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.

Call for Papers: Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World

Information on the upcoming Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World conference in Krakow, Poland, 24-25 March 2017, may be found at this link.

Presentations may address various issues within the following (suggested) topics:

  • Everyday life of contemporary Pagans
  • Understanding human relationships: from till death do us part to polyamory
  • Living in a Pagan family: the ‘second/third generation’ Pagans
  • Celebrating rites de passage in contemporary Paganism
  • Pagan fashion on a daily basis and ritual dress-codes
  • Pagan home altars, sacred images in the home
  • Sacred space: public and private
  • Upbringing children in Pagan traditions
  • Are there any specific Pagan hobbies? Music, historical re-enactment, etc.
  • Pagans and the Television: Game of Thrones, Vikings, etc.
  • Reading preferences & contemporary Pagan literature
  • Pagans and new technologies
  • Pagans in the workplace
  • Paganism and/vs globalization and consumerism

Call for Abstracts: Paganism and Food

Call for abstracts
Feasts of the Gods: Food and Drink in Contemporary Paganism
To be published as part of Equinox Publishing’s Contemporary and Historical Paganism Series

Dear colleagues,

You are invited to submit an abstract for a chapter in a new book on food and drink in Contemporary Paganism.   In this project, we will include an international and interdisciplinary selection of authors and subjects, embracing a variety of Contemporary Pagan traditions on a topic of fundamental human interest: eating and drinking.  In keeping with editorial standards, chapter submissions must be academic in style and methodology, and engage whenever possible with ongoing academic dialogues.  At the same time, given that the topic is food and drink, we would like to also suggest that all of the project’s authors, in addition to the usual academic article, submit a recipe related to the topic of their chapter which will be included in the appendix of the book.  A feast for the mind, and possibly for the palate and stomach as well!  We hope that you will join us at the table.

Topics might include (but are not limited to):
Feasting and celebration. Fasting and abstinence. Food as a signifier of Contemporary Pagan identity. Reconstructionist and Native Faith communities and their use of traditional, ethnic or historical foods.  Slow Food.  Home-brewing of mead, beer, or wine for religious celebrations.  Food production and consumption in Contemporary Pagan ethics.  Vegetarianism and veganism as they relate to Pagan and Animistic relations with animals and animal rights. Sustainable agriculture, organic farming, permaculture, and foraging by Contemporary Pagans.  Pagan ethics, food shopping, and consumerism.  Soup kitchens, food pantries, and Pagan charity. Seasonal eating. Animal sacrifice and meat slaughter. Food in magickal practice. Herbalism in Contemporary Paganism.  Food in alternative approaches to health. Symbolism of food in Contemporary Paganism.  Devotion to deities associated with specific foods (Dionysos and wine, Demeter and grains, etc) Ritual use of alcohol.  Symbolism of wine and cakes in Wicca.  Food at Pagan festivals. Theologies of immanence and food.

Abstracts:
Abstracts for proposed chapters should be no longer than 300 words, written in English, and submitted directly to the editor via email by 30 September 2016.  Please expect confirmation of reception of the submitted abstract.

Editor:
Scott Simpson, Jagiellonian University in Krakow
scott.simpson@uj.edu.pl

Important dates:
Submission of abstracts: 30 September 2016
Decision on abstracts returned to author: 7 October 2016
Submission of chapter manuscripts: 24 March 2017

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.

A Small Victory in the Struggle for the Capital P

I was contacted some time ago to write an article on contemporary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, now in production. After the usual writerly procrastination, I cranked out my 8,000 words (or whatever it was) and sent it in.

Then, in April, the copyedited version arrived for my approval. No problems there — except every instance of the word “Pagan” had been lowercased, except where it began a sentence.

I was quietly furious. The campaign for the capital P is not going to be won in a day.

One thing caught my eye — the editor who had contacted me (not the copyeditor) had a Indian name, Krishnan P_______. So whether a devout Hindu or not, perhaps he would be receptive to an argument based on a sort of semantic parallel. Like this:

  • “Pagan,” like “Hindu,” was a term imposed by outsiders.
  • Like “Hindu,” it covers a variety of worship traditions and philosophies —  admittedly not quite so many. But every bit as old, if you apply it all the way back, which I do.
  • Finally, the people whom it describes have come to use it as a neutral or even positive descriptor of who they are.
  • And publishers and academic groups increasingly use the capital P in the interest of fairness as a parallel to capital-M Muslim and so on.

And to my delight, he replied, “Thanks for writing to me. As per your concern, we will retain the capitalization for the word ‘Pagan’ throughout the article.”

Some British academics have been slow to accept this eminently sensible approach. At least one scholar I know wants to treat “paganism” as a collection of practices that pre-date the Big Five religions but are also found within them.

For instance, in his system, a pilgrimage to a sacred site is “pagan” no matter who does it. So my cousin who is currently four days along the Camino de Santiago (I think he is in Pamplona tonight) is carrying out a “pagan practice.”1)I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that! But I think that “Pagan” has more use as an umbrella for more than the new religious movements usually associated with it.  So onward to lexicological victory!

Notes   [ + ]

1. I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that!

Assessing a New Book on Jesus’ Wife


I used to think that of course Jesus was married — what normal 1st-century small-town Jewish man would not be married? Answer: most of the Essenes, to name one group.

The perennial interest in an actual bloodline of his descendents is periodically stoked by books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code, and more recently, by The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.

