Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is there a distinctly queer spirituality?

Contemporary Christianity and LGBT SexualitiesA very exciting thing happened this morning: my copy of Contemporary Christianity and LGBT Sexualities arrived, to which I contributed a chapter comparing LGBT Pagan and Christian spiritualities, to see if there is a distinctly queer spirituality (I concluded that there is, not for any essentialist reasons, but because it is rooted in LGBT experiences). This is my first proper academic publication (yay!)
  • Introduction: saints and sinners: contemporary Christianity and LGTB sexualities, Stephen Hunt
  • The gift (?) that dare not speak its name: exploring the influence of sexuality on the professional performances of gay male Anglican clergy, Michael Keenan
  • Between subordination and sympathy: evangelical Christians, masculinity and gay sexuality, Kristin Aune
  • Common pathways, different lives: comparing the ''coming out'' narratives of Catholic nuns and lesbians in Poland, Marta Trzebiatowska
  • Bisexual Christians: the life-stories of a marginalised community, Alex Toft
  • Transgendering Christianity: gender-variant Christians as visionaries, Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Michael Keenan
  • Human rights and moral wrongs: the Christians ''gay debate'' in the secular sphere, Stephen Hunt
  • Christians and gays in Northern Ireland: how the ethno-religious context has shaped Christian anti-gay and pro-gay activism, Richard O'Leary
  • Is it meaningful to speak of ''queer spirituality''? An examination of queer and LGBT imagery and themes in contemporary paganism and Christianity, Yvonne Aburrow
  • Trends in spiritual direction for LGBT people, Derek Jay
The book is a collection of papers from the British Sociological Association Sociology of Religion Study Group November Study Day 2007 on Religion, Spirituality and Gay Sexuality.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Psychological types and multiple intelligences

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the intellectual level of Pagans and the intellectual level of the general public. We seem less appreciative in Britain of our public intellectuals than, say, France or Italy, or even America. Indeed, if you asked most people to name a public intellectual, they might name Dawkins - that in itself is a sad indictment of what passes for an intellectual in these islands.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am all for raising the intellectual standard of Paganism and of our cultural life in general. That's why I am involved in the MetaPagan blog aggregator, to showcase the best of Pagan blogging. It's one of the reasons why I founded Pagans for Archaeology, to show the world at large that there are hundreds of Pagans who support archaeology and museums. It's the reason why I started the Pagan theologies wiki, to get Pagans thinking about theology and discussing our values and ethics and beliefs (not to end up with a standardised orthodox view, but to discuss the issues properly). And it's why I support the idea of Pax's Pagan Collegium site, and why I urge people to read the books of Ronald Hutton.

But the need for thinking is not the only requirement for a religion (or a way of life, if you prefer) that actually works. Jung identified four psychological types, and we need to develop ourselves in all four areas, not just one. Jung's types (also used in the Myers-Briggs test) are:
  • Sensation (Earth)
  • Intuition (Fire)
  • Thinking (Air)
  • Emotion (Water)
Most people have one of these modes as a dominant function, and the rest as secondary, with a deficiency in one area. But, I would argue, just because someone has a deficiency in one of these areas, doesn't mean they can't work to correct it. That is what education is for, or should be. I have met some intellectuals with the emotional intelligence of a flea; and people who are primarily emotional types who could do with developing their thinking ability; and so on.

Similarly, Howard Gardner identified multiple modes of intelligence, which are also relevant here.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Verbal-linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Naturalistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Visual-spatial
  • Musical
They are probably not reducible to Jung's four types; though there are some interesting similarities. The one of particular interest to Pagans might be Naturalistic intelligence, broadly defined as the ability to survive in the wild.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

interpreting tradition

Sannion has just written a wonderful post about the issue of homophobia in Hellenismos (apparently a hot topic among the Hellenic community currently).

One of the many things that is interesting about it, is that it cuts to the very heart of what we mean by religion, by tradition, and by Pagan values.

According to Sannion (and I would agree with him) ancient Hellenic values at their best were about free enquiry, democracy, questioning assumptions and finding out what makes stuff work. In many ways their society was flawed (e.g. slavery, treating women and "effeminate" men as second-class citizens) and we wouldn't want to revive those aspects of their society.

In my view (and Sannion's) we need to be selective and reasonable about what we revive of past paganisms, and acknowledge that culture and tradition are multivalent, multivocal, developing and growing and moving on.

I have come across people in Wicca who say that because polarity was originally envisaged as being primarily a male+female dynamic, that is now part of the Tradition and cannot be changed. FFS, the tradition is only fifty years old; we can expand and deepen our understanding of what polarity means, by listening to LGBT understandings of it. See for instance the excellent article by Lynna Landstreet about it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The problem of historicity

Regarding the historicity of Pagan traditions. Given that we know next to nothing about what ancient druids (if they were really as described by the Romans) got up to or believed, or what medieval witches (who, even if they existed, were probably not pagans) got up to, or what early medieval heathens got up to (a bit more data, but a lot of it written down by Christians), the people who claim that they're doing something because their ancient forerunners did it, and not because they feel it to be the right way for them to be a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan in the here and now - that is what is irritating to the academically-minded.

You can be a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan because you feel you are one because it fits the image you have in your mind of what a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan is (and I affirm your right to do so).

But what happens when someone else with a completely different idea about what a Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan is, does the same? Then we have confusion...

What is the solution to this dilemma? I'm not sure that I know. I know that we do need to have discussions about our theology, our values, our worldview, our ethics, and what is distinctly Druid/Witch/Wiccan/Heathen/Pagan about them. We don't want to establish a creed or an orthodoxy, because that could lead to persecution of dissenters. But that does not mean we can dodge the issue and just not talk about it.

As far as historicity is concerned, the rest of us could learn a lot from Heathens and reconstructionists, who have gone to the effort of reading as much of the available source material as possible, and comparing it with experiences and ideas of present-day Heathens, and creating a synthesis of historical and present-day insights. They are lucky because early medieval heathenry lasted a lot longer and was better-documented than other traditions. They also have a well-worked-out and widely publicised set of Heathen virtues. Wicca also has a set of virtues, but this is not so well-known.

Personally, I feel that we are also the heirs of the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Romanticism, and we cannot just ignore the intervening centuries and pretend they didn't happen. This is one of the reasons why I am interested in Unitarianism.