I finished my first semester as a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union. The Unitarian Universalist church that I work for installed me as their Director of Religious Education on Dec. 18. We merged the Installation ceremony with a Winter Solstice ceremony (my idea). I collaborated with Worship Associate Christina to plan the service. Christina picked out some great Winter Solstice songs that my visiting Pagan friends loved. I had been in the position since August; an Installation is a ceremony formalizing my role as religious educator for the congregation.
Now, I have some things to report from the American Academy of Religion meeting in November. It is important to understand that the American Academy of Religion meeting is not an interfaith meeting persay. AAR is a professional organization of Religious Studies scholars and theologians. The annual meeting is where professors and graduate students share their research and academic papers in the fields of Religious Studies. There are of course people of faith present. Some faith leaders (ministers, etc. or interfaith organization directors) choose to join the AAR or attend meeting. I noticed Paul Chaffee, Emeritus Executive Director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, present. Plus, Eboo Patel was in the program. Many Religious Studies scholars are religious or spiritual themselves. Many are secular, agnostic, or atheist. They share a genuine interest in the human capacity for religion--experience and/or beliefs. In general, Religious Studies scholars are respectful of religious experience, whether they are religious or not. There is also conjoining SBL (Society for Biblical Literature) meeting, which focuses on Biblical Christian and Hebrew scripture with a strong archaeological focus. The modern discipline of Religious Studies understands religion as a practice of humanity. Religious Studies scholars are therefore frequently friendly towards Neo-Paganism, understanding Neo-Paganism as a natural expression of this human practice of religion that is not better or worse than others. (Religion as a human practice is not exhaustive either, as there is the Animals and Religion section at AAR!) Still, there are Religious Studies scholars and theologians who are unaware of formal academic Pagan Studies or of Neo-Pagan movement. At every AAR (and I've been to quite a few), I always so some education around Paganism, NeoPaganism, and the Covenant of the Goddess. It is important for CoG members to be present for this reason.
I see the value in CoG Interfaith presence at AAR in the importance of educating the educators. AAR meeting is not, as I said, a proper interfaith conference; it is not an intentional meeting of people of many faiths. But, it is a place where CoG Witches can educate professors of Religious Studies about what Neo-Pagan practice looks like and who we are, so that they may return to their universities and colleges with information and experience. CoG presence at AAR will have a positive effect on public understanding of Witchcraft and Paganism.
Many thanks go to Robert Puckett, the Director of Meetings for AAR, and a Pagan, who offered his suite for our NCLC reception for local Pagan representative leaders and Pagan Studies scholars.