AAR Conference Chicago: Day 1

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 2, 2008 — 1 Comment

There is something a bit overwhelming about wandering amid 5000 (give or take) scholars and students of religion. Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, indigenous practitioners, scores of Christians, and, of course, Pagans. Aside from wandering the impressive exhibit hall (featuring what seems like hundreds of publishers), where I managed to pick up Douglas Cowan’s new book “Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen”, I decided to play it safe and stick to meetings of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group.

Jason Winslade adds a little ritual to the proceedings.

The first panel concentrated on the theme of “Talking with the Dead”, and featured a really fascinating exploration of Dia de los Muertos celebrations by Anne R. Key (who teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies), while Jason Winslade of DePaul University lit candles, ignited flash-paper, and donned various forms of headgear in order to illustrate his examination of ritual actions and drama (there was also a very nice presentation by fellow blogger Chas Clifton, and esteemed Pagan academic Wendy Griffin).

The “Polytheism in Practice” session participants.

After a restorative lunch, I then headed to the “Polytheism in Practice” session where three academics explored how various forms of polytheism are thriving in places like China, the Ukraine, and Italy. We were then treated to a thought-provoking response to these papers by David L. Miller, author of the highly influential “The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods & Goddesses”. Miller challenged whether “polytheism” was an accurate term for this broad and diverse religious movement, wondered if it was an unnecessarily political binary with monotheism, and advocated for the term Kathenotheism as a more accurate marker. This lead to a spirited discussion from the audience, including challenges to his assertions on “serial worship” (and the unlikely occurrence of “true” polytheism) by Douglas Ezzy and Judy Harrow (among others).

So far this has been a remarkably thought-provoking and enriching experience. Sadly, feeling very tired and foot-sore by this point, I had to duck out and take the train back home for a much-needed constitutional. But I plan on being well rested for tomorrow’s sessions, and will, of course, share my impressions with you. For those of my readers missing my regular news round-ups, I plan on doing a massive “Halloween hangover” entry on Tuesday, so stay tuned!

Jason Pitzl-Waters