5

It seems 'normal' that philosophers of religion and divinities scholars in the West would focus mostly on the Abrahamic religions. Along with that, many philosophers have engaged with Eastern traditions such as Buddhist and Vedic philosophy.

On the other hand it seems to me that non-Abrahamic Western traditions,in particular Neopagan and Wicca, are not taken seriously at all by established Western academic philosophers.

For example, here are search results on the Harvard Divinity Schools web site:

  • Christianity: 1400 results
  • Islam: 927 results
  • Buddhism: 1760 results
  • Hinduism: 499 results
  • Wicca: 6 results
  • Neopagan: no results

My questions:

  1. Am I correct in thinking that established academic philosophers don't take non-Abrahamic Western religions in general and neopagan religions in particular seriously?
  2. If this is the case, what are the reasons? Other than number of adherents, are there any epistemic grounds for taking Christianity or Hinduism more seriously than Wicca?
  3. Have any academic philosophers engaged with neopagan beliefs? Has anyone examined neopagan ideas from either ethical or ontological perspectives?
  4. Or have they tried to critically deconstruct them, going beyond a mere dismissal of them as being fiction or an interesting social trend?
  • 1
    The neo- in Neopagan is about time, not content, right? And there are parts of Plato that presume dissension among the gods, or that presume the notion of 'genius', of daemons, or of other basic pagan notions. Even though he was a monotheist, he was a pagan monotheist. I have seen these taken seriously, just to undercut Christian bias and introduce flexibility into guiding notions. But take it to heart that the very word pagan does not mean polytheistic, it means 'rustic', i.e. uncivilized. – user9166 May 24 '16 at 22:19
  • 1
    Your source seems odd. Divinity schools do not do philosophy. – user9166 May 24 '16 at 22:21
  • Can you flesh out what you mean by "take seriously"? (in part trying to demarcate between say Jamesian "take their claims seriously" and Thomistic "build philosophy on these claims") – virmaior May 24 '16 at 23:57
  • @virmaior I'm thinking of either a Thomistic "build philosophy on these claims", or a Nietzsche/Freud "even if I don't believe it, these claims are serious enough that I can't simply dismiss them as fairy tales - there must something more". – Alexander S King May 25 '16 at 17:14
4
  1. As far as I know you are correct in thinking that established academic philosophers don't take non-Abrahamic Western religions in general and neopagan religions in particular seriously. Some religion fare better than other. However as you yourself show (by stats on Buddhism and Hinduism), some major eastern religions are do considered.

  2. There might be quite a few reasons why neo-pagans are not taken seriously -

    1) Neo Paganism is actually a newer phenonmenon that claims to derive from earlier historical pagan beliefs. This means that a set of beliefs that was lost was given life by entirely different people, much later, who only developed their beliefs from the texts and other sources. The lack of continuity and tradition raises severe questions as to whether neo-pagans are actually following the same religion they claim to derive from.

    2) Major religions that exist today are dependent on either a miraculous event or a person that is said to have possessed some supernatural powers or divine revelation. With Neo Paganism, the question of origin is simply not a question. Without an authoritative figure, they are rendered too plastic, and neo Pagans differ on many issues. Hence it is difficult to determine whether the beliefs that neo Pagan holds are a result of that person's prior beliefs or beliefs or experiences that he gained from Neo Paganism.

    3) One feature of Neo Pagans that seem to unite them somewhat is that they believe in some sort of magic. The important point is that, as magic and rituals can alter reality, or are claimed generally, they can be actually tested. Hence such a religion can be proved by an actual test and thus is not of much significance in philosophical discussions, as a person who want to establish validity of that religion can actually demonstrate that by experiment.

    4) The "core" beliefs and ideas of Neo Pagans are actually discussed (or have been discussed) by philosophers. Collective Consciousness, Idealism, are taken somewhat seriously. However they have are neither completely Neo Pagan beliefs nor they have necessarily been looked into because of Paganism. Hence some interesting parts of Neo Paganism are discussed but under other contexts.

  3. and 4. I do not think that Neo Pagans do present their beliefs in such a manner as can be critiqued by philosophers, or are interesting to them. However some philosophies that share some properties with Neo Pagan beliefs are considered.

