Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More on "Pagan Fundamentalism"

By now, everyone has heard about Sabina Magliocco's keynote address to the 2013 Conference on Current Pagan Studies: "The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism." But despite all the ensuing discussion, clarifications, criticisms, and accusations, no one, including most especially Magliocco herself, has been willing (or perhaps able?) to say just who these "fundamentalists" are.

Magliocco has given us some hints, though. In particular she has (very vaguely) defined two specific issues in Pagandom that have given "rise" to this supposed "fundamentalism". Here is how she puts it in her own words (source):
"there have been some discussions, mainly on Pagan Internet blogs and responses to them, which show some of the characteristics of fundamentalism, particularly an insistence on a single correct form of belief, and the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions. These have centered around two hot-button topics: the historicity of Wiccan foundational narratives, and the nature of the gods"
Alas, we are not told where to find these mythical "Internet blogs" in which we can witness for ourselves (that is, instead of just taking Magliocco's word for it) "the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions." Magliocco has repeatedly referred to these "blogs" without ever specifying a single url or naming a single blog or blogger in any other way. On top of that, Magliocco has made sweeping accusations against "a few detractors" (again, unnamed) whom she accuses of waging a campaign of "malicious and untrue rumors", impugning her integrity, and accusing her of being an "infiltrator".

A major problem with Magliocco's fanciful tale of "fundamentalists" who are out to get her, is that she assumes that there exist such things as "Wiccan foundational narratives." But, like her Internet "detractors," these "narratives" are never properly identified. This is, in fact, a very common phenomenon among Pagans, especially that tiny band of "Pagan scholars" who have appointed themselves to be the reformers of modern Paganism. The assumption by these academics and their loyal fans is that, in the words of Ronald Hutton, "Modern pagan witchcraft had, after all, appeared as a movement with a very specific historical claim."

So Magliocco's claim is, in essence, that certain "fundamentalist" Pagans are clinging stubbornly to what Hutton has described as a "very specific historical claim," and what Magliocco describes as "Wiccan foundational narratives." Magliocco claims further, as she must in order to make the label of "fundamentalist" stick, that these Pagans not only believe personally in the "factuality of foundational narratives", but in addition they evince an "insistence on a single correct form of belief," while engaging in "the demonization of those who hold different beliefs and opinions."

Therefore we have a grand total of four unanswered question:
  1. What are the "foundational narratives" of Wicca?
  2. Who today is proposing that these narratives are to be interpreted literally in a way that is inconsistent with historical facts?
  3. Who is insisting that such a literal, ahistorical interpretation is the only legitimate version of the history of Wicca?
  4. Who is demonizing those who disagree with this literal, ahistorical interpretation?
In a follow-up posts I will look more closely at these questions. In the meantime it is essential to emphasize that neither Magliocco nor anyone else has even come close to properly posing these questions, much less made any serious attempt to answer them. The clear implication is that those who are promoting the "Pagan fundamentalism" meme have made no real effort to carefully think through the serious questions they are raising.