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Religion Library: Paganism

Historical Perspectives

Written by: Carl McColman

Because of the diversity within the Pagan communities, these kinds of reflections find no consensus even among the practitioners, let alone outside observers. Due to this wide variety of beliefs and viewpoints regarding questions of identity and authority, contemporary Paganism - regardless of its relationship to the past - qualifies as a "post-modern" religion in the sense that, as a whole, it eschews any claims for overall or objective truth, in favor of "truth" as residing only in personal experience or in socially constructed contexts (which for most Pagan are local and small-scale).

For the outside observer wishing to learn more about Paganism, the most fruitful approach may well be simply to embrace the ambiguities and paradoxes found within the community, basically doing what practitioners themselves do: learn all that one can about the varieties of Pagan belief and practice, recognizing that just about any statement that can be made about this religious path as a whole is subject to interpretation and rebuttal by at least some segments of the community.

Study Questions:
     1.    Should Paganism’s diversity be seen a strength or weakness? Why?
     2.    Why might it be problematic to define Paganism as a religion?
     3.    Paganism has been labeled both prehistoric and postmodern. Why?
     4.    How can one most effectively learn about Paganism today?


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