You can search for Collective Consciousness, Idealism, Jungian archetypes, Animism, etc. to know what philosophers think aout the ideas that resemble some beliefs of Neo Pagans. And if you look in it, polytheism, animism etc., are generally easier to explain by anthropology etc. than beliefs of major non neo-pagan religions and thus have gone out of favour. It is hard to approach these beliefs from modern Science and they do not even have a clear epistemic justification based on other fields like history etc. You can say that materialism and naturalism made it hard for them to survive in academic circles.

2
  1. Am I correct in thinking that established academic philosophers don't take non-Abrahamic Western religions in general and neopagan religions in particular seriously?

Neopaganism probably gets addressed to some degree within the context of other religious systems and mythologies but I would say that neopaganism is not addressed on its own with as much seriousness within academia in the USA. In Europe, neopaganism is taken more seriously and there are classes at the university level on this subject. (See Univ of Lancaster in England)

  1. If this is the case, what are the reasons? Other than number of adherents, are there any epistemic grounds for taking Christianity or Hinduism more seriously than Wicca?

There are epistemic and ethicall reasons most likely but also it can be said the whatever was "useful" from neopaganism was "consumed" by the predominant religions.

  1. Have any academic philosophers engaged with neopagan beliefs? Has anyone examined neopagan ideas from either ethical or ontological perspectives?

    St. Augustine and Leibniz addressed neopaganism in their time but as you can imagine somewhat critically. And, of course, the emperor Julian tried to revive paganim in his time.

  2. Or have they tried to critically deconstruct them, going beyond a mere dismissal of them as being fiction or an interesting social trend?

There has been a growing interest in this issue since the 1960's.

2

Given the "neo-" part, it becomes ambiguous to what extent Neo-Pagan religious views are not so thoroughly shaped by modern philosophy, particularly post-modernist or psychoanalytic takes on various notions of mythology and symbolism, that there is nothing more to say in response. You can have your argument directly with the academic proponents of those positions, and those academics are going to be more willing to answer you.

One half of Wicca is pretty much an evolutionary descendent of Jung. If you read someone like Vivianne Crowley, or someone like Starhawk from the front ranks of the Feri tradition, you can see the bones . One half of Thelema is pretty much a sophisticated modern Libertarianism without the obsessiveness, mixed with early Nietzsche. A good piece of Asatru is from a different face of Nietzsche. Etc., etc., etc.

The leftover 'halves' are generally not genuinely traditionally pagan either. They are instead the altered versions of paganism trapped within Hermeticism as it tried to allow for the genuine paganism embedded in Plato, Aristotle and the other early Greek and Roman philosophers of various schools.

Why philosophy does not take Hermeticism seriously may be the real underlying question. It was once a primary influence on various aspects of philosophy.

Terrence McKenna's answer is that the documented tradition itself was built upon lies -- St. Denys was not St. Denys (This 'pseudo-Dionysis' therefore did not have the experiences to which he attributes his insights, he imagined them through the dead St.Denys's eyes). Hermes Tresmagistus was a compiler, not the source of his own material, and he was not an ancient personage but a 5th-century scribe. (Although versions in the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest this decision was largely premature, and this was an intentional redaction of earlier material -- something appropriately traceable to a 5th-century scribe.) And this is compounded endlessly. Of course, those lies often had something to do with being hunted down by the Catholic Church, but we don't forgive them.

(Early on, Wicca honored this tradition of having a tradition built of known historiographical lies as a positive thing, by creating a mythological origin for itself in each longstanding tradition, and backed it up with "Don't write anything down." or "Burn your history.". I think the motivation was "If you get all fixated, and can't just get over this when you figure it out, you probably don't belong here.")

Somehow, the collapse of the lies behind the traditions trumped whether people were moved or intrigued by the content.

