The Future of Contemporary Paganism: Holding Paradox (Part One)

[This is a partial response to our March series, “As Pagans, what do we hope to build?” It’s an edited version of an essay that appeared in the Patheos Press collection The Future of Religion in 2012, and it contains part of my answer to this question — but stay tuned for Part Two! –CHK]


Pagans are facing a series of issues that challenge American Paganism’s most immediate origins in the individualistic, grassroots counterculture of the 1960s. We often resist the institutionalization of our religions for the same reasons that many of us left mainstream churches and synagogues: we fear that the intensity of our spirituality and its sense of authenticity will be lost, that our practice will become stagnant and rote. Today’s Pagans are mostly solitary practitioners with loose or occasional affiliations with groups (79% identify as solitaries, according to sociologist Helen Berger). Many are hungry for more substantial experience and training than can be had from books and the internet. Additionally, Pagan families often long for stable religious communities in which to raise children, celebrate marriages, and mourn their dead. Yet the movement’s intense focus on personal spirituality looks superficially incompatible with sustainable institutions.

The challenge of contemporary Paganism’s future is to maintain an apparent paradox: to meet the needs of a growing movement without losing the passion and alternative vision that drew so many converts to Pagan traditions.

Individuality vs. Community

Pagans today most commonly gather in small groups with fluid membership and for large festivals that last for several days. Some Pagan nonprofits have successfully purchased land on which to hold gatherings, and urban groups have also attempted to start Pagan community centers, although many of these efforts have been hobbled by a weak economy and by a lack of clarity around their mission. Community centers usually attempt to provide ritual and classroom space for local Pagan groups, as well as space for social events, but the need for such spaces has often not been strong enough to make the centers financially sustainable.

Pagans of the future will need to develop institutions that do more than welcome diversity—they will need to harness diversity into collective work that meaningfully binds individuals into community. Since Pagans’ practices are so diverse, they often can only gather into large groups for worship by creating ritual that is relatively generic. Worship cannot be at the heart of a Pagan community center the way it is at a church. The shared work of Pagan institutions must concretely benefit Pagans from a variety of traditions, whether that means focusing on social justice projects such as hunger or homelessness; building Pagan-owned businesses on a cooperative model; providing networking or shared space for Pagan-specific goods and services; or creating Pagan homeschooling collectives. Pagans will financially support Pagan institutions only when those institutions allow individuals to express their religious values in more areas of their lives.

Professionalism vs. Egalitarianism

British Wicca came to America in the hands of individuals and small covens in which there was no laity—all were initiated as priests or priestesses. Mixed with American egalitarianism, this led to an eclectic American Wicca in which nonhierarchy was a common practice. In subsequent decades, many other Pagan traditions have continued to embrace this ideal. As the Pagan movement has grown, however, Paganism’s lack of professional clergy has become a stumbling block. Pagans often have difficulty finding Pagan clergy who have the professional skills to help them with difficult life transitions (for example, licensed counselors, hospital and prison chaplains, etc.). Pagan leaders are usually volunteers with families and day jobs. The hard work of facilitating a group, planning large events, and building and maintaining nonprofits often leads to volunteer burnout. Volunteers also often lack formal training in ministry, nonprofit administration, or counseling and are not always well-prepared for the stresses and challenges of leadership.

Pagans, however, are resistant to the idea of paid, professional clergy, as they fear that paid clergy will form an elite class that takes decision-making power and opportunities for creativity away from volunteers. Pagans must balance the need for professional Pagan services with the desire to continue to actively empower volunteers as leaders in the community. Nonhierarchical religious groups such as the Society of Friends (the Quakers) may help to provide models of how individuals with various levels of training might still function in a community as peers with differing roles.

Intimacy vs. Inclusivity

The contemporary Paganism of the 1960s and 1970s—strongly influenced by British Wicca—focused on emotionally intimate small groups. Some of these were oathbound covens who kept the details of their rituals a secret; others were empowerment groups (often for women, gay men, or lesbians) where personal sharing and confidentiality were paramount. Feeling that secrecy is no longer necessary for protection, Pagans now often enter the movement through large public workshops, book groups, and distance learning. While there are legitimate concerns about how secrecy can create an unhealthy power dynamic in small groups, young Pagans are often unaware that the practice of confidentiality is also a powerful group bonding tool. Pagans who see their religion as having a mission to change the world, especially in the realms of ecological issues and human rights, tend to be radically inclusive and sometimes demand that other Pagans be as well. Pagans who have experienced the support of a closely bonded small group, however, sometimes resist such inclusivity because for them, intimacy and trust are necessary precursors for deep spiritual experience.

Clashes between these two value systems have sometimes led to extended conflicts between groups and individuals who are otherwise fairly like-minded. Take, for example, an incident at the 2011 conference PantheaCon where transgendered women were turned away (perhaps inadvertently) from a Dianic women-only ritual. The incident has sparked an enormous amount of emotionally charged writing on the right of groups to hold exclusive rituals in public spaces, the social impact of exclusive rituals on Pagan community, and the legitimacy of gender-essentialist theologies. Some Dianics have charged that transwomen make a space “unsafe” for women who have been traumatized by men and have asserted their right to a particular kind of gender-exclusive intimacy, even at a large conference event. Queer and transgender activists have answered that such events splinter Pagan community and should at minimum be private events. Others, in turn, have questioned the moral rightness of having exclusive groups or confidentiality at all. Traditions that retain oathbound lore or have idiosyncratic rules for membership have sometimes felt assaulted by would-be students who feel entitled to entry. Pagans have a great deal of work to do in order to preserve the powerfully transformative effect of the intimate group, while also creating a wider Pagan movement that can protect their civil liberties as members of minority religions.

Conclusion

Pagans frequently fear institutionalization because we do not want our religions to compromise their values. The movement, however, has grown too large; institutions will inevitably form in response to needs. In order for those institutions to reflect non-mainstream values, however, they must be structured in non-mainstream ways. Pagans will not thrive in the structure of traditional churches; we must build something new. The struggle to creatively embed paradoxical values—individuality and community, professionalism and egalitarianism, intimacy and inclusivity—into institutions is the primary Pagan challenge for the new century.

Pagan Tea Times with John Halstead and Fritz Muntean

My Pagan Tea Times spilled into March — but I hope they won’t be my last for the year!

John Halstead got a lot of baby face time, as I was bouncing the baby on my knee for about half our call, and that of course led naturally to talking about our kids and families. Most of the Pagans in my life (with a few valuable exceptions) don’t have children, so it’s nice to talk to other Pagans who have coped with similar limitations and had some of the same joys. John and I talked a lot of brass tacks — how to encourage writer engagement on websites, experiences writing for different web venues, etc. — but I also enjoyed hearing about how John was first inspired to start blogging and his trip to PantheaCon. Bonus: he’s now reading my latest book!

