Wednesday, December 07, 2011

AAR Annual Meeting, Part IV

On Monday morning I attended the New Religious Movements Group on Religious Appropriation of Secular Culture.   All five papers interested me from a nascent-culture perspective.  First was "Haunted Ground: Nature's Nation form the American Metaphysical Perspective," followed by "Summer Camp and New Paradigms of Sacred Space in New Religious Movements," by Ann Duncan, Goucher College.  In past posts on this blog, I've commented about Reclaiming's Teen Earth Magic, a summer camp for adolescents.  Many of these teens are alumni of the annual Witchlets in the Woods family camp.  Summer camps have been a part of American religious life since at least the early 19th Century, if not earlier.  I attended both Girl Scout and Methodist Church summer camps in the 1950s.

"From HippieCrits an' Jesus Freaks to the Twelve Tribes: the Integration and Reinterpretation of Vietnam Era Pop-culture into a Fundamentalist Communitarian Movement's Ideology" had great potential, but I think this was the first paper the two young scholars, Bryan Barkley and C.A. Burriss, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, had ever presented because they fumbled a lot when their Power Point Presentation didn't respond as they'd planned, and as a result they lost time and had to abbreviate their talk.  It dealt with a Christian camp created by counterculture boomers, presuming to appeal to younger seekers, but the reality turns out to be that there's a lot of transiency.  People come but don't stay long.  I think only six people have been there any length of time.

I'm only minimally knowledgeable of the many Pagan attempts at creating Utopian communities, but I do know that it is a desire for, a yearning for, a belief in the possibility of a "better" world that motivates many Pagans.  "Better" means different things to different people, but one might reasonably assume "better" would include plenty of nourishing food, warm, comfortable shelter, clothing, loving family and community, the pursuit of "right livelihood," education, music, art, all in an atmosphere of safety, mutual love and trust, a spirit of cooperation, working together for the common good.

Shannon Harvey spoke on "'Eat Your Way Back to the Godhead': Reducing Karma and Calorie-intake Using International Society of Krishna Consciousness Cookbooks."

But it was the final paper that I found most intriguing, "Hoop Spiritualities: The Hula-Hoop and Embodied Spiritual Practice," presented by Martha Smith Roberts and Jenna Gray-Hildenbrand, both from UC Santa Barbara.  Both scholars are hoopers themselves.  They undertook this study because anecdotally they learned that hoopers underwent spiritual experiences when they got "in the zone," and they themselves had had similar experiences.  They surveyed many hoopers from around the country.  Hooping appeals more to women than to men, although among the men there are charismatic teachers.  Some hoopers spin for many hours a day.  Respondents described their experiences as being meditative, offering a sense of oneness with the universe, a sense of peace.  Hooping rebalanced them from the stresses of their daily lives.  It created an altered state of consciousness in the hoopers.  The sense of being a part of the world both increased and decreased with this sense of wellness.  It increased a feeling of interconnectedness yet allowed hoopers to let go of worldly concerns.

As Roberts and Gray-Hildenbrand described their findings, I was struck by all the parallels I was seeing between hula hooping and Pagan religious practices.  First, hoopers are literally working within a circle; most Pagans construct sacred space in a circular form.  Hoopers have no guru and neither do Pagans, although we do have organizers, ritualists, writers, and leaders among our illustrious co-religionists.  Hooping has no doctrine. We call the space we create one that is "between the worlds."  Hoopers feel suspended between the worlds.  Respondents described individual spiritual experiences in the course of hooping, as Pagans do of experiences in ritual, and their experience/learning is embodied.  More women practice Pagan religions, as more women spin hula hoops "religiously."  I spoke to Ms. Gray-Hildenbrand after the session, since any Q&A time had been eaten by delays of one kind or another.  She agreed with the similarities I had observed, and said that as it happened, a large percentage of their survey respondents identified as Pagan.

While I attended the NRM session described above, I forewent a Wildcard Session on Gods and Monsters of the Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Imagination.  The session addressed ideological and material exchange among Greco-Roman, Anatolian, Mesopotamian and Levantine cultures in the form of shared religious and mythological themes from the Bronze Age to late Roman civilizations.  The five papers were "Hearing the Chaoskampf in Iliad 21," Further Parallels in Greco-Anatolian Disappearing God Rituals: the Hittite Kursa Hunting Bag and the Dios Koidion (Fleece of Zeus)," Syncresis and the Cult of Isis in the Greco-Roman World," The Greek Gigantomachy and the Israelite Gigantomachy: Giants as Chaosmacht in Israel and the Iron Age Aegean," and "The God Aion in a Mosaic from Paphos and Helleno-Semitic Cosmogenies in the Roman East."  Don't they sound juicy?

