The 2021 Pagan Studies Conference Goes entirely Online

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TWH – The 2021 Pagan Studies Conference, titled “Brave New World: Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change” will occur from January 16 through January 17. Registration is open. Recently, The Wild Hunt spoke with Dr. Jeffrey Albaugh, Program Manager for the Conference.

Jeffrey Albaugh – [courtesy]

Albaugh described the theme of the conference as “How are we coping with the change that we have had in the past 12 months of some extraordinary circumstances.” He said, “they’re not just changes to our behavior, but to the way we live our lives.”

This conference brings academics, scholars, and others together. The conference will discuss current issues in modern Paganism. As a result of the threat of COVID-19, this year the conference will occur entirely online.

According to Albaugh, “A lot of conferences will be online in the future because it is so much less expensive and [more] accessible.”

The reduced cost has allowed this conference to lower its registration price. Travel costs and time, as well as lodging costs, have disappeared. This change opens up the conference to potentially large numbers of new attendees from across the globe.

Albaugh said, “I am excited about the online venue and seeing how that experience works out for folks. We have a lot of potential here for reaching out to people, and I would like to see it realized.”

Keynote speakers

The 2021 Pagan Studies Conference has two keynote speakers, Diana Paxson and Michael York.

Diana Paxson has titled her keynote address “It Was the Best of Times; It Was The Worst of Times.” Paxson edits “Idunna,” the journal of the Troth. Paxson writes fiction and non-fiction. Her new book, ”Carrying a Torch for Liberty,” examines political magic.

Michael York has titled his keynote “Matter Matters: A War Baby’s Perspective and Reminisces on Pandora, Pandemia, and Pagan Pluralism During a Brave New World of Extreme Change.” For him, one side of the current challenge involves “organic spiritual fulfillment.” The other side involves “inept leadership, global pollution, climate change, uncontrolled viral invasion, and communal fracturing.” York wrote Pagan Theology (2003).

Conference presentations

The conference will have 16 presentations. At least six presentations concern the impact of COVID-19 on Pagan practice.

  • Albaugh will discuss ways to examine ritual success or failure. He will use the tools of depth psychology and performance studies.
  • Angela Puca will discuss the phenomena of Tik-Tok Witches and their impact.
  • Cara Judea Alhadeff has titled her presentation “Spiritual Intelligence: Embodied Energy and the End of Consumer-Waste Culture.”
  • Heather Greene will present on film and television. She will examine the relationship between instability and the popularity of Witchcraft. [Editorial Note: Greene is the former managing editor of The Wild Hunt.]
  • Joanne Greene has titled her presentation “Maiden, Mother, Crone.”
  • Mark Green will discuss Atheopaganism and the globally distributed Pagan communities during COVID.
  • Melissa Harrington will discuss how Pagans adopted IT for group rituals as a result of COVID-19.
  • Nancy Meyer has titled her presentation “Re-mything: Ancient Stories Respected and Reimagined.

For a full list of presentations, please visit the conference schedule.

History of the conference

According to Albaugh, the conference has become better organized over the years. At the same time, it has faced conflicts and contentious issues. The Pagan Studies Conference has discussed climate change, separatism, and hate groups. Heaven Walker discussed how people in the Bay Area went about healing from a fracture in the community. In 2020, Judy Grahn, a lesbian feminist poet, spoke about gender and sexuality. Another persistent theme at the conference concerned healthcare and mental wellness. That concern involved access and Pagan cultural competence.

Its 2020 conference occurred just before COVID-19 hit. About 70 people attended. According to Albaugh, the demographics of the conference “pretty much mirror the demographics of the larger Pagan community.”

He estimated that the 2020 conference was 60% to 70% female. Transgender and non-binary people also attended. Albaugh felt the racial attendance reflected the demographics of the larger Pagan communities. Modern Paganism has many branches. According to Albaugh, the Conference attracts a good cross-section of those branches.

Albaugh himself began attending the conference as a non-academic. He said, “I found it thrilling. It put me in contact with people and ideas that I normally wouldn’t have access to. It was an enormous piece of networking. It opened my mind up to a lot of new ideas or new approaches to old ideas.”

For example, at one conference, Luisah Teish led a ritual. That ritual marked his first encounter with a ritual structure of non-European origin. He described the conference as a “spiritual pagan religious smorgasbord!”

He credits the conference with exposing him to new ways of seeing things. Those new ways include feminist, non-binary, transgender, and people of color perspectives.

Online and face-to-face conferences

This move to an online-only conference has had mixed results.

In other online conferences, Albaugh has noticed a diminished sense of connection between attendees and presenters, however.  For example, he cautioned, “If you’re a person who has issues with not feeling seen or heard, this could leave you feeling that you aren’t seen or heard.”

If, however, your question gets picked out of a large queue in chat, you might feel special. ” I had that happen,” Albaugh said, “I felt pretty special because it recognized for a moment I actually existed in the context of that conference.”  But everyone is welcome to be active at the conference so Albaugh added the way he felt was “actually kind of silly.”

Online conferences lack face-to-face networking. Albaugh said, “There really isn’t a replacement for face-to-face contact: for going out to eat afterward, for interacting with a person. There is networking to be done and social interaction to take place in real time and space.”

After COVID-19 comes under control, Albaugh would like to have a hybrid conference. One that functions online and face-to-face. He sees a conference with “presenters in attendance, but we also have presenters who are presenting remotely and people who are watching remotely. You know the usual Brady Bunch headshots from Zoom, projected up onto a big screen.”

By eliminating the cost of travel, time, and lodging,  online conferences can offer a greater diversity of presenters and attendees.  In 2021, three presenters live in Europe. One keynote speaker, Michael York would not have been able to attend if he had to travel.

“We are scattered across the landscape, more and more all the time. Mounting the conference with a hybrid model—engaging both an analog and digital presence,” Albaugh said, “allows us to [work] together in larger groups and have discussions and learn from each other’s work and contribute to each other’s work. We bridge the gaps between us, reaching across states and oceans, and build a wider sense of community.”

Registration for the Pagan Studies Conference is still open.