At a time when traditional main-line religions appear to be in decline, contemporary Paganism is now a well-differentiated area of religious growth, strongly associated with issues surrounding ecology, feminism and social change. This voulme draws on contributions from people from a wide range of disciplines engaging with what is now a major religious development, as well as practitioners of a variety of pagan traditions.
The widely dispersed resurgence of Paganism cannot simply be identified with New Age but it may well be regarded as part of a broad dissatisfaction with received traditions, such as Christianity and Judaism. Global and social developments are now considered part of a compound crisis affectring the long-term viability of human life in a threatened ecological system. This book confronts and engages with these complex transformations.
Peter Beyer opens this section with a critical sociological examination of nature religion understood as an oppositional response to the process of globalisation.
Wouter Hanegraaff argues that the New Age, despite its supposed resacralisation of Nature, is actually a kind of secular naturalism, with no room for the supernatural or for a reality subsisting, as it were, outside the laws of science.
Steven Sutcliffe investigates transformations of the concept of nature, again as this has been exploited in New Age religiosity.
Jo Pearson: The question of whether Paganism can appropriately be subsumed under a general New Age category is then explored by Jo Pearson, who argues against the common academic assumption that Wicca is to be regarded as part of the New Age.
Richard Roberts looks at the "chthonic imperative" as part of the general cultural and ecological crisis of Western society.
Prudence Jones argues that classical Graeco-Roman religion was a nature religion in several important ways, and that European folk custom successfully preserved significant fragments of ancient practice that can undergo contemporary revival.
Ronald Hutton explores the process by which the modern Western world came to have its most common image of the Goddess.
Susan Greenwood examines the nature of the Goddess in modern Witchcraft, particularly with regard to the issues of sexuality and power.
Elizabeth Puttick elaborates on the themes of sexuality and power by reviewing models of female experience in a variety of traditional religions and new religious movements, showing how these can lead to the devaluation of women.
Geoffrey Samuel compares Tibetan Buddhism in the West with Paganism, looking particularly at their contrasting orientations towards nature and the environment.
Jone Salomonsen presents a detailed and nuanced account of a well-known Californian witchcraft group, the Reclaiming community in San Francisco, founded by Starhawk in 1980.
As a practising Druid, Philip Shallcrass presents a contrasting male perspective, recalling his personal discovery of the Goddess and her influence on his life as a Priest of the Goddess.
Vivianne Crowley outlines the self-image of Wicca understood as a revived religious tradition, focused not least on the veneration of nature, and she examines the ways in which Witches practice environmental activism within their religion.
Alastair McIntosh, who drew the Ambleside conference to a spirited conclusion, also closes the reflections contained in this book.
J. Pearson, R.H. Roberts and G. Samuel (eds) Nature Religion Today: The Pagan Alternative in the Modern World. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998. (ISBN 0-7486-1057-X.)
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GBS updated 03/03/2002