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, 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.
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. 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.
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.