Next, I sat down with Fritz Muntean, a colleague from the American Academy of Religion and co-founder of NROOGD back in the 1960s. Fritz often comes off as combative online, and he confesses that he loves a good argument, but in person he’s soft-spoken, good-humored, and a big fan of babies. (My little one also joined me for the end of this call!) We talked about the potential role of humor in deflating conflict, the founding of The Pomegranate (now a peer-reviewed journal of Pagan Studies), and subcultural standards of what constitutes civility on the internet, especially related to the recent article in The Nation about “toxic Twitter feminism.” Reading that article later led me down a fascinating rabbit hole of criticism and rebuttal, some of which was mysterious to me, as the article left me with a positive impression of the WOC feminist (Mikki Kendall) that most opponents claimed the article was critical of. I suppose I already knew that what’s considered offensive relies heavily on context and on how the person doing the speaking is perceived. Much to unpack there — I’m adding another item to the list of articles I wish I had time to write. I also had a good time hearing about Fritz’ background as a carpenter, his pursuit of a Master’s degree in his fifties, and his love of drag. Perhaps most surprising of all, though, I found Fritz to be an excellent active listener — not what I would have expected from our online interactions.

May all your Tea Times past and future be this productive and fun!

 

All the Pagan Tea Times You Can Drink!

I have so enjoyed meeting other writers face to face!

John Beckett and I were actually able to meet in person — serendipity arranged for John to be driving by the little Texas town where I was visiting family early in February. We met at a groovy little sandwich shop, where we expressed mutual surprise that neither of us was quite what the other had expected (John said I was taller, and I hadn’t imagined his Tennessee accent). We talked about our work (paid and otherwise), our religious traditions, Unitarian Universalism, and Texas. I was particularly struck by John’s remark that he really values his “straight” job, because it removes any incentive to compromise his spiritual work — a temptation that could arise if he made his living by it. The fact that John listens so well makes him a particularly delightful tea time companion!

I had a somewhat short conversation with Julian Betkowski, but it’s spawned lots of juicy private correspondence, so I consider it a roaring success. More than anyone else I chatted with, Julian and I skipped the small talk and grappled with big issues: the question of whether a devotional Polytheist split from the Pagan movement would be a healthy thing, the effects of trying to do theology in a blog medium (which, unfortunately, is a medium readers are conditioned to skim at top speed), the way subcultural communities reproduce the hierarchical politics of the overculture they’re embedded in, and more. My brain was nicely exercised and fed.

David Dashifen Kees (also known as Dash) lives in my area and was able to come to my house and drink tea with me while I bounced the baby. Dash has had his fingers in *so* many important Pagan and interfaith projects as a tech person and/or volunteer — I found myself making a mental list of awesome things he could help make happen. I really enjoyed hearing about Dash’s partner, a veterinarian, and their many, many animals. We also geeked out about tattoos. It was a good time!

I also got to catch up with Henry Buchy, who’s already a friend, but from whom I always learn something new — and not always what I expected. This time I got away with a book recommendation and the urge to learn more about the stock market. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that witches have narrow interests. 😉

The official month of Pagan Tea Times is coming to an end, but I hope the live conversations will go on! Keep an eye on Agora for when I do a  round-up of Tea Time posts.

Tea Times with Aine Llewellyn and Rhyd Wildermuth

I’ve had some fantastic Tea Times this past week! I sat down with Aine Llewellyn (who pronounces her name “ahn-yah”) and Rhyd Wildermuth (who pronounces his name “reed”) for some juicy conversations that, alas, were far too complex to easily summarize here. But a few tidbits:

My favorite bit with Aine was chatting about the role of career (i.e. long-term paying work) as part of an integrated religious life. We discussed our perception of how damaging it is to live hand to mouth — not because of a choice to live in simplicity, but because of a discomfort with money or an unwillingness to work a “straight” job. We talked about surprising ways that our studies in school and our paying jobs have provided skills that enhanced our spiritual practices and understanding. I would love to see more Pagans embrace the power that comes from having money — and then use that power to build community and make art that’s in tune with their values.

Rhyd and I benefited from my having excellent child care that day, and our chat went on for two and a half hours! We talked a great deal about how to support constructive dialogue in both intra- and interfaith contexts and about the role of alternative religions in critiquing mainstream society — as well as the awkwardness that can result when a formerly countercultural religion begins to gain a little acceptance (i.e. when a religion is still far from mainstream, but no longer on the fringe). Rhyd also gave me a juicy historical tidbit that I’m anxious to explore — the fact that the extremely active pre-WWII gay culture of Berlin produced a great deal of erotic theological writing (much of it in praise of Eros). It’s a shame that American Pagans are largely unaware of Pagan history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as represented by groups like this.

Both conversations touched on the position of alternative religions in relationship to centers of power in American culture. There are advantages to being in the margins and on the fringe — that’s where innovation happens, and a counterculture is necessary in order to challenge and perhaps even periodically refresh mainstream culture. Is it possible to move toward the center just enough to gain basic protections and civil liberties, yet retain a subversive, exploratory edge?

Aine, Rhyd, it was delightful — let’s do it again sometime!

Tea Time Update and Chair Position at Cherry Hill Seminary

I am thrilled to see how much various writers seem to be enjoying Pagan Tea Time — and February’s only just begun!

Just to recap, Pagan Tea Time is an informal event encouraging writers and commenters to get together in real time, either in person or over video chat.

During the month of February, if you write online, make a date to have a cup of tea (or food or drink of your choice) with another writer or commenter. Even better, be daring, and make it someone you’ve argued with. Those of you who are attending PantheaCon will have numerous opportunities to eat and drink and talk together in person, and I hope you will take them! But for those who won’t be there, I invite you to take a risk: e-mail someone (or more than one!) whose voice you’ve never heard before and ask them for an hour of their time via video chat (or failing that, phone). Get a glimpse of their pets or babies or partners. Show off your altar or your book collection or the way the sunlight slants into your kitchen. Put away your debates for a while and take the time to talk. Debates can come later.

If you participate, please write something about it online (respecting your chat partners’ privacy, of course!).

So far, I’ve seen some great reports of Tea Times involving Rhyd Wildermuth, Conor O’Bryan Warren, and a three-way chat between John Halstead, Sannion, and Galina Krasskova (wow!). I haven’t had any tea times with people I haven’t already met yet — one of the blessings of being managing editor here is that getting together with writers via video chat happens semi-routinely, as does attending conferences, so I’ve met many of you already. (Yay!) I did get to do a nice catch-up with Niki Whiting, though, and I have a few more dates set for next month.

Gentle readers, please feel free to hit me up for Tea Time, although due to simultaneously working, being primary caregiver to a tiny baby, and teaching a class, I can’t promise that our schedules will line up. But I will try. 🙂 ckraemer at patheos dot com is the e-mail to use.

