Friday, November 25, 2011
American Academy of Religion Conference 2011
I've just come back from a fabulously stimulating time in San Francisco during which I attended the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) conference and the American Academy of Religion (AAR) conference. I'll report on ASOR later and concentrate on the AAR for the moment. Now that I've presented my paper at the AAR I will post my original proposal here - which I wasn't really even sure would be accepted. But it was, so I had to work hard on it, fortunately it was built from the paper I presented mid year at the Archaeology and Narration Conference at Melbourne University. Here it is:
Researching the Past, is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a response by practitioner Pagans to academic research on the history of Pagan religions.
Modern Paganism is a new religious movement with a strong attachment to the past. Looking back through time to an often idealised ancient world, Pagans seek inspiration, validation and authorisation for present beliefs and activities as espoused in the familiar catch-cries of “tradition”, “lineage” and “historical authenticity”. A movement that consciously looks to the past and claims to revive the ancient religious practices of pre-Christian Europe, modern Paganism has always been dependent upon academic scholarship—particularly history, archaeology and anthropology—in its project of self-fashioning. Dependant primarily upon late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholarship, Pagans often vociferously reject more recent research, especially when it contradicts earlier findings, perceiving it as threatening to their structure of beliefs and sense of identity. Not only do the results of such scholarship traumatise Pagans—however unwittingly on the scholars’ part—in some cases it rebounds upon the researchers themselves when Pagans seek to traumatise the scholars, the “bearers of bad news”, in return.
This paper will present case studies which display the contested nature of the past by highlighting the combative interaction between Pagans and academic researchers at three types of site-as-stage: the text, the archaeological site and the museum, and explain how the performers fail to communicate as a result of speaking different “languages”. The paper will initially focus upon the frequently negative reception, by Witches, of recent historical research on modern Pagan Witchcraft. It will also look at Goddess Tours to Crete and other ancient Mediterranean sites, as well as the “new indigene” prevalent in British Druidry and their involvement in the dispute regarding access to and interpretation of archaeological sites and museum objects. The paper will then discuss the infusion into Paganism of hybrid vigour through the activities of the Pagan Studies scholar, a researcher often in the role of participant-observer, who can function as a “go-between”, easing the sense of resentment by Pagans toward the perceived colonisation of their religion by “hackademics”.