A few days ago, Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt announced that he has started The Wild Hunt Podcast, and the first episode has been posted. A huge part of the episode is an interview with Caroline Tully, who recently had an article published in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, called “Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions” (available there as a PDF for reading or download).
There has been some spirited discussion of this article thus far on the pagan blogosphere, including Apuleius Platonicus’ critique, and another discussion by Eldyohr on The Pagan Perspective blog. There’s a great deal to agree with in both of those treatments, I think…
However, a further alternative voice on these matters is that of Christine Hoff Kraemer, a faculty member at Cherry Hill Seminary, who has offered the paper she did at the AAR last November on this matter: “Perceptions of Scholarship in Contemporary Paganism.” I have to say that I like Kraemer’s paper a great deal, not only because she’s someone I’ve met and know (to an extent), but also because I find that she’s a bit fairer to scholars and practitioners, and that she actually gives some concrete solutions and suggestions on this matter rather than just talking about notions of pagan scholars bringing “hybrid vigor” to the discussion in the future.
I’ll offer my own opinions on the matter here.
After reading Tully’s paper, and having listened to the podcast interview, I found both of them somewhat lacking. Her interview was one of the most rambling ones I’ve ever heard in my life (apart from the fact that, at least on my end, she sounded like she was being digested in the belly of a mechanical whale due to technological issues), and as several people have pointed out, her article was very condescending to Ronald Hutton’s critics. There’s a lot to like in Hutton’s work, and an awful lot that I don’t think can be ignored, dismissed, or downplayed; and there is an awful lot that is lacking in nuance, especially on certain subjects. I don’t think his work can or should be dismissed wholesale, but likewise I don’t think it’s as much of a “threat” to “Wiccan integrity” on a religious or theological level as many seem to think it is.
The whole issue is also problematic from a reconstructionist viewpoint, to say the least. And, the issue of monotheist bias and other complicating factors in scholarship was also not addressed. Just because someone is an archaeologist (for example) doesn’t mean their interpretations are always right, and just because a practicing pagan doesn’t know how archaeological or scholarly discourse works doesn’t mean their opinion that is critical of an archaeologist’s findings is always emotional, uninformed, or incorrect. I think that “it feels good, therefore it is right” doesn’t come into play as often as Tully indicates.
(The playing out of these matters in strictly Antinoan terms is something that I’ve touched on countless times on this blog, and elsewhere, and if you’d like further possible examples to be illustrated by me in follow-up discussions, please feel free to ask! But it also happens with Celtic Studies matters constantly, so I can only assume it probably happens with a great deal of reconstructionist matters more broadly.)
And, needless to say, I also don’t think that real-life, modern experiences of various deities can or should be ignored or downplayed in deference to scholarship. Tully’s entire discussion during The Wild Hunt podcast on how she was having visions of Venus of Willendorf (if I recall correctly) during her pregnancy, but then she lost the baby (if I understood correctly), may have been an experience of cognitive dissonance, but I don’t really think it was relevant to what she was talking about. I think that’s more of a difficulty of a far more common religious variety–the “why aren’t the deities helping me?” variety and questions of theodicy that almost everyone goes through–rather than an experience of “here’s what scholars say, but here’s what my own experience is, and I like mine better, therefore the scholars must be wrong.” I really can’t see any findings of scholarship helping someone out in her situation, particularly in relation to those deities and cultures concerned in her visions. So, how was all of that relevant as anything in the discussion? I really don’t know.
I suspect that the net effect, at least for my own case, was less one that staked a claim for pagan scholars being proponents of “hybrid vigor” (which, as attractive as the phrase happens to be, needs to be defined and expanded upon more if it is to be effective, rather than just repeated twice as a kind of slogan), and more of a needless polarization of the issue even further, making practitioners into cognitively dissonant silly-heads (as Apuleius Platonicus suggested) and scholars into know-it-all (in a non-pejorative sense) unimpeachable paragons of virtue…which, as anyone who has met actual scholars (in any discipline) knows is utterly not true! (And I say this as someone with academic credentials myself, n.b.!)
But, that was my own take…I’d be interested to hear anyone’s opinions on this matter.