And if you write about your Tea Times, let me know! I’m collecting the links and will post a round-up in March on Agora.

Image adapted from Banquet cup-bearer Louvre G467, by a Euaion Painter. Public domain.


In other news, Cherry Hill Seminary is looking for a new chair of Theology and Religious History! This is a great opportunity to serve an exciting Pagan organization while simultaneously building your online education resume. Check out the call:

Position:  Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious History
to begin May, 2014

Effective Date: one year with possible renewal

Minimum Qualifications:  Ph.D. in Religious Studies, Masters in Divinity or other terminal degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution; support for core values of Cherry Hill Seminary and Pagan-centered ministry; experience working constructively with those in the Pagan community; comfort with web-based classroom and other communications technology needed to deliver high quality courses, such as Moodle and Skype, or willingness to learn via tutorial offered by CHS; access to both computer and telephone; regular access to high speed internet

 

DUTIES: Oversees course offerings:  including scheduling, faculty hiring, supervision, and evaluation; syllabi review; course development; other tasks as assigned by the administration

TIME: 
Approximately ten hours a week, flex-time

COMPENSATION: Free tuition each semester in one class offered at Cherry Hill Seminary, the opportunity to teach an occasional course and receive regular faculty fees, and the knowledge that you are helping to build a lasting institution that reflects your goals and values.  Unfortunately, this is all that can be offered at the current time.

REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION: Your letter of intent; curriculum vitae; three letters of recommendation; official transcript from institution awarding M. Div. or highest degree.

Letters of intent should be sent to wgriffin@cherryhillseminary.org. Hard copies of all letters and original transcripts should be sent to Cherry Hill Seminary, P.O. Box 5405, Columbia, SC  29250-5405

Cherry Hill Seminary prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, political belief or affiliation, veteran status, or sexual orientation and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under state or federal law in any aspect of the access to, admission, or treatment of students in its programs and activities, or in employment and application for employment. Furthermore, Seminary policy includes prohibitions of harassment of students and employees, i.e., racial harassment, sexual harassment, and retaliation for filing complaints of discrimination.

For more information about teaching at Cherry Hill, go to http://www.cherryhillseminary.org/faculty_teaching.html

 

Building Pagan Intellectual Culture Face to Face

For years, I’ve said that one of my goals in life is to help build a contemporary Pagan intellectual culture. That desire has led me to teach at Cherry Hill Seminary, to write general-audience and academic books on Pagan theology, and of course, to manage writers and blog here at Patheos Pagan. And yet, one of the more powerful methods I know of building Pagan intellectual culture was something I stumbled upon, rather than something I actively sought out.

I’m an initiate of a non-Wiccan religious witchcraft tradition. There are relatively few other initiates of that tradition in my local area, however, so a couple of years ago, I sought out a local Wiccan family of covens. I wanted others to work with spiritually, an existing structure I could join (rather than having to create one myself), and support for the challenging process of having my first child. Happily, I’ve found all of that and more.

Although I didn’t know about it when I first approached my coven, there’s a second group that runs alongside it, often drawing in members from other covens, friends, and guests: a philosophical and literature discussion group facilitated by one of my covenmates. This covenmate was educated at a small liberal arts college with a “Great Books” program, and he designed the structure of the discussion group in the style of a forma liberal arts seminar (while also keeping a bit of ritual theory in mind).

Here’s how it works.

Each month, we read a book: popular fiction (dystopian and utopian novels are a favorite genre); literary fiction, like Candide; modern social or historical commentary, like Neil Postman’s Technopoly; or classics of philosophy, like The Symposium (which we actually repeat once a year). Next, we gather in person with a set start and end time – no Pagan Standard Time here. Once gathered, we sit around a table so everyone can see each other, books in hand, pitchers of water in the center, and glasses for each of us. Alcohol consumption and snacks are put off until the formal discussion is finished. To open the seminar, a participant offers an opening question (usually a different person each meeting). And then we’re off!

Although the subject matter is always different, our discussions often circle around the recurring question of “What is a good life?” or, more simply, “What is the good?” (No doubt this is partially due to the fact that the group spent its entire first year reading Plato – although there are few questions more fundamental.) We debate; we play out thought experiments; at times we apply the books to our lives and communities, and at others we explore pure abstraction (like the time we read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and then worked through a number of the proofs in Euclid’s Elements – yes, seriously!).

For me, this group is a bit like being in college again, when I was thirsty to know everything, and my close friends and I would come home from class with heads full of new ideas and talk for hours—about beauty and what it means to be human, about society and what we wanted from our future. We are all a little older now, and probably more practical. But the discussions with my covenmates and our friends are juicy, and more importantly, they inform the choices we make: How do we use our resources? What is the purpose of education, or religious practice? What values do we teach our children? These discussions work their way into our writing, nonprofit mission statements, classroom curricula, art, and the way they approach patients or clients.

Notably, this discussion group is relatively devoid of the kind of vicious contentiousness we often see in the Pagan blogosphere. I don’t think we are significantly more like-minded than I am with those I carry on conversations with online; in some ways, we may be less so. But here’s the real difference: we do ritual together. We eat and drink together. We take care of each others’ pets and babies. And, perhaps most simply, we sit down around a table together and talk while looking each other in the eye.

Of course, it’s hardly the case that no one loses their temper while debating philosophy in personquite the contrary. But it helps us greatly, I think, that the table is a ritual space every bit as much as our temple. The table is a place where we temporarily set our personal investments aside. It is a place where we play and experiment together, not so much a place to argue or persuade (although, argument can be a kind of play, as anyone who has ever argued something they didn’t actually believe knows!). At the table, we respect each other, but not necessarily each other’s ideasthe ideas are all open to question. And, perhaps more importantly, the table is a place where we are clear that we have thoughts, but that we are not defined by our thoughts. We do not come to the table with ideological labels: a Marxist, a classical liberal, a secular humanist, a theist, a nihilist. All these ideas are the objects we put in the center of the table to play with together, perhaps to reclaim ownership of in the end. The ritual space makes it possible to explore, defend, or attack ideas without attacking people—instead, we come to the table as friends and intellectual playmates.

I’ve come to love the culture that the combination of coven and philosophical discussion group creates: the intuitive and the rational all tangled up together in community with the bonds of ritual. It’s also made me realize that not everyone knows how to participate in a seminar-style discussion, where we lay aside our ideological commitments for a specific purpose. I would love to see more Pagan groups learn to create and nurture spaces for intellectual exploration and play, held in a container of bodies, voices, and breath. To be growthful, our debates need to take place in the context of relationship, where the goal is not to persuade or win, but to seek understanding, train limber minds, and gain valuable colleagues.

