparently, we were a monoculture.

No hedging, no qualifying, no metadiscourse, no reflexivity — this was sermonizing, with the assumption that everyone in the room was the same.

Some of my critical theory-oriented religious-studies friends are always accusing the AAR as being quasi-theological and churchy.3)They usually maintain membership in the North American Association for the Study of Religion as well. This day they would have been right.

Leaving aside President-elect Trump, I started thinking that these “normative political and theological approaches” (to quote Russ McCutcheon’s letter) were also an impediment to my sub-discipline, Pagan studies.4)We practitioner-scholars have already been accused of being “caretakers” rather than “critics,” to use McCutcheon’s terminology.

I am more and more pre-occupied with questions of how, for example, taking polytheism seriously as a way of describing the cosmos challenges some ingrained assumptions that remain within the larger discipline of academic religious studies even in 2016.

Monotheism is just assumed, really. Galina Krasskova described a recent interaction with some of her fellow grad students:

They were teasing me (I’m obviously the only polytheist in the class, and these two knew that so we were throwing good-natured zingers back and forth) about being a polytheist who studies theology and I said something to the effect that we’re taking it back. That actually brought them up short and one said “but you never had it…Pagans didn’t have theology.” I’ve been pondering that (erroneous) statement ever since because it’s not an uncommon attitude in academia.

I am not saying that we in the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group should be doing theology, but we could be asking in a meta- sort of what what Pagan theologians are saying and writing.

We may never be part of the Big Five (or Six) religious traditions in the academy, but we can continue, as Krasskova says, challenging their “unspoken paradigms.” Our little field’s existence in the academy tests all their fine language about diversity.

Notes   [ + ]

1. We have some other connections — I learn that as a teen she babysat my uncle’s kids in Denver
2. Disclaimer: I did not vote for Donald Trump, but he is not the End of the World either. Get a grip, people.
3. They usually maintain membership in the North American Association for the Study of Religion as well.
4. We practitioner-scholars have already been accused of being “caretakers” rather than “critics,” to use McCutcheon’s terminology.

Thoughts on Pagan Studies after the 2016 AAR Meeting (1)

From the 15th through the 23rd, I was either on the road or attending the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.1)Despite its name, it does offer occasional sessions that touch on ancient Pagan religions in the Roman empire. I refer to it as either “10,000 introverts”2)9,500 this year or “my social life for the year.”

Christine Hoff Kraemer switched hats this year, and instead of presenting, wrote a summary of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions for The Wild Hunt, and you should go read it.

As she said, it is my last year as co-chair; we serve a three-year term, renewable once, so I am term-limited. This autumn I had been savoring a sense of relief that I was finished. I was more than ready to pass the responsibility of report-writing and session-organizing to new people. (Since my co-chair lives in Norway, I wound up with most of the bureaucratic responsibilities.)

And then when we had our steering committee meeting to start working on next year’s session, I suddenly had a mild attack of “empty-classroom syndrome,” what you feel at the end of every teaching year, even if you too cannot wait to get out the door, just like the students. I was suddenly a has-been. No more VIP blue ribbon on my name tag!

But life goes on. I invented a new job for myself, collecting archival information on the group — now eleven years old — to help for our next five-year-review. For complicated AAR reasons, the last one was not in 2015, as you might think if you just counted years.

There is all this stuff dumped on my desk: program book, notebooks with notes about books to look for,  information to send to Person X, and ideas for writing.

I talked with a couple of editors in the field of new religious movements about the archive on the Wiccan murder case that I aquired last August, and they were encouraging that it could be a conference presentation and maybe a journal article. I am still not sure how to treat it beyond journalistically; it does not feel like an obvious “new religious movements and violence” thing, but maybe some critical approach will make itself known if I just start writing.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Despite its name, it does offer occasional sessions that touch on ancient Pagan religions in the Roman empire.
2. 9,500 this year

“American Gods” as a Challenge to the Study of Religion

I am still waiting to see American Gods on the screen; meanwhile, scholars of religion are turning to the book and upcoming TV series to see how they challenge conventional views of what “religion” is, particulary in the classroom.

In the first of a series at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog — it’s in the sidebar as “Religion Bulletin” — Eliza Rosenburg writes,

Most people in the [religious studies] discipline would probably skip past the question of who Mr. Wednesday is, and the story dispenses with it quickly as well. Even before it answers the question of his identity for the readers, however, it introduces another question that will inform the rest of the narrative: What, exactly, is “religion”? We raise this old saw in the first session of every introductory class, and American Gods wisely declines to offer another insufficient definition. Instead, the protagonist’s experiences are ones that resonate with a classroom full of curious and frustrated students who have been struggling through an impossible task.

People whose definition of religion is shaped by the question, “What do you/they believe?” are also challenged by the world of American Gods, she writes.

As someone working in Pagan studies, the obvious — to us — differences between the ways that contemporary Pagans create religion are a given, but maybe we don’t explicate them enough. Polytheism vs. monotheism is just part of it.

The article I wrote recently on “Contemporary Pagan, Wiccan, and Native Faith Movements” for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion  “was so fascinating and generated so much interest among our readers,” said an Oxford University Press editor that she invited me to write a blog post. Well, flattery will get you a long way, so of course I said yes. It was published on the 2nd of November. (I wonder why.)

In my blog post, I wanted to talk about how contemporary Pagan traditions challenge ideas of “religion” too, but I had two problems. First, for the presumed audience, I would have to give a bit of a history lesson. Second, there was a 700–1,000 word limit.

As a result, I felt that the title, “Archaic and postmodern, today’s pagans challenge ideas about ‘religion,’” promised more than it delivered. It would have been fun, for example, to take some undergrad religious studies textbooks and assess their explicit and implicit ideas about what religion is, then hold up Pagan trads against that. That might produce a 6,000-word paper, at a minimum. (Put it on the To Do list.)

Meanwhile, watch the Bulletin blog for more reflection on American Gods and religion and other new stuff on the academic study of. There is so much discussion about what “the discipline” is that contemporary Paganism’s challenge is its norms is just one of many. For a sampling, see this entry inspired by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

New Pomegranate Issue Published

Pom headerA new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has been published online and will be available in print before long. Links to all articles are available here. Book reviews are free downloads, but there is a charge for articles.1)But talk to an interlibrary loan librarian.

Articles

“A Hackney Disciple of the Beast 666: A History in Letters”
Christopher Josiffe

“Theoretical, Terminological, and Taxonomic Trouble in the Academic Study of Contemporary Paganism: A Case for Reform”
Ethan Doyle White

“Contemporary Pagans and Stigmatized Identity”
Gwendolyn Reece

Book Reviews
 

Alex Mar, Witches of America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
Reviewed by Mary Catherine Hamner

Patrick Curry, ed. Divination: Perspectives for a New Millennium (New York: Routledge, 2010)
Reviewed by Doe Daughtrey

Loraine Hutchins, and H. Sharif Williams, eds. Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2012)
Reviewed by Christine Hoff Kraemer

Arthur Versluis, Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions (Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, (2007)
Reviewed by Melissa Jame Harrington

Philip Heselton, Doreen Valiente Witch (Nottingham, UK: The Doreen Valiente Foundation in association with The Centre for Pagan Studies, 2016)
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle White

Christine Hoff Kraemer, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake (New York: Routledge, 2014)
Reviewed by Constance Wise

Stephen A. McNallen, Asatru: A Native European Spirituality (Nevada City, Calif.: Runestone Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Jefferson F. Calico

Notes   [ + ]

1. But talk to an interlibrary loan librarian.