What is Wrong with Pagan Studies?

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Abstract

This review essay takes a critical look at the new field of “pagan studies” by examining the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism. It demonstrates that pagan studies is dominated by the methodological principles of essentialism, exclusivism, loyalism and supernaturalism, and shows how these principles promote normative constructions of ‘pure’ paganism, insider interpretations of the data, and theological speculations about gods, powers, and a special “magical consciousness.” It seems thus that the methodological discussions in MTSR have little effect on pagan scholars. In the concluding discussion, I raise the questions why this is so, and how we might do better in promoting a naturalist and theoretically oriented approach to studying religion.

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  • 4

    I include Harrington’s article (2007) on the relationship between contemporary paganism and new age in my analysis even though it did not appear in the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism but in the Handbook of New Age the first volume in the Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion series.

  • 9

    Interested readers can turn to Manning (1996).

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