Of course, not all of us are fortunate enough to have local groups to practice and learn with. I suggest the next best thing—to take some of our conversations out of the realm of text alone and add sight and sound. If we can’t be bodily in the same room with each other, video chat software at least lets us see each other’s body language and hear the intonation of each other’s voices. It is vitally important, if we want to build Pagan intellectual culture, that we know one another in a way more profound than mere words on a screen.

So here’s my proposition: during the month of February, if you write online, make a date to have a cup of tea (or food or drink of your choice) with another writer or commenter. Even better, be daring, and make it someone you’ve argued with. Those of you who are attending PantheaCon will have numerous opportunities to eat and drink and talk together in person, and I hope you will take them! But for those who won’t be there, I invite you to take a risk: e-mail someone (or more than one!) whose voice you’ve never heard before and ask them for an hour of their time via video chat (or failing that, phone). Get a glimpse of their pets or babies or partners. Show off your altar or your book collection or the way the sunlight slants into your kitchen. Put away your debates for a while and take the time to talk. Debates can come later.

How do I grow Pagan intellectual culture?

I form relationships. Won’t you join me this February?

P.S. Feel free to grab the graphic above for your blog or site! And if you participate, I hope you’ll write something about it online (respecting your chat partners’ privacy, of course!).

Petition to Capitalize “Pagan” – Chicago Manual / AP Stylebook Letter

If you are a scholar or author and would like to add your name to this petition, click here for an electronic version at Change.org (set up at the original organizer’s request).

FROM:
Coalition of Scholars in Pagan Studies
PO Box 758, Cotati, CA 94931-0758 USA
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CapitalizePagan
CapitalizePagan@yahoogroups.com
Contact: Oberon Zell (Oberon@mcn.org)

TO:
Chicago Manual of Style
ATTN: Anita Samen, Managing Editor
The University of Chicago Press
1427 East 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637

AP Stylebook
The Associated Press
P.O. Box 415458
Boston, MA 02241-5458

 

To the Editors of the Associated Press Stylebook

and the Chicago Manual of Style: A petition

 

November 30, 2013

 

Dear Editors,

We the undersigned are a coalition of academic scholars and authors in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Pagan studies represents a growing field in academy and the American Academy of Religion has had “Contemporary Pagan Studies” as part of its programming for more than a decade. We are approaching you with a common concern.

The word “Pagan” derives from pagus, the local unit of government in the Latin-speaking Roman Empire, and thus pagan referred to the traditional “Old Religion” of the countryside, as opposed to Christianity, the new religion with universal aspirations. Paganism, therefore, was by definition pre-Christian religion. Over time, with the expansion of the Roman Church, “pagan” became a common pejorative by Christians toward any non-Judeo-Christian religion.

In the 19th century, the terms pagan and paganism were adopted by anthropologists to designate the indigenous folk religions of various cultures, and by Classical scholars and romantic poets to refer to the religions of the great ancient pre-Christian civilizations of the Mediterranean region (as in the phrase, “pagan splendor,” often used in reference to Classical Greece).

Today, the terms Pagan and Paganism (capitalized) refer to alternative nature-based religions, whose adherents claim their identity as Pagan. Pagans seek attunement with nature and view humanity as a functional organ within the greater organism of Mother Earth (Gaea). Contemporary Pagans hearken to traditional and ancient pagan cultures, myths, and customs for inspiration and wisdom.

Thus contemporary Paganism (sometimes referred to as “Neo-Paganism” to distinguish it from historical pre-Christian folk traditions) should be understood as a revival and reconstruction of ancient nature-based religions, or religious innovation inspired by them, which is adapted for the modern world. Paganism is also called “The Old Religion,” “Ancient Ways,” “Nature Worship,” “Earth-Centered Spirituality,” “Natural Religion,” and “Green Religion.”

The Pagan community is worldwide, with millions of adherents in many countries. Moreover, increasing numbers of contemporary Hindus, First Nations activists, European reconstructionists, indigenous peoples, and other polytheists are accepting the term “Pagan” as a wide umbrella under which they all can gather, distinct from the monotheists and secularists. They are using it positively, not to mean “godless” or “lacking (true) religion.”

Therefore it is understandably a matter of continuing frustration to modern self-identified Pagans that newspaper and magazine copy editors invariably print the proper terms for their religion (i.e., “Pagan” and “Paganism”) in lower case. Journalists who have been confronted about this practice have replied that this is what the AP and Chicago Stylebooks recommend.

But names of religions—both nouns and adjectives—are proper terms, and as such should always be capitalized:

Religion:      Christianity    Judaism   Islam        Buddhism    Hinduism   Paganism 

Adherent:    Christian        Jew          Moslem    Buddhist      Hindu        Pagan 

Adjective:    Christian        Jewish      Islamic     Buddhist      Hindu        Pagan 

This list could be expanded indefinitely for every religion in the world. As you can see, Paganism, like all faith traditions, should be capitalized.

Pagan and Paganism are now the well-established chosen self-designations and internationally-recognised nominal identifiers of a defined religious community. The same terms are appropriately lower-case only when they refer to ancient “pagans” since, in that context, the term does not refer to a discrete movement or culture. In short, “Pagan” and “Paganism” now function much as “Jew,” “Judaism,” “Christian,” and “Christianity” do.

(—Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganism, NYUP, 2nd edition 2011)

The current journalistic convention of printing lower case for these terms seems to have originated with the Associated Press Stylebook, first published in 1953.  However, a new era of religious pluralism has emerged over the past sixty years. The terms “Pagan” and “Paganism” are now being capitalized in a variety of publications, texts, documents, and references, including religious diversity education resources such as On Common Ground: World Religions in America, The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, and Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices, Technical Reference Manual, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.

In order to assure greater accuracy in 21st century journalism, we hereby petition the AP and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions.

Thank you.

