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Author Topic: Pagan Studies  (Read 687 times)

Donal2018

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Pagan Studies
« on: December 11, 2018, 04:58:08 pm »
I know there is an interdisciplinary academic field called Pagan Studies that is basically a social study of Neopaganism. I do not know too much about it. I was wondering if anyone here had any thoughts about it?

The Wikipedia article on it mentions that some pagan folks have had problems with some of these academics. I am wondering also if anyone had any positive views about the field? Has the academic study of paganism enriched your own spiritual practices in any way? Or has it been a problem? Or no real relevance at all?

Donal2018

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2018, 07:00:11 pm »
I know there is an interdisciplinary academic field called Pagan Studies that is basically a social study of Neopaganism. I do not know too much about it. I was wondering if anyone here had any thoughts about it?

The Wikipedia article on it mentions that some pagan folks have had problems with some of these academics. I am wondering also if anyone had any positive views about the field? Has the academic study of paganism enriched your own spiritual practices in any way? Or has it been a problem? Or no real relevance at all?

Maybe I should have posted this under Book Discussions or Academic Book Discussions? Although I am not asking about a particular book, but rather opinions about the academic field of Pagan Studies in general.

Redfaery

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2018, 07:44:03 pm »
Maybe I should have posted this under Book Discussions or Academic Book Discussions? Although I am not asking about a particular book, but rather opinions about the academic field of Pagan Studies in general.
I have no experience with the field, aside from poking at Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon." I really want to dig deeper into the history of Paganism as a movement, but even though my local community college had really awesome courses available on the history of Christianity and the Bible, I don't think Pagan Studies would have been feasible. I mean, my teacher in the OT and NT history classes (A Quaker minister whom I view as a mentor.) Wasn't even able to garner enough interest in a history of Islam... the environment was pretty hostile.

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Donal2018

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2018, 08:14:03 pm »
I have no experience with the field, aside from poking at Hutton's "Triumph of the Moon." I really want to dig deeper into the history of Paganism as a movement, but even though my local community college had really awesome courses available on the history of Christianity and the Bible, I don't think Pagan Studies would have been feasible. I mean, my teacher in the OT and NT history classes (A Quaker minister whom I view as a mentor.) Wasn't even able to garner enough interest in a history of Islam... the environment was pretty hostile.

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That is really unfortunate. I think the whole spectrum of views should be studied. I am sort of an old professional student type, but never really did any Religious Studies at my University. They do offer courses in the Bible, Christianity, Islam, Eastern Religions. I have never seen anything on Paganism/Neopaganism. They do also have a Classics Department that teaches Greek and Roman Mythology and related stuff. Anyway, I think that I will look more into Pagan Studies on the Internet. Maybe there are some Online Courses offered somewhere. I will report back to this thread at some point. Thanks for your response.

MamaThistle

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2018, 08:28:46 pm »
I know there is an interdisciplinary academic field called Pagan Studies that is basically a social study of Neopaganism. I do not know too much about it. I was wondering if anyone here had any thoughts about it?

The Wikipedia article on it mentions that some pagan folks have had problems with some of these academics. I am wondering also if anyone had any positive views about the field? Has the academic study of paganism enriched your own spiritual practices in any way? Or has it been a problem? Or no real relevance at all?

I have found academic sources on paganism useful, unfortunately it is not a popular subject area in academia. I have several of Ronald Huttons books and I find him useful and authoritative. As my focus is on Celtic (mostly Irish) polytheism, there are some scholarly articles on the mythology, gods, goddesses, etc. that I have found interesting. I also have found a few recently on tarot. However, they are generally few and far between. Clearly we need to all get PhDs.  ;)
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Jenett

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2018, 08:52:09 am »
The Wikipedia article on it mentions that some pagan folks have had problems with some of these academics. I am wondering also if anyone had any positive views about the field? Has the academic study of paganism enriched your own spiritual practices in any way? Or has it been a problem? Or no real relevance at all?

On why it's sometimes a problem: many Pagan communities are very cautious about being studied by outsiders. Sometimes this is because of concerns about privacy (and related discrimination if private information is revealed.) Sometimes it's about disruptions to their practice. Sometimes it's concerns about misrepresentation. Sometimes it's because their particular path or tradition involves full participation and/or oaths and commitments (and therefore, an outsider studying them either isn't getting the full picture, or would be breaking oaths in talking about a sizeable chunk of their experience).

And in particular, earlier on in the development of the field, there were several instances where researchers were not particularly forthright about their goals - leading to problems in all four of these areas. Which makes people who know the history understandably wary.

