PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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  • Preconference Workshop
Ritual Studies Workshop
Theme: Methodological Experiments with Ritual Studies
Friday - 1:00 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-711 (Street Level)

This experimental workshop makes use of personal participation in ceremonial practice to reflect on issues relating to the study and teaching of ritual. Participants will be invited to take part in two quite different, fairly simple, ritual performances: the Catholic practice of lighting a votive candle for the Virgin Mary, and the Contemporary Pagan practice of calling in the quarters. On the basis of our experiences, we will then discuss how these performances are structured so as to acquire, in perhaps quite different ways, a distinctive type of meaning and efficacy. This comparison will be less concerned with theological underpinnings or pragmatic consequences, than with the performative logics that endow these acts with the distinctive, “privileged" quality of ritual.

The cost for attending the workshop is $35, which includes a coffee break and the entire afternoon of sessions. Registration is limited to the first 30 participants. To participate, select this workshop when registering for the Annual Meeting. If you have already registered for the Annual Meeting, you may contact to reserve a space in this workshop.

Lee Gilmore, San José State University
Ronald L. Grimes, Wilfrid Laurier University
Michael Houseman, École Pratique des Hautes Études
Martin Pehal, Charles University
Sarah M. Pike, California State University, Chico
Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit
Theme: Pagan Space, Place, and Community
Vivianne Crowley, Nottingham Trent University, Presiding
Saturday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-401 (Street Level)

The papers in this panel will explore concrete examples by which Pagans create sacred space and engage with ideas of Pagan community.

Francesca Ciancimino Howell, Boulder, CO
Materiality, Food, and Power of Place: Animic Explorations from Italy

There are numerous ways to engage embodiment through the material culture of Contemporary Paganism’s ritual, ritual tools, jewelry, altars, statues or Temple room creativity. Many use the lens of materiality to explore Pagan lifeworlds through such objects. This paper tests materiality of place and foodways, arguing that the alternative temporality of Paganism offers heterotopic time (Foucault 1998; Pike 2001, 2004) where awareness of the other-than-human (Hallowell 1960; Harvey 2006, 2013; Ingold 2000) and the Other arise organically and naturally. The author’s decade-long research creates a unique intersection with lived religion, “new animism” (Whitehead 2013) and foodways. Drawing from diverse community events the paper tests how placeful (Casey 1996), animic materiality can emerge in Contemporary Paganism, exploring embodied, animic experiences of place in festival, foodways, ritual and other events. The author’s forthcoming book (2018) introduces a Scale of Engagement and a “theory of active place” (TAP).

Giovanna Parmigiani, Harvard University
"Tarantarsi" Today: Ethnographic Reflections on Pizzica as a Spiritual Practice among a Neo-Pagan Community in Contemporary Salento, Italy

In this paper I present some of the results of a 20 months long ethnographic research among a Neo-Pagan community in the Salento area of Italy, conducted between 2015 and 2017. By focusing on the re-appropriation of the local music (pizzica) traditionally associated with the phenomenon of tarantismo (formally disappeared at the end of the last century), I propose to read the spiritual experience of my informants as a form of neo-tarantismo. The latter phenomenon, as a matter of fact, has not been analyzed, so far, within an explicitly religious perspective. By describing and reflecting on the lives of the Neo-Pagans I met, I can add to current debates on Neo-Paganism within Catholic countries. What defines the "circle" of Neo-Pagan tarantate, in fact, is not primarily a set of shared -local or global- beliefs, but the practice of pizzica as an aesthetic (i.e. sensory and artistic) enterprise that fosters "healing" by promoting a specific historicity (i.e. way of understanding the time and temporality) that I call "expanded present".