Signatories

  1. Cairril Adaire (founder, Our Freedom Coalition: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition; founder, Pagan Educational Network)
  2. Margot Adler, M.S. (National Public Radio; Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1982; author: Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, 1979, 1986, 1996, 2006)
  3. Eileen Barker, PhD, FBA, OBE (Professor Emeritus in Sociology with Special reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics; Founder and Chair of INFORM [Information Network Focus on Religious Movements]; author of over 300 publications on the subject of minority religions)
  4. Carol Barner-Barry, Ph.D. (Professor Emerita, University of Maryland; author: Contemporary Paganism: Minority Religions in a Majoritarian American, 2005)
  5. David V. Barrett, Ph.D. (London School of Economics and Political Science; British sociologist of religion who has written widely on topics pertaining to new religious movements and western esotericism; author: The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults & Alternative Religions, 2001; A Brief Guide to Secret Religions, 2011)
  6. Helen Berger, Ph.D. (resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, Brandeis University; Professor Emerita of Sociology, West Chester University, PA; author: A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism & Witchcraft in the United States, 1999, 2013; with Evan A. Leach and Leigh S. Shaffer, Voices from the Pagan Census: Neo-Paganism in the United States, 2003; Witchcraft and Magic in the New World: North America in the Twentieth Century, 2005; with Douglas Ezzy, Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self, 2007)
  7. Jenny Blain, Ph.D. (Recently retired from Sheffield Hallam University, previously taught at Dalhousie University, Canada, and now on faculty for Cherry Hill. Co-editor with Graham Harvey and Doug Ezzy of Researching Paganisms, 2004; author of Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism, 2002; with Robert Wallis, Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights, 2007; also numerous articles and chapters on Heathenry and Seidr, and on Pagan engagements with Sacred Sites.)
  8. Jon P. Bloch, Ph.D. (Professor, Sociology Department, Southern Connecticut State University; author of New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves, 1998)
  9. Raymond Buckland, Ph.D., D.D. (founder of Seax-Wica; Originator Gardnerian Wica in America; author: The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-Paganism, 2002; Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, and more than 50 other titles.)
  10. Dennis D. Carpenter, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin; author: Spiritual Experiences, Life Changes, and Ecological Viewpoints of Contemporary Pagans; co-founder, Pagan Academic Network.)
  11. Chas Clifton, M.A. (Colorado State University-Pueblo (retired); Co-Chair of Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, American Academy of Religion; editor: The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies; author: Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca & Paganism in America, 2006; with Graham Harvey, The Paganism Reader, 2004)
  12. Vivianne Crowley, Ph.D. (Formerly professor at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College, University of London, specializing in psychology of religion. She is on the Council of the Pagan Federation where she focuses on interfaith issues. She is the author of many books on Wicca, Paganism and spiritual psychology, including Wicca: A comprehensive guide to the Old Religion in the modern world.)
  13. Carole Cusack, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies, Chair Studies in Religion, Arts and Social Sciences Pro-Dean, University of Sydney, Australia;  co-editor, Journal of Religious History; co-editor, International Journal for the Study of New Religions; author: Invented Religions, 2010)
  14. Marie W. Dallam, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Honors College, University of Oklahoma; Co-Chair, New Religious Movements Group, American Academy of Religion)
  15. Frances Di Lauro, Ph.D. (Lecturer, Undergraduate Coordinator, Writing Hub, School of Letters Art and Media, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia)
  16. Maureen Aisling Duffy-Boose (President Emeritus, Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) 2005-2010; VP Emeritus, Pagan Pride International 2003-2013; Board Chair, Utah Pride Interfaith Coalition 2002-2005; Founding Priestess, Four Dragons Clann, 1734 Witchcraft, 2011)
  17. Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., Ph.D. (Emeritus Professor of Religion, University of Southern California; author of Religious & Spiritual Groups in Modern America, 1974, 1988; Many Peoples, Many Faiths, 1976; 10th edition with Barbara McGraw, 2014)
  18. Douglas Ezzy, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania; published extensively in academic journals and academic monographs on contemporary Paganism, Witchcraft and religion)
  19. Holly Folk (Associate Professor of Liberal Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA)
  20. Rev. Selena Fox, M.S. (Senior Minister, Circle Sanctuary; founding editor, CIRCLE Magazine; co-founder, Pagan Academic Network; diversity educator, U.S. Department of Justice; author: When Goddess is God (1995); contributor to Religions of the World (2002), Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (2006), U.S. Army Chaplains Manual (1984), other works)
  21. Elysia Gallo (Senior Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Paganism, and Magic at Llewellyn Worldwide; Vice President of Twin Cities Pagan Pride)
  22. Wendy Griffin, Ph.D. (Professor Emerita and Chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach; Academic Dean, Cherry Hill Seminary; Founding Co-chair of the Pagan Studies Group for the American Academy of Religion; Co-editor of the Alta Mira’s Pagan Studies Series; editor: Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, identity and Empowerment, 2000)
  23. Raven Grimassi (Director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle, author: Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, 2000, and other award-winning books on Pagan-related themes)
  24. Charlotte Hardman, Ph.D. (Honorary Fellow, retired senior lecturer, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University; co-author: Paganism Today 1995; Other Worlds 2000)
  25. Graham Harvey, Ph.D. (Head of Department of Religious Studies, The Open University, UK; President, British Association for the Study of Religion; co-author: Paganism Today, 1995; Contemporary Paganism, 1997; with Chas Clifton, The Paganism Reader, Routledge, 2004; Food, Sex and Strangers: Understanding religion as everyday life, 2013)
  26. Irving Hexham, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies at University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; author with Karla Poewe: New Religions as Global Cultures, 1997; Understanding World Religions, 2011; and many other works on new religious movements)
  27. Ellen Evert Hopman, M.Ed. (Druid Priestess; Co-founder and Vice President for nine years, of The Henge of Keltria Druid Order and co-founder and Co-Chief for five years of The Druid Order of White Oak; author with Lawrence Bond, People of the Earth: The New Pagans Speak Out, 1995; with Lawrence Bond, Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans, and Witches Today, 2001; and other volumes)
  28. Lynne Hume, Ph.D. (Associate Professor and Research Consultant, University of Queensland, Australia; Faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary, Bethel, VT; author of Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, 1997; The Religious Life of Dress, 2013; co-author, with Nevill Drury of The Varieties of Magical Experience, 2013)
  29. Ronald Hutton, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Historical Studies, Oxford University; author: Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, 2000)
  30. Christine Hoff Kraemer, Ph.D. (Instructor, Theology and Religious History, Cherry Hill Seminary; author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theology, 2012 and Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake, 2013)
  31. James R. Lewis, Ph.D. (co-founder of the International Society for the Study of New Religions and editor-in-chief of the Alternative Spirituality & Religion Review (ASSR). Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tromsø in Norway; Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wales, Lampeter; author: Magical Religion & Modern Witchcraft, 1996; The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, 1998; Peculiar Prophets: A Biographical Dictionary of New Religions, 1999; Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions, 1999; with Murph Pizza, Handbook of Contemporary Paganism; The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements; with Jesper Petersen, Controversial New Religions;The Encyclopedic Sourcebook of New Age Religions; Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy;Legitimating New Religions)
  32. Scott Lowe, Ph.D. (Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Co-General Editor, Nova Religio)
  33. Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D. (Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge; author: Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America, 2004; Neopagan Sacred Art & Altars: Making Things Whole, 2001)
  34. Ven. Rev. Patrick McCollum (Director of Public Chaplaincy, Cherry Hill Seminary; Chaplaincy Liaison, American Academy of Religion; Minority Faith Chair, American Correctional Chaplains Association; Executive Director, National Correctional Chaplaincy Directors Association; President, Patrick McCollum Foundation; Religion Advisor, United States Commission on Civil Rights; Recipient, Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Pluralism; publications: California Department of Corrections Wiccan Chaplains Manual, 1998; Courting the Lady, 2000; Religious Accommodation in American Jails, 2013)
  35. J. Gordon Melton, Ph.D. (Institute for the Study of American Religion; The Encyclopedia of American Religions, 1991; with Isotta Poggi, author of Magic, Witchcraft, and Paganism in America: A Bibliography, 2nd ed., 1992; Religious Leaders of America, 1999)
  36. Brendan Myers, Ph.D. (Professor at CEGEP Heritage College, Gatineau, QC, Canada; faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary; author of The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century, 2013)
  37. M. Macha NightMare/Aline O’Brien (American Academy of Religion; Nature Religions Scholars Network; Marin Interfaith Council; United Religions Initiative; Interfaith Center of the Presidio; Association for the Study of Women and Mythology; Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Cherry Hill Seminary; the Advisory Council of the Sacred Dying Foundation; former Adjunct Faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry. Books: The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over (with Starhawk) 1997; Witchcraft and the Web: Weaving Pagan Tradition Online, 2001; Pagan Pride: Honoring the Craft and Culture of Earth and Goddess, 2004)
  38. Joanne Pearson, Ph.D. (co-author with Richard H. Roberts & Geoffrey Samuel of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998; (ed), Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age, 2002; A Popular Dictionary of Paganism, 2002; Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual Sex and Magic, 2007)
  39. Christopher Penczak (faculty member at North Eastern Institute of Whole Health; founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit church; co-owner of Copper Cauldron Publishing; author: The Living Temple of Witchcraft, 2008; 2009—and over two dozen other books)
  40. Sarah M. Pike, Ph.D. (Professor of Comparative Religion, California State University, Chico; author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and The Search for Community, 2001; New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, 2004)
  41. Richard H. Roberts, Ph.D. (Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, Lancaster University; co-author with Geoffrey Samuel & Joanne Pearson of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998)
  42. Kathryn Rountree, Ph.D. (Professor of Anthropology, Massey University, New Zealand; author of Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-makers in New Zealand, 2004; Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society, 2010; Archaeology of Spiritualities, 2012)
  43. Michael Ruse, Ph.D. (Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL; author: The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet, 2013)
  44. Geoffrey Samuel, Ph.D. (Cardiff University, UK, as well as an honorary attachment at the University of Sydney; author: Civilized Shamans, 1993; co-author with Richard H. Roberts & Joanne Pearson of Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World, 1998; The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, 2008; Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West, 2013)
  45. Bron Taylor, Ph.D. (Professor of Religion & Nature, University of Florida; Fellow, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München; Editor, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; author of Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature, 2005; Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, 2010; Avatar and Nature Spirituality, 2013; Civil Society in the Age of Monitory Democracy, 2013)
  46. Robert J. Wallis, Ph.D., FRAI, FSA (Professor of Visual Culture; Associate Dean, MA Programmes, School of Communications, Arts and Social Sciences; Convenor of the MA in Art History and Visual Culture; Richmond University, the American International University in London; author of Shamans/neo-Shamans, 2003; and numerous articles on contemporary Paganisms, neo-Shamanisms and their engagements with prehistoric archaeology in Britain)
  47. Linda Woodhead, M.B.E., D.D. (Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, UK. She studies religious change in modern societies, and is especially interested in how religion has changed worldwide since the late 1980s. Between 2007 and 2013 she was Director of the “Religion and Society” research programme in Britain, which involved 240 academics from 29 different disciplines working on 75 different projects. Her books include Everyday Lived Islam in Europe (2013), A Sociology of Religious Emotions (2011), Religions in the Modern World (2009), The Spiritual Revolution (2005) and A Very Short Introduction to Christianity (2004). She is a regular commentator and broadcaster on religion and society.)
  48. Michael York, Ph.D. (Faculty, Cherry Hill Seminary; retired Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology with the Bath Spa University’s Sophia Centre; he directed the New Age and Pagan Studies Programme for the College’s Department for the Study of Religions and co-ordinated the Bath Archive for Contemporary Religious Affairs. He continues to direct the Amsterdam Center for Eurindic Studies and co-direct the London-based Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies. Author: The Roman Festival Calendar of Numa Pompilius, 1986; A Sociology of the New Age and Neo-pagan Movements, 1995; The Divine versus the Asurian: An Interpretation of Indo-European Cult and Myth, 1995; Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, 2003; Historical Dictionary of New Age Movements, 2004)
  49. Oberon Zell, D.D. (co-founder and Primate, Church of All Worlds, 1962 [incorporated 1968; 501(c)(3) 1970]; co-founder, Council of Themis, 1968; Publisher Emeritus, Green Egg magazine, 1968-ff; co-founder, Council of Earth Religions, 1974; founder, Universal Federation of Pagans, 1990; founder, Grey Council, 2002; founder and Headmaster, Grey School of Wizardry, 2004; Secretary, Sonoma County Pagan Network, 2010-2013; author: Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, 2004; Companion  for the Apprentice Wizard, 2006; with Morning Glory Zell, Creating Circles & Ceremonies, 2006)