I'm a librarian and geek: I find the academic approaches intellectually interesting, but they are usually not my priority for reading, because I am far more interested in the work of people actually following, practicing, teaching, and otherwise doing the same things I'm doing - not people studying them at one remove. The academics I've preferred to read have all tended to be people who are also practitioners within the religious community (even if they're sometimes studying aspects that are not part of their own direct practice), but that does present some challenges on the academic front.

The other - and sometimes very significant - aspect is that in general, academic publishing is interested in different things (in terms of content, investigation, etc.) than practitioners are. Practitioners can certainly use some of that research, but it needs to be reviewed carefully, assumptions unwoven, and it needs to be looked at with a critical eye regarding those different goals and needs.

There are also a lot of issues depending on where the academic is in their professional life - tenure systems are changing a lot, but there's a significant difference many times between research someone is going to focus on before tenure and after they've been tenured a while (when they may be willing to take more chances). There are a whole set of professional pressures that shape research choices, and many of them are often invisible to non-academic readers unless they know how academic publishing and academia work.

I've got an essay on my Seeking site that talks about some of the issues, for the curious (it started as a thread on the forum, which is linked to, with comments from a couple of academics in varying fields, since the other issue is that a number of specific issues can be field-specific.)
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MamaThistle

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2018, 10:55:10 am »
I've got an essay on my Seeking site that talks about some of the issues, for the curious (it started as a thread on the forum, which is linked to, with comments from a couple of academics in varying fields, since the other issue is that a number of specific issues can be field-specific.)

Thank you, Jenett!  ;D
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Donal2018

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2018, 04:42:18 pm »
On why it's sometimes a problem: many Pagan communities are very cautious about being studied by outsiders. Sometimes this is because of concerns about privacy (and related discrimination if private information is revealed.) Sometimes it's about disruptions to their practice. Sometimes it's concerns about misrepresentation. Sometimes it's because their particular path or tradition involves full participation and/or oaths and commitments (and therefore, an outsider studying them either isn't getting the full picture, or would be breaking oaths in talking about a sizeable chunk of their experience).

And in particular, earlier on in the development of the field, there were several instances where researchers were not particularly forthright about their goals - leading to problems in all four of these areas. Which makes people who know the history understandably wary.

I'm a librarian and geek: I find the academic approaches intellectually interesting, but they are usually not my priority for reading, because I am far more interested in the work of people actually following, practicing, teaching, and otherwise doing the same things I'm doing - not people studying them at one remove. The academics I've preferred to read have all tended to be people who are also practitioners within the religious community (even if they're sometimes studying aspects that are not part of their own direct practice), but that does present some challenges on the academic front.

The other - and sometimes very significant - aspect is that in general, academic publishing is interested in different things (in terms of content, investigation, etc.) than practitioners are. Practitioners can certainly use some of that research, but it needs to be reviewed carefully, assumptions unwoven, and it needs to be looked at with a critical eye regarding those different goals and needs.

There are also a lot of issues depending on where the academic is in their professional life - tenure systems are changing a lot, but there's a significant difference many times between research someone is going to focus on before tenure and after they've been tenured a while (when they may be willing to take more chances). There are a whole set of professional pressures that shape research choices, and many of them are often invisible to non-academic readers unless they know how academic publishing and academia work.

I've got an essay on my Seeking site that talks about some of the issues, for the curious (it started as a thread on the forum, which is linked to, with comments from a couple of academics in varying fields, since the other issue is that a number of specific issues can be field-specific.)

Thanks for the good response. I read your article on academia. It was good. I am sort of familiar with that stuff because I was a professional student for a long time. I only got a B.A., but I went back to College as an Non-traditional Student (Adult Student).

I bring that up because most of my friends during that time were Graduate Students. I was closer in age and background to the Grad Students versus the younger Undergrads. I sort of lived the Grad Student lifestyle even though I was just doing Undergraduate work. In any case, I saw academia up close through their eyes and experiences.

I appreciate your thorough and well thought out responses as a geek and a librarian. I am a geek and a book lover myself as well. I have thought that maybe if someone were to study this type of sub-culture (paganisms), the anthropological approach might be the best way to go, since various paganisms are more about practices than abstract beliefs.

Anthropologists engage in Participant Observation, whereby they try to become part of the culture and sub-culture that they are studying. I knew a Doctoral Student in Anthropology that lived amongst Muslim women in North Africa. She had numerous problems being accepted in that culture, but eventually gained their respect and access.