  • Never heard of Hermeticism. Looked up the wikipedia page (lame, I know...), how is it different from Platonism ? – Alexander S King May 25 '16 at 22:12
  • Much of Hermeticism is Neo-Platonic, but some is Neo-Aristotelian. The modern versions of, e.g. Astrology, as studied by Newton, or the bases behind the Tarot of John Dee, and other touchstones Wiccans and others rely upon to provide continuity with the past are ultimately based in a collection of late Christianized/Judaified Neo-Platonic ideas, including to a large part the Kabbalist Zohar. – user9166 May 25 '16 at 22:16
  • (Known as the Hermetic Corpus) It is different in that it is more self-consciously symbolic, and therefore gnostic in the sense "If you don't get it, leave." But despite being purposefully obtuse, it was once a major influence on our culture. The turn of the previous century revived an interest in this content, and the idea there is something useful behind it despite its obvious discontinuity with fact, resuling in, for instance 'The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn', and a renewed interest in Freemasonry. – user9166 May 25 '16 at 22:22
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I don't think you can discount the impact of size. The larger religions have had more (by orders of magnitude) world impact, have larger bodies of elaborated theology, and are taken more seriously outside of the academies. All of those factors together are more than enough to explain most of the gap in appeal to researchers.

It seems to me that the implicit question here is really whether there is some objective, knowable measure of quality that makes some religions better than others. If there is one, I don't think you can take academic interest as a direct result of it, but only indirectly (in terms of the quality of the religion theoretically impacting the number of adherents).

  • "It seems to me that the implicit question here is really whether there is some objective, knowable measure of quality that makes some religions better than others." I was tempted to include scientology as a counter example of something that can be easily dismissed compared to neopaganism or Wicca which had more intriguing grounding. But I felt that was very much my own opinion and too contentious. Why do Phil.relig courses ignore scientology or the FSM? – Alexander S King May 25 '16 at 22:16
  • This Why do Phil.relig courses ignore scientology or the FSM? is an interesting question. Is that what the main question is asking? – virmaior May 26 '16 at 1:23
0

I agree that it doesn't seems to be taken seriously. One of the reason might be that there is kind of an evolution, from polytheism to monotheism. It would feel like going back in time, to an idea that has been abandoned at some point. More than that, the fact that there is a lot of different traditions in it, a lot of ways to be wiccan or neopagan makes it harder to say it is a religion.

Maybe also, the fact that it's sometimes related to magical practice, and some sorts of weird rituals makes it more look like it's not just a religion. I usually see books of wicca in "esoteric" category. Some people might consider that the main purpose is not the faith in those gods, but rather the ideology of living in small society without following some rules (at least for wicca), or making secret societies ...

Another point is that the resurgence is recent, and the more than two thousand years history that it carries is not obvious. There is no continuity with the old civilization. In this regards, wicca is very young and it's difficult to have a good feedback on what it really is.

-4

A better question would be this :

Are academic philosophers taken seriously by Atheists / Pagans / Scientists / ... ?


Modern science makes Western philosophy obselete

In the West, philosophy as an academic discipline is largely rooted in Catholic tradition and has become obselete.

Today's Western philosophers have gotten stuck in pre-scientific models of physics and meta-physics - based on Christian dogma - that prevent them from realizing that their field has become obselete. As Jo Wehler explained here, they fail to build on empirical data and are unfamilar (or insufficiently familiar) with both the methods and modern science.

Modern scientists argue that...

  1. we can use science exclusively to determine the optimal conditions for both human and animal welfare

and that...

  1. a scientific insight into how to evolve towards those optimal conditions is all we need upon which to ground a solid Mythos / Weltanschauung

Every question that can be addressed by philosophy either is not answerable with any degree of certainty or can be answered by one or more of many scientific fields (From biology and physics to neuropsychology and sociology) in ways more reliable than philosophy ever could.

Science is basically a more reliable, more testable equivament of philosophy, effectively making traditional Western philosophy as an academic discipline obselete.


Atheists and Theists both embrace the Numinous

To quote the great Aldous Huxley :

How shall we define a god? Expressed in psychological terms (which are primary-there is no getting behind them) a god is something that gives us the peculiar kind of feeling which Professor Otto has called “numinous”. Numinous feelings are the original god-stuff from which the theory-making mind extracts the individualised gods of the pantheon.

