Introduction to Pagan Studies

Introduction to Pagan Studies
by Barbara Jane Davy
AltaMira Press, 2007

 

As contemporary Western Paganism has grown and developed, so too has the burgeoning academic discipline that has come to be known as Pagan Studies. While the academy may not be quite ready for Pagan Studies as a mainstream discipline, there are those who have spent years studying the ethics, practices, and polythea/ologies of contemporary Pagans with tremendous success. In recent years we’ve seen the arrival of several excellent histories of Paganism in Britain and the United States, along with a variety of explorations into Pagan and polytheist theologies. To this growing field we may happily add Barbara Jane Davy’s Introduction to Pagan Studies, the third offering from ’Pagan Studies series.

Meant for academics and nonacademics alike, Introduction to Pagan Studies covers a tremendous amount of material. Chapters cover topics such as Group Practices, Social and Charismatic Influences, and Ethics and Politics, among others. Davy touches upon a wide range of subject matter — from literary influences in Paganism, to differences between the New Age movement and contemporary Paganism, to different denominations in the Pagan reconstructionist movement. Her research and depth of knowledge regarding Pagan history and trends/ issues within the movement (such as the continuing dialogue over cultural appropriation in Pagan communities) is impressive. Introduction to Pagan Studies presents information clearly and concisely, making it both accessible for anyone new to the study of Pagan religious traditions and a useful text for scholars and teachers of religion and culture. Of particular interest to academics and students is the final chapter, which concerns the development of Pagan Studies as an academic discipline, addressing some of the issues surrounding the study of Paganism from different perspectives and offering the reader some of the issues surrounding methodologies in researching Paganism as a religious phenomenon.

While the amount of information contained in this book is staggering, the book does occasionally suffer from a lack of strong organization. There is little in the way of transition from one subject to the next within a chapter, which can leave the reader feeling overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of information being delivered. A more structured layout would be beneficial if the book is to be used in the classroom. Overall, however, this book is invaluable to teachers and students and a critical addition to every Pagan’s library. Introduction to Pagan Studies gives the reader a solid understanding of the diverse and complicated collection of beliefs, practices, and issues involved in the many religious traditions that fall under the banner of contemporary Paganism, and operates as a springboard to deeper study and research.

SARA SUTTEFIELD WINN.

RATING: 4½ Broomsticks


» Originally appeared in newWitch #17

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