TWH – In April 2021, the Journal, “Politics and Religion” published “A Political Profile of U.S. Pagans.” Professor Kathleen Marchetti of Dickinson College. Dr. Marchetti explained that her goal in this project was to combine her “personal and professional interests into one project: examining the degree to which Pagan religious identity produces common political beliefs and engagement in the U.S.”
In 2014, the Pew Research Center conducted its Religious Landscape Study (RLS). That telephone survey of the U.S. population examined religious beliefs. Marchetti re-examined data from that survey to develop this political profile. This analysis of already collected data precluded Marchetti from developing her own questions. She had to work with the questions that the Pew Research Center had already asked. Marchetti said that her analysis showed that “Paganism exerts an independent influence on political attitudes and behaviors.”
The RLS analyzed a survey of a representative sample of U.S. adults about their religious beliefs. Marchetti’s contrasted the Pagan sub-sample with the non-Pagan sub-sample. Prior studies of Pagans involved small numbers of self-selected respondents. Those studies may have been limited to one region or tradition.
A representative study examines a random sample of sufficient size. It will include different traditions and regions. These studies are both difficult and expensive to conduct. These studies can provide information about general trends and tendencies outside of those in the study.
Pagan beliefs and values
Marchetti cited other researchers who had found common beliefs among U.S. Pagans. Those beliefs included polytheism, an immanent divinity, and the sacredness of certain days linked to the lunar and solar cycles.
Those other researchers noted that U.S. Pagans tended to hold certain values. They found that U.S. Pagans placed a high value on certain characteristics such as having an open mind, self-expression, feminism, sexual diversity, and lived experience as a source of knowledge.
Values differ from political beliefs, but they can influence those beliefs. Values can conflict with one another. The political expression of values can lead to even more potential conflict. Marchetti’s research focuses on whether Pagans share common political beliefs.
The RLS looked at attitudes of U.S. Pagans about four political concerns. One concern involved regulations to protect the environment. Another concern focused on social acceptance of LGBT+ issues and people. A third concern involved women in the workforce. A fourth concern focused on the growing number of immigrants in the U.S. The first three concerns often align with core Pagan values. Marchetti chose the immigrant question to examine an area tangential to those core Pagan values.
Who are U.S. Pagans in the RLS?
The RLS reported on who made up U.S. Pagans. Marchetti found large agreements between the RLS and other research on the demographics of U.S. Pagans. Among RLS Pagan respondents, 64% identified as female and 84% as White.
Prior researchers have noted that Paganism’s origins lie in Euro-centric cultural traditions. That origin combined with white racial homogeneity “could limit the religion’s understanding of and engagement with the issues of race and ethnicity.” Folkish Pagan traditions hold blood and soil beliefs that can exclude people of color. The majority of Pagan traditions, however, are inclusive of people of color. Marchetti reported that prior research found that acceptance and universalism guide Pagan practice.
This pattern could soon change. Gen Z – people born generally between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s – has much greater racial diversity than other age cohorts. Marchetti noted that “as Gen Z folks constitute a larger share of the Pagan population, the [Pagan] population will become more racially and ethnically diverse.”
Answers to research questions
As expected, Pagans had, by a large margin, more favorable attitudes towards environmental regulations and acceptance of LGBT+ people than did non-Pagans.
U.S. Pagan’s attitude towards women in the workforce was only slightly better than that of non-Pagans. Given Paganism’s link with feminism, Marchetti expected that difference to be larger.
Non-Pagan support for women in the workforce was also relatively high. Marchetti noted that this could reflect changing gender norms across society. In which case, the acceptance of working women had become normalized. Other areas of gender equality may be much more contested.
Marchetti noted that Pagan traditions differ in their support for flexible gender roles. Some Folkish traditions endorse strict gender roles. Dianic traditions focus on the Goddess and female empowerment. Some traditions hold gender essentialist beliefs and stress sexual duality. Others focus on the transcendence of norms and acceptance of fluidity. According to Marchetti, in traditions with formal clergy, males still tend to dominate the few leadership positions. Marchetti said, “[U.S.] Pagans may not be as radically progressive on issues related to women’s rights as previously assumed.”
U.S. Pagan attitudes towards immigration were slightly more negative than those of non-Pagans. According to Marchetti, Folkish Pagans only accounted for 4% of RLS Pagan respondents. Pagans from other traditions had to share in this sentiment.
Pagan Political Identity and Participation
In the RLS, U.S. Pagans placed themselves in the moderate-to-liberal range. In contrast, non-Pagans placed themselves in the conservative-to-moderate range.
Marchetti found that U.S. Pagans share many values with Democrats but identify more with Independents. Both Republicans and third political parties failed to attract many U.S. Pagans.
In this study, U.S. Pagans reported lower levels of voter registration than non-Pagans. Most RLS respondents, Pagans, and non-Pagans alike had registered to vote. Marchetti understood this as evidence of political disengagement at least with electoral politics. Marchetti noted that Pagans might find “oppositional” politics, like protesting, more attractive; but the Pew Research Center did not ask about oppositional politics so the conjecture could not be tested.
The data from the RLS are seven years old. Future research and new data will allow hypotheses about the political make-up of U.S. Pagans to be updated. Still, the RLS data is the most current capture of the nationwide attitude of U.S. Pagans. Marchetti said, “the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study remains the most current representative (i.e., random) sample of Pagan religious identifiers in the U.S. and is the primary source upon which to draw conclusions about Pagans as a group at the national level.”
The Wild Hunt is not responsible for links to external content.
To join a conversation on this post:
Visit our The Wild Hunt subreddit! Point your favorite browser to https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Wild_Hunt_News/, then click “JOIN”. Make sure to click the bell, too, to be notified of new articles posted to our subreddit.