Signatories Appended after Initial Submission

  1. Thomas Baurley, B.A. (Archaeologist, GIS Specialist 2006, and Curator/Data Manager Fort Carson Cultural Resource Program, U.S. Army–Ft. Carson, CO; Independent writer, blogger, and publisher. Published various articles in the Florida State University Anthropology Quarterly on Neo-Paganism,1991-1994; Ethnography of Wicca in the Southeastern United States, 1990;  NEPA packets, memorandums of record, and reports for Fort Carson Cultural Resource Management Program 2007-2011 for protection and evaluation of various Archaeological sites on Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon, GIS/Curation Manual for Fort Carson Cultural Resource Program 2011; SAA Public Education Papers and online archive with Smith, KC and Miller, James. “The Neo-Pagan Explosion”–FSU Anthropological Quarterly Fall 1995; Tree Leaves’ Oracle Folk Journal (Editor and Author of numerous articles); Editor/Author of Ethno-Facts Issue 1, Fall 1993)
  2. Dana D. Eilers, J.D. (1981 cum laude graduate of New England School of Law; 1978 graduate of Smith College; licensed attorney MA, IL, and MO; author of The Practical Pagan, 2002; Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights, 2009)
  3. Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi (Co-Director of the Fellowship of the Pentacle, and author of divinatory oracle kits)
  4. Rev. Jerrie Hildebrand (Ordained Minister, Circle Sanctuary, Massachusetts)
  5. Timothy Miller, Ph.D. (Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas at Lawrence; author of America’s Alternative Religions, 1995)
  6. Rev. Luke MoonOak, Ph.D. (Professor, Religion & Humanities, College of Central Florida; Minister, Church of All Worlds, Florida; author of Radiant Circles: Progressive Ecospirituality and the Church of All Worlds, 2010 and Solantis, 2012)
  7. Jeff Rosenbaum, B.A. (Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration LLC; B.A. in Sociology; Co-Director & creator of the Starwood Festival)
  8. Mike Williams. Ph.D. (maw@globalnet.co.uk) (BSc (Hons), MA, PhD, MRICS. Tutor for the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Author: Follow the Shaman’s Call, 2010; Prehistoric Belief, 2010; The Shaman’s Spirit, 2013)
  9. Laurie Kelly-Pye (Director of Sales & Co-Publisher at Career Press/New Page Books)
  10. Benjamin E. Zeller, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religion, Lake Forest College; Co-General Editor, Nova Religio; author of Prophets and Protons: New Religions and Science in Late-Twentieth Century America, 2010; co-editor of Bloomsbury Companion to New Religious Movements, 2014)
  11. Stuart A. Wright, Ph.D. (Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He is known internationally for his research on religious and political movements, conflict and violence. He has published five books, including Armageddon in Waco, 1995; Patriots, Politics, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, 2007; Saints under Siege: The Texas State Raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, with James T. Richardson, 2011)
  12. Starhawk (Graduate Theological Seminary; Reclaiming Collective; author of The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess, 1979, 1988, 1997; Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics,1982, 1988, 1997; Truth or Dare, 1988;The Fifth Sacred Thing, 1993)