Ah, Mary Magdelene, who was she? A minor disciple of the wandering preacher? Or the disciple who understood him best? A wealthy follower who financed his wanderings? His wife and mother of their kids? Some combination of the above? Or as Robert Graves imagined in the 1940s, the priestess of some surviving Canaanite Paganism who sexually conveyed to him a sovereignity over the land — the thesis of his novel King Jesus, which predated The White Goddess by two years.

The Lost Gospel’s authors, “Simcha Jacobovici, author, and TV personality perhaps best known for his series The Naked Archaeologist, along with Prof. Barrie Wilson of York University,” make a textual argument over a  “6th century Syriac text that records the apocryphal tale entitled Joseph and Aseneth.”

So this is a text written some centuries after Jesus lived but maybe copied from a much earlier original about two biblical characters who might be read as allegories for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

My quotes come from a four-part entry on the University of Toronto’s Religion Beat blog, written by Anna Cwikla, a graduate student in religion. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

She pokes some holes in their argument and faults them for taking the rhetorical stance sometimes called “They laughed at Galileo” — If  the established experts  are against me, then I must be right!

But I might still read The Lost Gospel anyway, just for cultural reasons. Whereas we Pagans are comfortable with the idea of female religious leaders, the Middle Eastern monotheisms mostly still are not. Cwikla quotes an MCC pastor:

The possibility of Jesus having a wife sparked positive responses from some female clerics. For example, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson expressed tempered optimism about the fragment’s potential to change the patriarchal position of many Christian denominations: “Will a little snippet of ancient writing change the Christian world? It is possible, and I am hopeful.”

Plus, like The DaVinci Code, the book is “scandalous,” particularly for the Roman Catholic Church. She cites Anthony Le Donne, author of  The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals (another one for the reading list):

By looking to the past for evidence of women as leaders in early Christianity, we are attempting to look for a way to change the longstanding tradition of women having less power in most Christian traditions that is still evident in modern society. By wedding Jesus, we may be trying to make him more “human-like,” or, as Alex Beam suggests: “The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him [Jesus] down to our level.”

There is a potential irony there for the liberal Christians: If you add female clergy but lose the divinity of Jesus, what is left? Where is the “juice” of your religion?

“Religion Watch” Available Online, Open Access

I am putting in a plug for Religion Watch (slogan: “Looking beyond the walls of churches, synagogues and denominational officialdom to examine how religion really affects, and is affected by, the wider society”), published at Baylor University and a good source for scholars of contemporary religion.

The current issue leads with a short article, “Religion goes undercover as publishers seek to reach the ‘nones’“, with this intriguing sentence: “There is also the trend of targeting the ‘dones,’ those who have left their faiths, often with autobiographical accounts of leaving and then rediscovering spirituality and religion.”

Will we see “post-Pagan” memoirs in that vein?

CFP: “Pagan, Goddess, Mother”

DEMETER PRESS

Seeking submissions for an edited collection entitled

Pagan, Goddess, Mother

Editors: Sarah Whedon & Nané Jordan

Deadline for Abstracts: September 1st, 2016

Pagan spirituality and Goddess spirituality are distinct, yet overlapping movements and communities, each with much to say about deity as mother and about human mothers in relationship to deity. The purpose of this collection is to call categories of Pagan and Goddess mothering into focus, to highlight philosophies and experiences of mothers in these various movements and traditions, and to generate new ways of imagining and enacting motherhood.

What is distinctive about Pagan motherhood, what is distinctive about Goddess spirituality motherhood, and where is the overlap? How do these differ, and what does each have to learn from the other? How does study of these communities, philosophies, and practices highlight tensions and insights into gender, motherhood, and embodiment, more broadly? How do mothers in contemporary Pagan and Goddess movements negotiate their mothering roles and identities? What elements of these diverse contemporary traditions inform their experiences? How do theologies, thealogies, and devotions to Mother Goddesses affect experiences of mothering? How do Pagan and Goddess mothers engage with ceremony, ritual, magic, and priestesshood? How do Pagan and Goddess mothers interface with interreligious dialogue, social institutions for children, community leadership, social justice, and the public sphere?

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

The specific theologies, thealogies, mythologies, ethics, or practices of mothers in particular Pagan and/or Goddess traditions; theories of gender, motherhood, or embodiment in Pagan and/or Goddess traditions; Earth Mother, Great Mother, mother Goddess creation stories, eco-spirituality, or the maiden-mother-crone trinity; mothers’ participation in ceremony, ritual, festival, magic, or priestesshood; the relationship between mother Goddess and human mother’s empowerment; pregnancy, birth, early mothering, and beyond; Pagan and/or Goddess spirituality in mom blogging, custody conflict, religious freedom, children’s religious education, or other social institutions; diversity and difference in Pagan and/or Goddess mothering including grandmothering, race, disability, or lgbtq families.

Perspectives are welcomed from a wide range of disciplines and genres, including history, theology, thealogy, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, biography, spiritual autobiography, personal essays, life writing, poetry and artwork.

Submissions Guidelines:

Please send abstracts of approximately 300 words together with a short bio to

Sarah Whedon & Nané Jordan at: pagangoddessmother@gmail.com

by September 1, 2016.

Accepted papers of 4000-5000 words (15-20 pages including references and endnotes) will be due February 1st, 2017. Contributors will be responsible for ensuring that manuscripts adhere to MLA style.

DEMETER PRESS

140 Holland St. West, P.O. Box 13022 Bradford, ON, L3Z 2Y5

(tel) 905-775-5215 http://www.demeterpress.org info@demeterpress.org

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