— Aldous Huxley

Even "the Hitch" acknowledged the Numinous :

I’m a materialist…yet there is something beyond the material, or not entirely consistent with it, what you could call the Numinous, the Transcendent, or at its best the Ecstatic. […] It’s in certain music, landscape, certain creative work, without this we really would merely be primates. It’s important to appreciate the finesse of that, and religion has done a very good job of enshrining it in music and architecture.

— Christopher Hitchens

However, he also pointed out this :

I think everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there’s more to life than just matter. But I think it’s very important to keep that under control and not to hand it over to be exploited by […] those who think that God has given them instructions.

— Christopher Hitchens


"Atheism vs Theism" is a false dichotomy

Both Theists and Atheists experience the Numinous more or less the same way, but Atheists look for explanations in science whereas Theists look for ancient texts they believe to be divine revelations. Yet, their perspectives aren't as distinct as most people realize. In fact, I'd argue that the gap between Theism and Atheism largely relies on purely semantic differences with respect to how both approach the Numinous. I elaborate on this in The Atheistic approach to God… or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists.

Especially the Pantheistic / Animistic concept of "God" could be considered indistinguishable from the Atheistic / naturalistic concept of "nature" beyond the level of mere semantics, which happens to be the concept of "God" that corresponds with the esoteric "God" concept of most pre-Abrahamic pagan religions and even some forms of Abrahamic tradition (most in particular Kabbalism and Sufism). The early 20th century Traditionalist School (that influenced many traditionalist movements of the century that followed) was largely forcused on studying this common Pantheistic / Animistic core that most religions share.


Christianity is dying

I believe that the decline of Christianity in the West and the economic emancipation of both China and India as in the East will gradually allow Eastern philosophy to gain more hold on the West and will make it easier to dissolve the artificial dualism between Theism and Atheism that I believe to be largely caused by Christian tradition.

While the influence of Christianity on the West keeps declining, Atheism and various forms of non-Abrahamic traditions are replacing Christianity among Westerners. I will believe that Christianity will continue declining in the West until it's become entirely irrelevant, and that Atheism will eventually integrate with Animistic Pantheism, making the whole Theism versus Atheism debate moot.


Summary

My position can be summarized like this :

  1. Modern Western philosophy is largely rooted in Catholic tradition
  2. Modern Western philosophy is stuck in pre-scientific thought
  3. Science made Western philosophy obselete
  4. Christianity is declining and is unlikely to stop declining
  5. Atheism and various forms of non-Abrahamic traditions are replacing Christianity among Westerners
  6. Because Naturalistic Atheism is compatible with Animistic Pantheism and scientific knowledge, it's but a matter of time before Naturalistic Atheism will integrate with Animistic Pantheism

I guess my main point, here, is that whatever religious views are taken seriously by academic philosophers is rather irrelevant, because philosophy as an academic discipline is a vestige of pre-scientific Catholic tradition that has been made irrelevant by science... and that scientists lean towards Naturalistic Atheism or Animistic Pantheism... which (unlike Christianity) are both fully compatible with science and different from each other only at the most superficial (semantic) level.

Adding to that, I believe the term "neopagan" is much too vague a concept, as it can encompass anything from Wicca or other New Age religions to the revival of any pre-Abrahamic tradition. I would agree that Wicca and other New Age religions don't appear to have much influence anywhere, but I regard them as modern fabrications that are entirely distinct from genuine pre-Abrahamic pagan traditions and thus don't think the term "neopagan" captures the load very well.

  • One of the biggest problems I see with that it means Neo-pagan to be actually anything other than Abrahamic. Secondly, you also do not specify, how, even if economic emanicipation of East would lead to Eastern philosophies getting stronger, would lead to dissolution of the "artificial dualism betweenTheism and Atheism". You also seem to think pantheism and naturallism to be very similar which is a strange claim. – IsThatTrue May 30 '16 at 16:53
  • @IsThatTrue : You also seem to think pantheism and naturallism to be very similar which is a strange claim. -> Yes, I believe the distinction between Animistic Pantheism and Naturalistic Atheism is mostly superficial / semantic. I address my arguments for this notion in greater detail in my article The Atheistic approach to God … or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists – John Slegers May 30 '16 at 18:30

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