Holli S. Emore, Cherry Hill Seminary
Group or Solitary: Choices and Spiritual Care Needs in Contemporary Pagan Practice

Individuals who fill the roles of spiritual leadership need adequate preparation for ministry in order to effectively provide services such as religious group leader, teacher, or spiritual counselor. Pagan religious leaders have most commonly emerged through either lineage-based initiation, local workshops or self-teaching from. No research establishes the spiritual care needs of either Pagan group members or "solitaries," people who identify with some form of Paganism, but do not consider themselves to be part of a group. Studies of the American Pagan community began around the turn of the millennium to show a sharp rise in the number of solitaries. Considerations for best practice in Pagan ministry must address the basis for this disparity in order to be effective. Findings from a 2017 quantitative survey provide data needed to identify needs among American Pagans and develop strategies for meeting those needs.

Kimberly Kirner, California State University, Northridge
Is Paganism the “Church of the Back Yard”? Perceiving and Crafting Sacred Place among Contemporary Pagans

Contemporary Paganism has often been described as the “church of the back yard” or the “church of the living room,” referring to common trend of creating private, personal sacred space in the absence of public religious places. While Pagans commonly practice their religion in private homes out of necessity, is this how they perceive and conceptualize sacred place? A 2013 survey of Pagans (N= 699) collected quantitative and qualitative data related to Pagans’ sacred places, practices, and relationships with spirit beings. This paper explores how Pagans describe and relate to sacred places within the context of their theologies and religious practices. While Paganism may be the “church of the back yard” in practice, Pagan sacred landscapes more frequently reach outward in imagined and material ways to “natural” (non-human-created) and ancient human-created places, reflecting ties to Pagan theologies and relationships to spirit beings.

Business Meeting:
Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA
Shawn Arthur, Wake Forest University
Animals and Religion Unit and SBL Animal Studies and the Bible Consultation
Theme: Reading Animals in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature through the Works of Aaron Gross and Donovan Schaefer
Arthur Walker-Jones, University of Winnipeg, Presiding
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Convention Center-403 (Street Level)

This panel will explore the nexus of Judaism, biblical texts, and two recent key contributions to scholarship on animals and religion. The first paper addresses the the image of the bovine in Jewish texts and art; the second reflects on Aaron Gross’s interpretation of two rabbinic stories of compassion for animals shown by Judah the Patriarch and Moses; the third draws on Donovan Schaefer’s account of animal affect to consider readings of Leviticus 25 and Exodus 23 in two 3rd century Jewish exegetical works. The papers are also alert to ethical and political implications for the human treatment of other animals. Aaron Gross will provide a response. This session is the first to be co-sponsored between the SBL Animal Studies and the Bible Consultation and the AAR Animals and Religion Unit, and we look forward to the conversation that will be provoked at this new intersection.

Joshua Paul Smith, University of Denver
From the Altar to the Abattoir: The Evolving Figure of the Bovine in Jewish Text and Art

This paper traces the development of the specific image of the bovine as it has been presented historically in Jewish text and art. Part One examines the bovine-as-symbol in ancient Near Eastern, Israelite, and Greco-Roman pagan sacrificial rites. Part Two focuses on the shifting signification of the bovine during the Mishnaic period, immediately following the fall of the Jerusalem temple in the first century of the Common Era. Part Three examines modern artistic and theoretical engagements with Judaism and the question of the animal that have precipitated another major shift in how cows are understood in relation to human subjects. The paper concludes that the overall trajectory of the evolving image of the bovine in Jewish scripture and art is from significations of virility, strength, and wildness in the Hebrew Bible toward understandings of the bovine as a symbol of victimhood in recent text and image.

Geoffrey Claussen, Elon University
Moses and the Kid, Judah and the Calf, and the Disavowal of Compassion

This paper draws on Aaron Gross’s book The Question of the Animal and Religion in analyzing two rabbinic stories regarding compassion for animals: a story of Judah the Patriarch disavowing compassion for a calf but later showing compassion to a group of young rats, and a story of Moses showing compassion for a young kid. The paper explores ways in which these two stories reveal the shared vulnerability of humans and animals, show animal agency, and have been understood as teaching compassion for all creatures. It then focuses on how these stories have been understood as encouraging compassion only in very limited ways, especially given the necessity of animal sacrifice, and it considers how while the narrative regarding Judah shows a transition towards greater compassion for animals, the narrative regarding Moses may be read as showing a transition in the opposite direction, from compassion to disavowing animal suffering.