Anyway, my point is that Anthropologists tend to have experience in sensitive issues of culture and participation that maybe social scientists from other fields might not so much. Just an observation.

One thing that occurs to me is that pagan folk might be able to get more respect for their religions and practices by being written about. Sort of good academic PR? This is just a speculation on my part, but maybe academic studies of paganism might lend some social legitimacy to paganism?

Just some thoughts. Thanks again for your response.

Jenett

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2018, 05:25:09 pm »
Anthropologists engage in Participant Observation, whereby they try to become part of the culture and sub-culture that they are studying. I knew a Doctoral Student in Anthropology that lived amongst Muslim women in North Africa. She had numerous problems being accepted in that culture, but eventually gained their respect and access.

Anyway, my point is that Anthropologists tend to have experience in sensitive issues of culture and participation that maybe social scientists from other fields might not so much. Just an observation.

Unfortunately, it's anthropologists who particularly burned their bridges in some of the early attempts, and a lot of older groups/traditions are now very cautious.

(Also, as noted, it doesn't solve the problem of oathbound material at all, or of things like 'we consider confidences shared in circle to be oathbound'. It's impossible in those settings to both be an academic observer *and* a true participant, and not being the latter involves lying and being an oathbreaker. Something has to give somewhere. I do know a few cases where specific access was negotiated for particular projects, but it didn't involve the academic becoming a full part of the tradition, just access to open-to-guests events.)

Even then, it can be very scary and destabilising for members of the groups - most Pagans who've been doing this for more than a few years in community (i.e. not practice on their own) have a few stories about religion being used against people in jobs, custody battles, social discrimination, etc. and a bad choice at a particularly vulnerable time in someone's life can have really destructive effects on that person and the group as a whole. Not anything a responsible group leadership should do lightly. 

Quote
One thing that occurs to me is that pagan folk might be able to get more respect for their religions and practices by being written about. Sort of good academic PR? This is just a speculation on my part, but maybe academic studies of paganism might lend some social legitimacy to paganism?

This assumes that a) Pagans specifically want more social legitimacy (many don't, especially those in smaller oathbound trads) and b) that academic studies would convince the people who are not already inclined to be open-minded (it probably wouldn't help much). In other words, this is a solution to the wrong set of problems, as presented.
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Donal2018

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Re: Pagan Studies
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2018, 06:08:31 pm »
Unfortunately, it's anthropologists who particularly burned their bridges in some of the early attempts, and a lot of older groups/traditions are now very cautious.

(Also, as noted, it doesn't solve the problem of oathbound material at all, or of things like 'we consider confidences shared in circle to be oathbound'. It's impossible in those settings to both be an academic observer *and* a true participant, and not being the latter involves lying and being an oathbreaker. Something has to give somewhere. I do know a few cases where specific access was negotiated for particular projects, but it didn't involve the academic becoming a full part of the tradition, just access to open-to-guests events.)

Even then, it can be very scary and destabilising for members of the groups - most Pagans who've been doing this for more than a few years in community (i.e. not practice on their own) have a few stories about religion being used against people in jobs, custody battles, social discrimination, etc. and a bad choice at a particularly vulnerable time in someone's life can have really destructive effects on that person and the group as a whole. Not anything a responsible group leadership should do lightly. 

This assumes that a) Pagans specifically want more social legitimacy (many don't, especially those in smaller oathbound trads) and b) that academic studies would convince the people who are not already inclined to be open-minded (it probably wouldn't help much). In other words, this is a solution to the wrong set of problems, as presented.

Yes, I did not really calculate discrimination against pagan folks into it. I am waking up to that here. I personally am not part of a pagan community. I am sort of a Universalist Monk, and so my personal spirituality is very private. So I am fairly well private and protected. It bothers me that many are not protected.

I can imagine that religious and social discrimination could be a very serious thing, as you point out. It sort of outrages me that people can not be open about their beliefs in 21st Century America. I am big on Constitutional Law, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, etc. People need to be free to think what they want, believe what they want, and associate with whomever they want. Any opposition to this is anti-democratic and authoritarian. And that is just in America. I am not really sure what the political and social realities are in other countries.

I can respect that many practitioners do not want or need any more social legitimacy. It just seems that from a practical point of view it might cut down on some of the discrimination that you mention. Privacy is also a fundamental right, even if not explicitly in the U.S. Constitution. And you are probably right that academic legitimacy is probably not going to change many minds. Anyway, thanks for the perspective on Pagan Studies and the implications of it in pagan communities.

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