[Change.org: Petition to Capitalize “Pagan” in Chicago Manual and AP Stylebook]

November Gratitude: Initiatory Communities

This November, Patheos Pagan is observing the Thanksgiving season with a gratitude series: celebrating the Pagan or polytheist colleagues, friends, groups, and communities that make us glad to be part of the movement. Aine Llewellyn, Nimue BrownJulian BetkowskiJason Mankey, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, John Halstead, and Drea Parker have also contributed — I invite you to go read their contributions. But for now, here’s mine!

 


Eastern Passage, Knowth – image by Przemysław Sakrajda

Out of all my experiences in Pagan groups, the one that has moved me the most deeply has been the practice of initiation. I’ve gone through a few formal initiations — some performed by loved ones with whom I practiced regularly, some by a mix of my close loved ones and their loved ones, who had traveled for the occasion.

In each of these experiences, though, I’ve been overwhelmed by the care, attention, and sheer effort that those initiatory teams put out on my behalf. My initiators memorized pages upon pages of liturgy and embodied it with both priestly and theatrical skill; prepared gorgeous altars and planned ritual encounters with Neolithic tombs and stone circles; sang me beautiful songs; showered me with gifts; celebrated me, frightened me, challenged me, praised me, and in all ways showed me that they’d spent days or even months considering what words or actions might support my spiritual growth.

In ordinary American life, there are few opportunities to receive this depth of loving attention. The only time I have experienced it elsewhere was on my wedding day, when friends and family came together to bless and celebrate with me and my partner. Since my friends and I tend to be a bunch of do-it-yourselfers, we had some limited professional help, but a great many of the organizing, cooking, decorating, and ritualizing tasks were performed by volunteers in a concrete outpouring of love so profound that my husband and I almost felt high on the energy. To be so tenderly cared for by a community as one goes through an important rite of passage is an experience so moving and transformative that I find myself at a loss for words.

To me, marriage is a sacrament partially because it is a moment when divine love can be felt most clearly, both between oneself and a partner, and between couple and community. Initiation, at least as it is practiced in the Craft, not only binds the initiate to the family of practitioners, but it is also an occasion when the love between the Gods and the initiate can be felt most intimately. Like a wedding, when an initiation goes well, it seals the relationship and acts as a spell of intention for the future. To be initiated with care and skill by a loving community is a rare and precious gift.

I am grateful beyond measure for that gift, for the insights I gained through the act of initiation, for the profound transformation it has produced in my life, and above all for the loving hands and hearts that brought me into divine presence and accepted my commitment. Initiations are meant to make new family members, and I know only too well that they don’t always take; but by grace and luck and the generosity of my loved ones, I have found what I sought there. I can only hope that when it comes my turn to pass on that gift, that I will be able to do it with the same insight and love that my initiators did.

May the Gods continue to bless our initiatory communities, that others may also experience love so deeply! And to my initiators — thank you, thank you, thank you.

Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective – Signed Copies Available

I am pleased to announce the publication of my theology of touch, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake, from Routledge! I hope it will be of interest to anyone studying contemporary Paganism, LGBT issues, and/or body theology.

Eros and Touch from a Pagan PerspectiveSynopsis:

Within the past twenty years, contemporary Pagan leaders, progressive Christian and Goddess theologians, advocates for queer and BDSM communities, and therapeutic bodyworkers have all begun to speak forcefully about the sacredness of the body and of touch. Many assert that the erotic is a divinely transformative force, both for personal development and for social change. Although “the erotic” includes sexuality, it is not limited to it; access to connected nonsexual touch is as profound a need as that for sexual freedom and health. In this book, Christine Hoff Kraemer brings together an academic background in religious studies and theology with lived experience as a professional bodyworker and contemporary Pagan practitioner. Arguing that the erotic is a powerful moral force that can ground a system of ethics, Kraemer integrates approaches from queer theology, therapeutic bodywork, and sexual minority advocacy into a contemporary Pagan religious framework. Addressing itself to liberal religious people of many faiths, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective approaches the right to pleasure as a social justice issue and proposes a sacramental practice of mindful, consensual touch.

How to Get This Book: Request a Library Purchase

I know many of us can’t personally manage the steep institutional prices hardcover academic books are offered at, but I urge you to ask your university or public library to purchase Pagan studies books (not just mine!) so that they will become more widely accessible.

Routledge has a recommendation form for your librarian, and of course most libraries have their own purchase request form. (For examples, here are forms for my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, and my local library, the Boston Public Library. Your library no doubt has one too!) If you do make such a request, please let me know — it’ll be great to know there’s interest.

How to Get This Book: Rent the Kindle Edition

Kindle editions can be read on your PC, smartphone, e-reader, tablet, or other device. Rent the Kindle edition of Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective for a period of up to 120 days, at less than $1 a day! Plus, if you decide to buy the book during the rental period, your rental fee will be applied to the purchase.

How to Get This Book: Buy a Signed Copy, Get a Gift

If you are in the fortunate situation to be able to buy new academic books, please consider purchasing directly from me! For the full cover price of $125, I will sign the book to you personally (or to a friend or loved one, as you specify) and include a free copy of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies as a small thank you. Paypal to chkraemer13 (at) gmail dot com, or contact me at that address to pay with a check.


Please pass on this post to groups and institutions who are interested in LGBT issues and religion, Pagan and body theology, or religion and sexuality. With luck, the hardback will sell enough copies so that Routledge will agree to release the book in a reasonably priced paperback.

In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt on Academia.edu, which includes the entire introduction.

Happy Samhain, everyone!

Occupy Spirituality: Reflections from a Once and Future Activist

Occupy SpiritualityOccupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation
Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox
North Atlantic Books, 2013

 

Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko make me feel old.

