Chad Clifton has two blog posts titled “Why We Do Pagan Studies” – Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. They’re brief looks at Pagan scholarship from the perspective of a professional scholar and they make for interesting reading.
Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt links to the first post here, where he says:
I think some of us have fallen into the trap of labeling Pagan Studies works as “advanced” books for our faiths, when they should instead be seen as an illuminating aid towards deeper understanding of how and why we do what we do. How we got to where we are today, and what that might mean for our future. This should be separated from books that actually seek to deepen our own practices, works on practice and theology from authors like Brendan Myers or Thorn Coyle.
It is this use of Pagan Studies works as advanced guides for Pagan practice that I want to address. I think Jason is right in his assessment of what these books are but wrong to say they don’t make good resources for advanced practice.
Clearly, academic studies of Paganism are not theological or devotional works. But they are helpful as advanced books for our faiths precisely because they are “an illuminating aid towards deeper understanding of how and why we do what we do.”
When it comes to my theological beliefs and spiritual practice, I’m essentially a solitary practitioner. I’ve been trained in OBOD and I’m active in CUUPS, but both of those organizations are big on individual freedom and short on doctrine. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but the result is that I have to figure out things on my own. Academic works on Paganism serve as a map – they let me know what other Pagans have done and are doing. And the really good academic works explain how those beliefs and practices relate to people of other faiths, other times, and other places – they connect what I believe and do to universal experiences.
When I find myself more or less in alignment with others, it’s reinforcement that I’m on the right track. When I find myself at great variance with others – especially with other Pagans, it tells me I need to take a deeper look inside. There are times when I look at these variances and say “I may be different, but I’m still convinced I’m right” – but at least I do the examination.
And Clifton references yet another book I’m going to have to read, Niki Bado’s Coming to the Edge of the Circle. It’s now on my to-be-read list – a list that seems to grow all the time…