Monday, November 17, 2008

A Fart in the Punchbowl

Throughout the first meeting of the Pagan Studies Group at the AAR, presenters mentioned the words "culture" and "cultural" and "religion" and "religious" as though religion were not a cultural construct. I had the temerity to question this. The response was a nonplussed silence.

I realize that in state supported institutions such as Cal State-Long Beach and Colorado State-Pueblo, the line between state and religion is fuzzy. I realize they have to watch their steps carefully in order to avoid jeopardizing their state funding. But, really, religion is a part of culture. I felt that I said, "The emperor has no clothes." I felt really awkward when my comment elicited such a blank response.

Later, some of the presenters told me that the subject was just too complicated and frought with opportunities for misunderstandings that they didn't feel they could take it up in the limited time they had. Some solace, I guess, for my feeling like a boob.

14 comments:

Pitch313 said...

Of course "religion" is subsumed by "culture." Or is motivated by and motivates culture. Or is subject to the same influences and outcomes as "culture."

It's certainly not inappropriate to point this out.

But, sometimes, culture is big and religion is not so big, and we don't want to talk about the big when we are looking at the not so big.

As Neo-Pagans, we consider that everything is connected. But as more or less academic investigators, we may screen out certain connections and look hard at others.

Somewhat skewed from such things as these, some theories and theorists of culture are accorded more attention and regard than others. Soemtimes based on how they give weight to selected connections. Sometimes because the theory satisfies the squint of the times.

Mandy said...

I missed that first session, otherwise I'm sure I would have been nodding or twinkling in agreement. I'm a social constructionist at heart.

Chas S. Clifton said...

If there was silence, it was not because your question was somehow bad, but more that it was a book-length question!

Medusa said...

Good for you! Sometimes a fart is exactly what's needed to relieve the build-up of hot air. (I'm thinking about what I might say about your use of the word "boob," but one figure of speech per comment is probably enough). Although I very much applaud Pagan and Goddess learning becoming part of the Academy, I sometimes fear that authenticity may be lost because, like others in the academy, those involved in Pagan and Goddess scholarship feel the need to make sure that what they present is "appropriate" and doesn't go "too far." Sometimes I think existing on the fringes is better. Or perhaps there is a role for both.

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Your point is well taken, Medusa. However, I do believe there is a role for both; for many, in fact. I'm reminded of the words to a song by Paula Walowitz called "She's Been Waiting."

Blesséd be and Blesséd are
those who dance together
Blesséd be and Blesséd are
Those who dance alone
...
Blesséd be and Blesséd are
those who work in silence
Blesséd be and Blesséd are
those who shout and scream

Blesséd be and Blesséd are
the movers and the changers
Blesséd be and Blesséd are
the dreamers and the dream.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Medusa is wrong on two counts.

1. Who is she to say that I cannot write a paper on, for instance, literary influences on mid-20th-century Paganism one day and engage in ecstatic ritual the next?

2. Not everyone studying Paganism, however, is necessarily following a Pagan spiritual path, and we have no right to demand such a thing.

Really, this whole line of reasoning makes me think of some Christian worried that little Mary or Joseph will "lose their faith" if they go to the Big University on the Hill.

Medusa said...

Charles,
I don't understand how you can interpret what I said to imply either #1 or #2. I actually agree with your povs you state in #1 and #2 (although I don't agree with your choice of "wrong" to characterize another person's argument, even though, in this case--it wasn't even what I was arguing). Sure the same person can do both. Sure non-Pagans are welcome to investigate Pagan paths (I wasn't aware that I even brought this up). I certainly never would "demand" that a person studying any spiritual path be devoted to that path, and frankly, because it is the opposite of everything I've been associated with for years, I resent your accusing me of this.

I ordinarily wouldn't get into this, but it seems my debut comment here needs some clearing up, so:

Macha, I also agree with you when you write, "... I do believe there is a role for both." I don't quite understand the need for the "However," however, since the last sentence of my original comment reads: "Or perhaps there is a role for both."

Chas S. Clifton said...

Medusa,

So if you agree with me, then what is this "authenticity" that is being lost.

Let's hear some examples, please, because I don't see it.

It still sounds to me as though you think that Pagan academics somehow lose their "authentic" Pagan practice along the line.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Medusa,

So if you agree with me, then what is this "authenticity" that is being lost.

Let's hear some examples, please, because I don't see it.

It still sounds to me as though you think that Pagan academics somehow lose their "authentic" Pagan practice along the line.

Medusa said...

Charles,

For some reason you continue to misunderstand me, so I will make one last I hope valiant attempt to try and clear this up:

I wouldn't even venture to say what "authentic pagan practice" is (would you?)It should be clear from what I posted that's "practice" is not what I'm talking about–I don't say anything about practice in my comment. Rather, the "authenticity" I'm referring to is authenticity of points-of-view, theories, and opinions.

To me, this is clear from what I wrote in my first comment:
"I sometimes fear that authenticity may be lost because, like others in the academy, those involved in Pagan and Goddess scholarship feel the need to make sure that what they present is ‘appropriate' and doesn't go ‘too far'."

I don't understand how you can infer from this statement that I'm talking about "practice," by which is usually meant ritual and related work, when I specifically use the word "scholarship."

