This is the second installment of my reports from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting held in San Francisco last weekend.
There are always dozens of alluring presentations going on at the AAR; usually the most compelling are scheduled simultaneously. This year was no different. I passed up so many that I wanted to attend, but unfortunately I have not yet learned to bilocate, or even trilocate. Sunday was a big day for Pagan Studies.
The first morning session was a joint one presented by the Contemporary Pagan Studies and the Religion and Ecology Groups on the theme of "Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practice." Starhawk and Rosemary Ruether shared the panel, with Marion S. Grau, Jone Salomonsen,1 and Heather Eaton responding. Naturally, due to the theme of the session and the fact that Occupy San Francisco is only a few blocks from Moscone Center West where we were meeting and some AAR folks visited the encampment (not to mention the fact that Starhawk and others are there nearly daily), the subject of the Occupy Movement arose, as it did in several other sessions. This also led to talk about group organization, leadership and no (overt) leadership, egalitarianism, consensus process, and related aspects of group dynamics and movement health and sustainability. One of the first questions addressed to Starhawk and referring to groups and group process was whether we (meaning, I assumed, any of the groups in which she's active, but after speaking to the querist after the session, learned was Reclaiming) had any "rituals of reconciliation." Wow! This took me aback. I had never thought of such a thing, yet it seems so obvious.
Rumination on Reconciliation
Most of the groups I've worked in over the years, 95% of which have run by consensus process, have had problems with divisive issues, difficult people, personality conflicts, and similar disturbances. This is just part of being human and interacting with other humans. As often as not these episodes (or ongoing disputes) lead to one or more members leaving the group. These individuals are usually hurt by the leave-taking, and in addition their loss to the group can leave a rend. The group itself can ritualize the leave-taking, and sometimes they do, but that doesn't account for the disharmony within the leave-taker(s). Of course, it is not a group's responsibility to heal the person who is longer a member; if that were possible, the person probably wouldn't have taken the extreme measure of disaffiliating in the first place. So where does reconciliation come in? Somehow I can't imagine that some of the people I've seen leave a group would seek to reconcile. Not that I don't view that as a positive act towards the ultimate healing of all parties involved. I do. Perhaps it's worthwhile for us to consider how we might create such a ritual, even when we have no candidate seeking to be reconciled. I do think we're all in this together, and we are best served by at least operating in harmony with each other, with other groups and such, even if from a distance. So enacting a ritual of reconciliation, with or without the presence of the hurt former member, could have beneficial effects on all parties involved. This is something I'll have to ponder.
The afternoon session of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group addressed "West Coast Pagan Practices and Ideas."
I had been looking forward to my friend Kerry Noonan's paper on "Wish They All Could Be California Grrrls?: The Influence of California Women on the Goddess Movement and Neo-Paganism," but unfortunately ill health prevented Kerry from being there. This paper was about us!
Dr. Christopher Chase of Iowa State University spoke on "Building a California Bildung: Theodore Roszak's and Alan Watts' Contribution of Pagan Hermeneutics." I always appreciate and learn from Christopher's presentations and this one was no exception. Learning more about influential people you know or know of and who are of your time and place is so much fun.
Kristy Coleman was the last presenter, on the topic of "Re-riting Women: Dianic Wicca." This is another topic I know fairly well; it's of my time and place. Dr. Coleman pointed out that Dianic Craft, as promulgated by Z Budapest, Ruth Barrett, Circle of Aradia, and emanating from Los Angeles and beyond, will be meeting to celebrate their fortieth anniversary this December. An impressive milestone that speaks to sustainability and ongoing relevance.
Fritz Muntean, co-founder and Editor Emeritus of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, responded.
The final session I attended on Sunday was the Religion and Ecology Group's "Author Meets Critics: Bron Taylor's Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future" featured panelists Sarah Pike, Lisa Sideris, Laurel Kearns, and John Baumann, Bron Taylor responding. The panelists read papers critiquing Bron's book and pointing out what they saw as weaknesses, oversights, or distorted emphases. The general tone, but for Sarah's paper, was that it wasn't "Christian enough." Bron disagreed, and so do I. This is an important book that I hope many people will read.
Sunday evening's Special Topics Forum featured a "Conversation with Gary Snyder, 2011 AAR Religion and the Arts Award Winner," presided over by Mary Evelyn Tucker.2 I've long admired Gary Snyder and his work, even have a quote of his on the back of my business card: "Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there." Alas, I wasn't able to make it.
Because of my involvement in the world of interfaith relations, I had also wanted to attend the Wildcard Session on "Institutionalizing Interfaith: Emerging Models for Educating Religious Leaders in a Multireligious Context," addressing "How do we train the next generation of spiritual leaders, rooted in their own religious tradition with the skills and motivation to work across faith lines?" The panel, as listed in the program, was comprised entirely of Abrahamics.3 All the more reason for me to have been there, since I would have spoken up about my own real multireligious experiences working in interfaith. I guess it's good that they're addressing this topic as being seminary-study-worthy. We Pagans have been developing interfaith trainings for nearly 20 years, and in fact, Cherry Hill Seminary's 2012 Leadership Institute, "Transforming Our World," will include a session on "Our Place in the World of Interfaith."
In service to Coventina,
M. Macha NightMare
1. Dr. Salomonsen is the author of Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco.
2. I have never met Mary Evelyn, but have known of her work since the late '90s when I served on The Biodiversity Project Spirituality Working Group with her husband, John Grim. Not that he'd necessarily remember me, except that I was the lone Witch among the dozen participants.
3. The Abrahamic religions are those that sprang from the legacy of Abraham, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.