That’s kind of funny, considering both are older than me (Fox by decades). Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that this book put me in mind of a younger version of myself, one who burned white-hot to make the world a better place and was willing to bend the course of her entire life to that end.

It’s not that I no longer have an activist heart. I do. But it surprised me to be technically part of the youth generation addressed by this book—a generation of young people viscerally angry at the failures of consumer capitalism and organized religion, whom Bucko and Fox see as standing ready to take up their true vocations, form communities of alternative values, and enact (on a small scale, at least at first) a new vision of spiritual democracy. I’m 34 and a mother-to-be; this book speaks to me as I was ten years ago, when I worried less about paying my bills and life seemed to hold infinite possibilities.

This isn’t my first encounter with Matthew Fox, an earth-centered Christian theologian who, on account of his radical activist theology, was once silenced for fourteen months by the Pope and ultimately ejected from the Dominican order. In my early twenties, I attended a Creation Spirituality-centered, GLBT-welcoming Methodist church that did its best to act on Fox’s vision of a prophetic activism founded in mysticism and creativity. I still have amazing memories of attending one of Fox’s Cosmic Masses, where we prayed at gorgeous three-dimensional elemental altars, passed the peace to hundreds of others while moving in a spiral, listened to Fox give a truly trippy homily about light, and finally danced like angels and demons to trance music under laser lights.

I later found my way into the Reclaiming tradition of witchcraft, which similarly believes that sustainable, healthy activism requires a steady diet of joy to maintain. (Fox, in fact, has worked extensively with Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk, and he mentions her admiringly more than once in this book.) During that period of my life, I did extensive activism opposing the racism of the drug war, protested the war in Iraq, marched in Gay Pride and MLK Day parades emphasizing civil liberties, wrote endless letters to my elected representatives, and chose a career (the academic study of religion) that I thought would give me maximum opportunity to promote tolerance, pluralism, equality, and peace.

Fast-forward as the restrictions of adult life set in. As it turns out, there are few academic jobs available these days, and what jobs remain are a shadow of the professorships of the past: low pay, intense competition, insanely heavy workloads, and schools that increasingly care more about the financial bottom line than education made me abandon my intention of working in academia proper. I also moved across the country for graduate school and lost the religious community that had been part of the support for my activist spirit. As it turns out, it is much harder to form one’s own group than to join a thriving one. For several years, my friends and I did our best to form a local Reclaiming community that would both feed our spiritual needs and provide a vehicle for political activism. And people did come to our rituals and workshops; they even donated money when we asked, but we never were able to grow the core group that was actually doing all the work. Between that and the intense stresses of grad school, I learned the true meaning of burnout.

After graduate school, I did a lot of re-evaluating and reshaped my life so that *I* would be fed first. I’d realized I couldn’t be of service to anyone else unless I was healthy, so I made a number of changes. I went to massage school, both to seek my own healing, and so that I would have a second career path to support myself (and indeed, massage therapy was my major source of income for several years). I sought deeper training and initiation in a non-Wiccan witchcraft tradition focused on self-development and acknowledged that, for the moment, I needed to pull back somewhat from the leadership roles I had tended to take on in religious community. Although I continued to volunteer my time with Cherry Hill Seminary, an online seminary dedicated to providing graduate-level and community education for Pagan leaders, I mostly stopped teaching spiritual workshops or leading public rituals. And, finally, I cut my expenses so I could choose only jobs that I both believed in and that compensated me appropriately. Over the past few years, I’ve worked for a series of humanitarian, religious, and educational organizations without much having to compromise my values.

At this point in my life, I’m not out hitting the street in protest. I give money to worthy organizations; I write the odd letter to my representative; I encourage the writers I work with at Patheos to highlight important issues and try to bring those issues to the attention of our audience. But fundamentally, my concerns now are about family, health, and home, about the container into which my husband and I are bringing a child. I think a great deal about poverty, racism, homelessness, and the web of power and privilege in which I find myself; I think a lot about how to have good relationships with my neighbors when I live somewhere that, most of the time, mine is the only white face to be seen. But these days, I am much more concerned with logistics than vision.

Someday, though, I’m going to be ready to dream and vision again, and Occupy Spirituality is a book that can stoke that inner fire. Based around Fox’s “deep ecumenism,” its approach is inherently interfaith, with Fox and Bucko frequently acknowledging the contributions of Buddhist, Hindu, Indigenous, Christian, and Jewish thinkers to their thought. Their vision of a just economy, notably, includes not just human well-being, but also what Fox calls the “more than human” – animals, plants, the ocean, the land. Fox and Bucko recommend a new spirituality for activist communities, inspired by contemplative monasticism but with contemporary values:

  1. Instead of a vow of poverty, a vow to create a just economy;
  2. Instead of a vow of obedience, a vow of democracy and collaboration;
  3. Instead of a vow of celibacy, a vow of sexual responsibility and ethical parenting.

As the subtitle acknowledges (“A Radical Vision for a New Generation”), this book is more about vision than about logistics. Appropriately for this post, however, long-time Pagan activist Starhawk can provide a nuts-and-bolts counterpoint to Fox and Bucko’s radical vision. Although Fox and Bucko have very much been in the trenches of social injustice (Bucko currently works with homeless youth in New York City, for example), their dialogue in this book tends to focus on broad issues. Not so Starhawk, who freely acknowledges that the radical inclusivity of the Occupy movement raised some difficult and specific challenges: in her speech at the American Academy of Religion in 2011, she quipped, “The Occupy movement sometimes seems to be entirely composed of raving drunks and former student body presidents” (listen around 28:00 in the linked audio; her discussion of group dynamics begins around 17:00).

While protesting for economic and social change, the Occupy movement encountered the challenges of mental illness, addiction, trauma, and the long-term effects of homelessness among its members and in society at large. Just prior to the birth of the Occupy movement, Starhawk put out a book called The Empowerment Manual that addresses some of the difficulties of collaborative group dynamics – and how-to manuals like it are equally as important as Bucko and Fox’s prophetic community vision when it comes to building a positive future.

I opened by saying that Occupy Spirituality made me feel old. But I know that there will be a future when my children are no longer small, and with my own needs and desires firmly in mind, I will expand my efforts to create communities of alternative values beyond my household and the circle of influence created by my job. For now, it’s been good to remember how brightly that inner fire can burn—and when I’m ready, Fox and Bucko’s vision will still be waiting.

 

Recommended Follow-Up Reading

“The Occupy Movement: Drumbeats of Change”
The encampments are now gone. But the things that were born in them survive.
By Rebecca Solnit, 9/15/13, LA Times

“Spirituality: Where Seriousness and Playfulness Meet”
How do how do the patterns and practices of the Occupy Generation differ from those of New Age spirituality?
By Matthew Fox, Christ Path Seminar