Further, I am NOT saying that people exploring Pagan and/or Goddess subjects should stay away from the Academy. What I am saying is that many people who study and then attempt to present and publish at the graduate or postgraduate levels in these fields sometimes feel constrained by the strict standards of academic scholarship. From what I understand from discussions with such people, this is not an objection to strictness (or the need for hard work), but is related to a perception that some academic standards have become too rigid for SOME subject matter. So these researchers feel their choice is either to restrict their theories and opinions or to be rejected by the Academy. While my opinion is that strict standards of academic scholarship often have a positive effect – there is much to be said for peer review and factual evidence – such requirements can sometimes restrict the leaps of imagination that were necessary early on ( i.e., mid 20th century) particularly in Goddess studies, when there was so little verified data. Are such leaps still needed today? If so, should they be allowed in academic presentations or are they best left outside the Academy until there is "harder" evidence?

It is my *guess* that such a feeling of constraint may be one reason for the non-plussed silence that greeted Macha's challenge at the AAR Pagan Studies Group. Yes, as you implied in your comment to Macha, a short answer may not be adequate to respond to the subject, but this is true of many subjects brought up at such meetings and they are met, nevertheless, with (sometimes many) answers briefer than book-length. It is my understanding that the addition of a Pagan group at AAR is relatively recent. So my *guess* is that what prevented some Pagans from responding to Macha may have been the worry that their answers might jeopardize the continuation of the group's inclusion. (Of course, there may have been other reasons, too, like non-Pagans' [and Pagans'?] difficulty in getting their brains around what was to them a different way of thinking.) Does the fact that there may be difficulties in communicating and in presenting material in a framework familiar to AAR participants mean that I think Pagans shouldn't be involved in AAR? Of course not! It does mean, though, that we need to be aware of the limitations (as well as opportunities) that participation may entail.

Here's another example from a different angle. Several months ago I reviewed the book, Did God Have a Wife? by William Dever – imo a terrific book establishing with archeological and anthropological data the fact of Goddess worship among the ancient Israelites and Judeans (a number of us have been asserting this for some time– but as with other Goddess/Pagan "discoveries," the intuitive knowledge preceded the academic "proof" ). For me, a drawback of this book's narrative was Dever's taking pains to distance himself from present day Goddess and "Neopagan"[his term] folk (for more on this, look near the end of my review at medusacoils.blogspot.com/2007/04/review-dever-book-about-asherah.html). Dever does say he considers himself a feminist (ah, but not when he does archeology) and both uses and credits feminist sources. So why does Dever feel he has to distance himself from the contemporary Goddess community? To me, the most likely explanation is that "Goddess" is not academically acceptable ("feminist" is slightly more acceptable). Dever took a risk academically even to publish the conclusions in his book, so I suppose to diminish that risk he felt he needed to distance himself from what he feels is (or possibly more importantly what is viewed in academia as) the fringe Goddess crowd. What a shame! But unfortunately not uncommon among some scholars today (and not only male scholars).

Charles, I hope what I meant is now clearer to you. I have gone on longer than I intended and Macha, I hope you don't mind me taking up this much space with a comment and I thank you.

Broomstick Chronicles said...

I don't mind at all, Medusa. It tickles me that this wee blog has stimulated so much talk.

Goddess studies is a section of the AAR, and has been for more than 10 years, FWIW.

In my observation, Pagan and goddess scholars have sometimes been a bit timid, especially the younger ones just testing the waters. But that's not always the situation. All of the Pagan studies presentations this past year (some I haven't mentioned here) were outstanding, just wonderful.

Underneath, I knew my comment would not likely be addressed in such a limited setting, i.e., the session was almost over and it's a BIG topic, but I just felt I had to point it out. There were so many instances of referring to religion as though it were separate from culture, which it isn't.

Carry on, friends.

Peg A said...

I think we need to continue to insist hat pagan practitioner/scholars (or scholar/practitioners) should rigidly follow the expected modes of inquiry, research and editorial vigor expected of all scholarship.

In my experience (and I am a practicing witch and an academic who have presented and publishd on paganism studies), I have read work by pagan scholars (even some who presented at the AAR this year!) who allow their own personal views, beliefs of assumptions to severely limit their definitions and studies of modern paganism. For example, stating all pagans worship the goddess as a "tenet of paganism." Not true, and it is really important for such scholars to acknowledge the enormous diversity and inconsistency of beliefs, practices and texts used by this evolving community.

Peg A said...

oh dear sorry for all those typos!

Prima Vera said...

Re: Pagan Studies Group in AAR.There's a page on the AAR website about it. What it seems to be saying is that a Pagan group began getting together beginning in 1995 but at that time it was more of a "social group"--not anything considered official by AAR.The Pagans continued to meet unofficially at or around the same time AAR-SBL was meeting through the 90s, but it wasn't until the AAR-SBL split that they started to see the light in getting official recognition. The first official session as a "consultation" was in 2005, and then the Pagan Studies Group was given official status in 2007. The url for this info is:

http://www.aarweb.org/Meetings/Annual_Meeting/Program_Units/
PUCS/Website/page.asp?FileName=AARPU139-8

If that's too long, here's a tiny url: http://tinyurl.com/5lr9qv

I very much admire those of you who persisted all those years to get formal recognition.