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.

Being an “Oxbridge Scholar”

Yesterday’s mail brought my contributor’s copy of The Cambridge Handbook of Western Mysticism and Esotericism, to which I contributed an article on contemporary Paganism.

There ought to be a long German compound word for “fear of looking at something you wrote several years ago.”

The back cover of this hefty (2.5 lbs.; 958 g.) volume has the usual blurbs, such as this one from Jeffrey Kripal, whose work I admire: “[Editor] Glenn Magee has brought together a dream team of scholars . . . ”

Then, of course, the voice of doubt: “He didn’t mean you.” But I will take the reflected glory of some of the big names and rising stars in the field, people like Antoine Favre, Joscelyn Godwin, Olav Hammer, Wouter Hanegraaff, Egil Asprem, Hereward Tilton, Hugh Urban, Kocku von Stuckrad, Cathy Gutierrez, Lee Irwin, and many others.

Online, you can read the table of contents, front matter, and index.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I mentioned earlier my struggle to have Paganism capitalized in my entry on same for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.

Some of its entries on are online at that link (not mine as yet). It is a religion nerd’s paradise. Right now the featured online article is “Festivals in Ancient Greece and Rome” by Fritz Graf. (In the entries I have looked at, no one else fought for the capital P.)

So it hit me that although I have yet to set foot at either of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I have — in a small way — been published by both of their university presses. Sitting here in my little house in the pines, that is an odd and interesting thought.

Passing of Nikki Bado

nikki

Nikki recuperating after surgery last November. Photo by Rebecca Sachs Norris on Facebook.

I was just informed today of the passing of an old friend and colleague in Pagan studies, Nikki Bado, who taught at Iowa State University.

She had been on medical leave for the last year or so, and apparently suffered a heart attack after her last surgery.

I have forgotten just when we met, but it must have been at the American Academy of Religion meeting. She helped build the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and worked with me as a co-editor on our book series for Equinox Publishing.

She wrote on Paganism, religion in popular culture, Japanese religious festivals, the body in religion, and pilgrimage, among other topics.

Her longest work on Pagan religion was the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual.

Good friend, priestess, hard-working scholar. She will be missed.

 

Pagan-Studies Scholars Tell Their Stories

Pom header

The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Doug Ezzy (U. of Tasmania).

Doug visited Hardscrabble Creek in November 2014 and while holed up in the guest cabin, speed-reading my library, thought how interesting it might be to get some of the long-time Pagan-studies scholars to tell their stories. How did they get started? What obstacles did they face? Who helped them? And so on.

We drew up a list of people to ask for contributions—all from the English-speaking world for this volume, so I see a second special section ahead in the future. Most were happy to write something.

By arrangement with the publisher, my editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is a free download. Because workers deserve to be paid, the entire special section costs £17.50  (US $25.40), normally the fee for a single article.

Articles

The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond: Vladimir Soloviev, Vasily Rozanov and Dmitry Merezhkovsky,” Dmitry Galtsin

Elements of Magic, Esotericism, and Religion in Shaktism and Tantrism in Light of the Shakti Pitha Kamakhy?” Archana Barua

Special Section – Paths into Pagan Studies: Autobiographical Reflections

“The Pagan Studies Archipelago: Pagan Studies in a Cosmopolitan World,” Douglas Ezzy

“The Old Pomegranate and the New,” Fritz Muntean

“Walking Widdershins,” Wendy Griffin

“Playing Croquet with Hedgehogs: (Still) Becoming a Scholar of Paganism and Animism,” Graham Harvey

“Navigating Academia and Spirituality from a Pagan Perspective,” Michael York

“An Outsider Inside: Studying Contemporary Paganism,” Helen A Berger

“The Owl, the Dragon and the Magician: Reflections on Being an Anthropologist Studying Magic,” Susan Greenwood

“The Academy, the Otherworld and Between,” Kathryn Rountree

“Making the Strange Familiar,” Sarah Pike

“Reflecting on Studying Wicca from within the Academy and the Craft,” Melissa Jane Harrington

“Pagan(ish) Senses and Sensibilities,” Adrian Ivakhiv