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.”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.