Alex Weisberg, New York University
Rabbinic Animal Affects: Deleuzian Critiques, Disruptive Politics, and the Technology of Animals

In this paper, I follow Donovan Schaefer and Donna Haraway in their critique of Deluezian animality to understand the ways that the Sifra and the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, 3rd century Jewish exegetical works, read Leviticus 25 and Exodus 23 as political calls to become with animals. By focusing on actual animals and their situated embodiment within Rabbinic discourse, I argue against the specter of an ahistorical Deleuzian interpretation, which would treat the animal as an abstract radical possibility standing against humanity, in favor of an interpretation made attentive, by Haraway’s and Schaefer’s perspectives, to an emergent picture of a historically bounded Rabbinic human-animal assemblage. Schaefer’s insistence on phenomenological embodiment brings to the fore the ways in which these texts include animals in the political conversation through their migratory patterns, while Haraway’s work helps us to understand how in these texts animals are both political technology and moral subjects.

Aaron Gross, University of San Diego
Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit
Theme: Problematizing Whiteness and the West in Contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft
Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA, Presiding
Sunday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Hyatt Regency-Centennial B (Third Level)

Contemporary Paganisms have long been Eurocentric in content and constituency, but recent years have seen an increase in engagement of Paganisms with African Traditional Religions. Additionally, modern Paganisms are increasingly intersecting with non Western cultures and traditions. This panel explores the frictions and hybridity that results from these spiritual engagements.

Eriko Kawanishi, Kyoto University
Western Witchcraft in Contemporary Japan

Although Shinto is sometimes considered to be a form of Paganism, this paper focuses on the position of Western witchcraft in Japan in the international Pagan scene.
First, I examine the history of Western magic and witchcraft, based on research on books about magic, articles in occult magazines and interviews.
Next, I examine Uphyca, a women’s witchcraft group, founded in 2013. The woman who founded Uphyca adopts the culture of the Ainu and Okinawans, who are considered to be the native people of Japan, and aims to re-create the ancient culture of Japan, using the framework of the Western witchcraft . The challenge of Uphyca resembles what the Western Pagans do because some Western Pagans see themselves as reviving religious practices from before the coming of Christianity.
I would like to discuss the adaptation of Western witchcraft to a Japanese context, especially given the two societies’ very different relationship to polytheism.

Dale Wallace, University of KwaZulu-Natal
The Complexity of Context: Issues Impacting the Interactions of Pagans with Traditional African Religions in South Africa

This paper discusses the nature of interactions between South African Pagans and African traditional practitioners and poses questions as to why this relationship changed from one of avoidance to one of contestation and conflict. The focus is on Pagan initiatives that were coterminous with political changes from 2007 to the present. The premise of the argument is that Pagan religions do not occur in political or social vacuums and that in each particular geographic context, they reflect, and respond to, unique local sociocultural, political, and historical circumstances. This paper highlights the catalysts to the conflict and argues that cognizance be given to the complex issues of race, language, voice, and the postcolonial politics of decolonization in the fostering of productive intercultural dialogue. These issues are reflected on in the context of tensions created when cosmopolitan, universal principles are invoked in debates without engagement in local, highly contextualized, interpretations and experiences.

Russell Burk, Harvard University
Pagan Whiteness: Pagan Appropriation of African and African Inspired Religion

Among contemporary Pagans, there is increasing interest in African traditions and practices. However, this intersection between spiritual traditions does not occur on a level playing field in terms of power. Though Pagans are a marginalized community (especially considering that there are a significant number of Queer Pagans), Pagans are predominately white and are not immune to propagating racial essentialism and cultural appropriation. Pagan study, adoption, and adaptation of African and African-inspired spiritual practices is often problematic. Interest in African/African-inspired traditions is often fueled by the racist stereotype that Black people are more inherently spiritual and that African/African-inspired traditions are therefore especially powerful. Many forms of Pagan ritual allow for creativity and customization, but this is not usually the case for African traditions. Nevertheless, Pagans are known for tinkering with and adapting Afro-Caribbean rituals—appropriating them into a Western magical paradigm. The whiteness of Pagans and contemporary Paganism is largely unacknowledged.

