Nature Religion Today: The Pagan Alternative in the Modern World

Edited by Joanne Pearson, Richard H. Roberts and Geoffrey Samuel


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.


PART ONE The Chthonic Imperative?: Religion and Nature in the Modern World.

• 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.

PART TWO The Pagan Alternative - the Goddess and Nature,

• 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.

PART THREE Nature Religion in Practice

• 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.

Publication Details

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.)

Purchasing Information

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