[The following is a guest post from Dr. Kimberly Kirner. Dr. Kirner is a cultural anthropologist specializing in applied cognitive anthropology, working on issues in political ecology and ethnoecology, medical anthropology, and the anthropology of religion. She is interested in understanding the relationships between cognition, emotion, and decision-making; the construction of identity, place, and community; and the way cultural knowledge systems interact with policy and large-scale systems to impact human behavior. Her research has focused on the political ecology of the American West and the medical anthropology of minority religious traditions in the United States. In addition to Dr. Kirner’s academic work, she has worked as an applied anthropologist in program design, evaluation, and fund development.]
Some of you know me as the cultural anthropologist who began the Pagan Health Survey Project, which collected responses a large dataset from Pagans across the United States in 2010 and 2012. I’d like to take this opportunity to update you all on the Pagan Health Survey project and a new study that I’d love you to participate in: the Pagan Practice Project.
The Pagan Practice Project: Pagan Identity, Spiritual Practice, and Sustainability
As an environmental and medical anthropologist, I became interested in potential connections between Pagan traditions and sustainable actions people may take. There is a body of literature on indigenous animist traditions (the traditions of Native peoples that believe the natural world is full of spirits) that suggests that nature-centered or earth-based spiritual traditions better motivate people to act sustainably – consuming less, considering the local ecosystem when making decisions, being interested in learning about one’s local environment, and so forth. At the same time as I’ve been contemplating these theories about links between spirituality and sustainability, there have been many discussions in the Pagan blogosphere this year about what it means to be Pagan. Are Pagan traditions deity-focused, earth-based, nature-centered, something else, or some combination of these? How do people understand their identity as a Pagan (or Heathen, or other related group)? What is the focus of various traditions’ beliefs and practices, both in solitary and group settings, and how significant is a focus on the natural world and non-human beings like animals, trees, and elementals?
I felt that collecting a large amount of survey data on these topics may help to illuminate these issues and help us better understand trends in individual traditions and Paganism as a whole. To this end, I would love you to participate in the Pagan Practice Survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/paganpractice. It’s a chance for your voice to enter the conversation, even if you don’t blog about it! While this survey doesn’t have any implications for gaining us more rights and understanding from the mainstream cultural world, it may help us better understand ourselves, our identities, and how much Pagan traditions are focused on sustainability – and that can contribute in a unique way to the conversation our community is having about what Paganism is. It will also result in papers that could be used to help us explain to the non-Pagan world who we are, what we believe, and what we do.
Update on the Pagan Health Survey Project
The Pagan Health Survey went wonderfully this year – we collected over 1800 responses and are now in the midst of analyzing and writing! I have received a small grant from California State University Northridge to have a graduate student intern help me analyze the remaining data and compile a public-friendly report on both datasets that should be released in December (I’ll provide a link through the Wild Hunt). I anticipate three academic articles being released in the next year based on the project, which I hope will be of use to both Pagan Studies scholars and to the health care community.
The 2010 results were presented at the American Public Health Association meeting in 2010, the Current Conference on Pagan Studies in 2011 and 2012, and the Society for Anthropological Sciences meeting in 2012. Some initial results from the 2013 survey were presented at the Current Conference on Pagan Studies 2013. Copies of these papers and PowerPoint slides (with graphs of the data) are available by request. A recently graduated Master’s student at CSUN, Charlotte Turvey, has also used the data in her thesis on creative adjustments Pagans make in 12-step programs (which are Christian-focused), which was also presented at the Current Conference on Pagan Studies 2013. Pagan Studies scholars can, by request, query the datasets for their own research. Finally, as a result of the project, the Association of Pagan Therapists was founded by Los Angeles area Pagan therapists (of course!), which provides Pagan-friendly referrals and allows Pagan therapists to discuss relevant topics. There has also been discussion of the formation of an association or group for health care practitioners and biomedical researchers. I’m so pleased that this project has garnered support from both the Pagan community and my university, and is beginning to deliver results!
If you have any inquiries, you can contact me via email.
Thanks to everyone who has participated – I hope the new Pagan Practice Project also proves fruitful to Pagan Studies and the Pagan community.
Kimberly Kirner, PhD
California State University, Northridge
Department of Anthropology