Shawn Arthur, Wake Forest University
Tibetan and Himalayan Religions Unit
Theme: A Woman’s Place in Buddhist Dialogues: Querying the Margins of Tibetan Literature for the In/Visibility of Nuns and Yoginīs
Nicole Willock, Old Dominion University, Presiding
Monday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Convention Center-107 (Street Level)

Buddhist doctrine and practice are often forged in the crucible of dialogue. This panel will query the role of Tibetan and Himalayan women in both literary and lived dialogues in order to retrieve their presence and voices from the margins of Buddhist discourse. Spanning the fourteenth century to the present day, each paper will examine how Buddhist women are rendered in/visible in Tibetan texts and contexts curated by men, particularly in the Nyingma tradition. Case studies span question-and-answer literature, hagiography, songs of advice, and public lectures—all involving female speakers or interlocutors. In the spirit of the materials, the heart of the panel will be a dialogue and discussion following the individual paper presentations. The conversation will explore the ways in which women’s presence and voices, which are rarely foregrounded in Buddhist discourse, can nevertheless define the parameters of a text or practice.

Jue Liang, University of Virginia
Questioning Women: Yeshe Tsogyal and Other Female Disciples in Zhus Lan Literature

In the question-and-answer (zhus lan) literature in Tibetan Buddhism, women are usually found at the peripheries of these dialogues. As exemplary disciples, they (in most cases Yeshe Ysogyal) make supplications to Master Padmasambhava and implores him to answer their questions. These questions touch on virtually all aspects of Nyingma Buddhist teaching and practice; occasionally, they would concern the female disciple themselves: what is proper conduct for a Buddhist woman? What makes for a qualified consort? Are there special obstacles for female practitioners on the path to liberation? By reading these conversations between Padmasambhava and his female disciples, this paper raises the question of what we can know about the idea(l) of Buddhist women in these writings that date back to the fourteenth century. It also asks whether these conversations reflect general attitudes toward Buddhism women and whether the advice of Padmasambhava empowers them in real life.

Alison Melnick, Bates College
Admonitions and Advice: Mingyur Peldron's Instructions to Men and Women

This paper investigates the instructions of a female teacher to her male and female disciples in the context of Central Tibetan Nyingma institutional change in the first half of the 18th century. Jetsun Mingyur Peldron's (1699-1769) advice to monks, nuns, and tantric practitioners not only suggests a conservatism in her approach to soteriology, it also reveals a concern about the play of gender in the path to enlightenment. In particular, I examine Jetsun Mingyur Peldron's admonitions that Nyingmapa male and female practitioners should behave in accordance with the strictures of monastic life, recommending celibacy as the best path while laboring for enlightenment in a male-dominated community. In this paper, I examine her instructions and admonitions as reported in her hagiography, and as found in her own writing. In particular, I focus on her scathing critique of reprobate tantric practitioners, and her pointed guidance for women.

Holly Gayley, University of Colorado
Dudjom Lingpa’s Songs of Advice to Nuns and Yoginīs

The visionary autobiographies of Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904) contain an array of female deities who appear to counsel him, but his own four daughters are lost to the historical record—not even named alongside the biographies of his eight sons in a recently published family genealogy. This is a poignant example of the erasure of women from the Tibetan literary record, despite their active participation (in limited numbers) in Buddhist practices and esoteric circles. How do we recover the religious lives of Tibetan women in such cases? This paper proposes to examine a dozen songs of advice by Dudjom Lingpa to nuns, yoginīs, and even a queen to ask what we can discern about their religious lives. Although these women are only made visible as interlocutors and addressees of his advice, we can nonetheless discern certain features about their religious vocation, level of practice, and the gendered challenges they faced.