Monday afternoon I was tempted by several sessions.  In particular, the
  • Native Traditions of the Americas Group, Resilience and Revitalization in Indigenous California.  "Asumpa (To Flow): Native American Language and Cultural Revitalization through Hip-Hop," Melissa Leal, UC Davis.  This whole session sounded intriguing.
  • North American Hinduism and Yoga in Theory and Practice Consultations, panel on Mother India Meets the Golden State: California Gurus and West Coast Yoga.
  • Religion in Europe and the Mediterranean World, 500-1650 CE Consultation on the theme of Mapping Medieval Boundaries: Textual, Physical, and Institutional, two of four papers, "The Anachronistic Crone: Margery Kempe and the Hands the (Re/Un)Wrote Her Theology of History" and "From Dominican to Benedictine, form Benedictine to Dominican: Religious Women and Reform in Late Medieval Italy."  The second paper interested me because I have formed friendships with two Dominican sisters1 in MIC, and I have heard them speak of the powerful feeling they experience when they consider that they have 800 years of tradition behind their work.  I don't quite understand how Catholic religious orders work, but I understand that the Dominican Order includes friars, nuns, and congregations of sisters and lay members.  I also know that Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, Dominicans both, wrote the Malleus Malifacarum (Hammer of the Witches) that was so cruelly employed during the Inquisition against segments of the populace I identify with.  Regardless, the Dominican sisters I know are wonderful, caring women.              
  • Religion in South Asia Section and Hinduism Group, Mughal Bhakti: Devotees, Sufis, Yogis, and Literati in Early Modern North India. Paper entitled "Bitten By the Snake of Love: Jogis, Tantra, and Mantra in the Poetry of the Bhakti Saints."  The San Francisco Asian Art Museum's current exhibit, "Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts" compliments this session.
  • Indigenous Religious Traditions Group, Sacred Mountains in Indigenous Traditions.  Of the five papers, two interested me: "Places with Personality: Sacred Mountains, Sacred Geography" and "Returning to Foretop's Father: A Sunrise Ceremony in Wyoming."
  • Mysticism Group and Music and Religion Consultation, Music, Mysticism, and Religion.  What can I say?  Isn't that a lot of what we are about?  The four papers that most appealed to me: "The Musical Self: A Nonemotive Reinterpretation of Schleiermacher's Aesthetics of Feeling," "'Drumming' Ritual Identity in Santeria," "From Breath to Dance: Music as a Language of Experience in an American Sufi," and "What the 'Strange Trip' of the Deadhead Community can Teach Us about Religion."  Well, duh!
  • Religion and Disability Studies Group, Metaphor, Language, and Corporeality, in particular "Of Gimps and Gods: Disability as Embodiment of the Divine in Yoruba and Diasporic Religions," by Amy Ifátólú Gardner, UC Berkeley.
  • Western Esotericism Group, Western Esotericism and Material Culture.  Five papers. Egil Asprem of the University of Amsterdam, who spoke first on "Technofetishism, Instrumentation, and the Materiality of Esoteric Knowledge, had joined us on our pilgrimage to Isis Oasis, et al. on Friday.  "The Use of Tracing Boards and Other Art Objects as Physical Aids of Symbolic Communication in the Rituals and Practices of Freemasonry," by Shawn Eyer of nearby JFK University.  (I'm fairly certain that Shawn's path has crossed with mine somewhere along the line, but I cannot place him at the moment.)  I had chatted with the next presenter, Stephen Wehmeyer, at the NCLC-CoG reception on Saturday night, but missed his talk on "Conjurational Contraptions: 'Techno-gnosis,' Mechanical Wizardry, and the Material Culture of African American Folk Magic."  Henrik Bogdan of the University of Gothenburg's paper was ""'Objets d'Art Noir,' Magical Engines, and Gateways to Other Dimensions: Understanding Hierophanies in Contemporary Occultism."  If I'm not mistaken, Bogdan published a book about Asatru a few years ago that caused a stir.  The final paper was "Storming the Citadel for Knowledge, Aesthetics, and Profit: The Dreammachine in Twentieth Century Esotericism."
    Though many of the papers speak from the rarefied air of academia's ivory towers, one can also see how many are relevant to, and informed by, contemporary 21st Century (CE) culture.  Pop culture and embodiment flavor much of this year's studies.  The reader can see from the samplings mentioned here and in my other blogs how the AAR can be viewed as a banquet table laden with a glorious intellectual feast.

    Please check this blog in a few days for more about the rest of Monday and Tuesday morning.

    1.  Sisters may be confused with nuns.  Nuns live cloistered lives.  Sisters live and work in the public world.

    1 comment:

    Oberon Osiris said...

    Hi Macha,

    I love the story about the hula hoop. The older I get the more inclined I am towards meditative states but this is a new one for me. I hope I will try it soon. Take care and thanks for all the good work you do!