Andrew Taylor, University of Virginia
Revaluing the Inferior Body: Subversive Complementarianism in Modern Khams

Although individual women have been lauded for their intellectual and tantric capacities, the Tibetan monastic system writ large has historically prioritized men’s learning and practice over women’s, and rarely invested the intellectual and economic capital necessary for advanced study in nunneries. This paradigm began to shift in the mid-1990s, when Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok began graduating female scholar-teachers (mkhan mo) from Larung Gar. My paper explores the conditions that led to the rise of the khenmo phenomenon, and argues that the decision to award khenmo degrees belied a social project whereby nunneries and women’s practices generally are legitimated as potential fields of merit for Buddhist patrons through the attainments of the khenmos. Mixing oral and written sources, I draw on extensive fieldwork conducted in Khams, including numerous interviews with khenmos and abbots of khenmo-granting institutions, as well as the writings and sermons of Jigme Phuntsok and his disciples.

Kati Fitzgerald, Ohio State University
No Pure Lands: The Violences of Tibetan Buddhism as Conceived of by Lay Women in Kham

This paper argues that the Buddhism of female lay practitioners, often labeled animistic, pagan, superstitious, non-philosophical, shamanistic, etc., is in fact constituent of modern Tibetan Buddhism. Using ethnographic data collected in Nangchen, Yushu, Qinghai (July 2017 – July 2018), this paper argues that violence, both the physical violence of labor, domestic abuse, childbirth, etc., as well as the emotional violence of loss, death, illness, etc. are not only the key catalysts to practice, but the practice itself. Contrary to monastic leaders’ claims that Buddhism is the salve against the suffering of samsara, interviews with women indicate that Buddhist practice itself is violent in two key ways: 1) as a skillful means for transmission and 2) as the key force for conceiving of suffering as the expiration of skillful means. Violence is therefore not the imperfect practice of Buddhism, but a necessary premise for Buddhist practice and the stimulus for realization.

Jann Ronis, University of California, Berkeley
Business Meeting:
Nicole Willock, Old Dominion University
Benjamin Bogin, Skidmore College
  • Books under Discussion
Space, Place, and Religion Unit
Theme: Author Meets Critics: Murray A. Rae's Architecture and Theology: The Art of Place (Baylor University Press, 2017)
W. David Buschart, Denver Seminary, Presiding
Monday - 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Convention Center-506 (Street Level)

This roundtable session will consist of an author-meets-critics panel focusing on the recently published work of Dr. Murray A. Rae (University of Otago, New Zealand), Architecture and Theology: The Art of Place (Baylor University Press, 2017). The three critics are scholars who have contributed to the field through various means including published works. This session is intended to generate meaningful and robust conversation on the role that the built environment can and should have in the integration of religious belief, the arts, and human experience. Among the anticipated outcomes are thought-provoking dialogue on the repurposing of buildings, addressed through the lens of a historical glance at what Rae identifies as “the simple appropriation of secular or pagan religious buildings for Christian use” (p. 89), and a demonstration of how both religion and architecture share the capacity to transcend the concepts of human individuality and exceptionality.

Gretchen Buggeln, Valparaiso University
William R. McAlpine, Ambrose University
Mark A. Torgerson, Judson University
Murray Rae, University of Otago
Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit and Western Esotericism Unit
Theme: The Increasing Impact of Traditionalism
Shawn Arthur, Wake Forest University, Presiding
Tuesday - 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Hyatt Regency-Centennial G (Third Level)

The impact of the Traditionalist School of philosophy is increasingly impacting international politics and religion, for example the influence of Julius Evola on Steve Bannon, yet the figures and beliefs comprising the school's tenets are still relatively unknown. This roundtable discussion will include scholars of Islam, Western Esotericism, Contemporary Paganism and Orthodoxy who will consider the growing importance of Traditionalism on modern religiosity, politics and policy.

Amy Hale, Atlanta, GA
Egil Asprem, Stockholm University
Mark Sedgwick, University of Aarhus
Ionut Bancila, University of Erfurt
Jean-Pierre Brach, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
Ulrich van Loyen, University of Siegen