Academic Programs 

 Pagans, Witches and/or Christians*    (RS-690) ONLINE
Winter/Spring 2009

The course centers on a sociological study of contemporary paganism, witchcraft and other earth-based faiths and practices, examining how these intertwine with one another and with Christian churches in their beliefs and rituals. Can modern-day, Druid religion, Goddess Worship, Paganism, Shamanism, and Wicca be considered real religions or are these more fluid movements swirling through related religious networks? To what extent do adherents of one of these earth-based sects who worship in groups or covens have distinctive beliefs and rituals that differentiate them from one another and most Christian congregations? What portends in the next decades for pagan theology and practices?

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:*
beginning January 26

*Note: This course is scheduled to begin Monday, January 26th . Registered students will receive an email from Dr. Scott Thumma by January 23rd with instructions on how to access the private web site.

Adair Lummis
Faculty Associate in Research

Contact Information:

phone: (860) 509-9547


Course Syllabus

Course Web Site

Course Description and Objectives

The course will give a sociological perspective on the rise of the neopagan cluster of diverse worshiping communities and new religions. Within the last fifty years, the United States has been the country in which the expansion of various neopagans groups has been the greatest. The course will explore what processes and conceptual lenses seem most appropriate for examining the rise of neopagan religions in the United States, particularly those associated broadly with Wicca and Goddess Worship, in which most growth has occurred.

Students will be encouraged to apply the themes of the course to trends within their own denomination, congregation or community of faith in their weekly responses. In their final paper, students may focus on one or more neopagan groups or compare their own faith group’s present theological beliefs, socio-political beliefs, and worship practices with those in various neopagan groups.
Course Requirements include:
Weekly: This involves doing all of the assigned reading, answering at least one question a week posed by the instructor with each weekly lecture, and commenting on at least one of the answers written by another student. 40% of final grade

Mid-term paper: This is about a 500-word paper, in which the student gives a general proposal for her/his final essay. In this mid-term proposal the student is expected to name the themes he or she will pursue and how, e.g. web searches, interviews, participant observation in a neopagan group, further reading. 20% of final grade

Final essay: This 1500-2000 word essay should explore the themes/concepts of the course in regard to the specific group or topic selected by student and approved by the instructor. In this essay, the student is expected to use the required reading and reflection on the reading and class discussion to “earth-center” the essay academically. 40% of final grade

LECTURES AND REQUIRED READING (All Required Reading Will Be On Line)

Week 1 Introductory Lecture.
No other reading required. Students will be asked to introduce themselves and indicate what their particular interests are or may be during the progress of the course.

Week 2 Lecture: Magic Past: Pagans and Witches: Recrudescent Outbreaks from the Past or Twentieth Century Inchoation?

  • Jeremy Northcote, Pp 21-43 “Church and Magic up Through the 18th Century,” in Northcote, The Paranormal and the Politics of Truth: A Sociological Account. (Charlottesville, VA: Imprint Academic, 2007).
  • Ronald Hutton, Pp 52-65, “Finding a Structure” (about secret societies in Britain in the 18th century), in Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Week 3 Lecture: The Founders of Modern Pagan Witchcraft

  • Hutton, op cit, Chapter 11, “Gerald Gardner”. Pp 205-240.
  • Jeffrey Russell and Brooks Alexander, Pp. 164-178 (Neopagan witchcraft comes to the USA), in Russell and Alexander, A New History of Witchcraft, Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans (London: Thames and Hudson, 2007).

Week 4 Lecture: Magic Present: Real not “Supernatural” Talent

  • Margo Adler, “The Craft Today”, Pp. 99-125, in Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today (Revised and Expanded,) New York, Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Vivian Crowley, “Healing in Wicca,” pp. 151-165 in Wendy Griffin, ed., Daughters of the Goddess (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2000).
  • Berger, Leach & Shaffer, “Magic and Mysticism” Pp. 35-53 in Helen Berger, Evan Leach, and Leigh S. Shaffer, Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (Columbia, U. of South Carolina Press, 2003

Week 5 Lecture: Neopagan Politics and Advocacy

  • Margo Adler, op.cit. on politics & ecology in the 1980’s, Pp. 399-417.
  • Susan Greenwood, “Feminist Witchcraft: A Transformatory Politics,” Pp. 136-150 in Griffin, op.cit.
  • Berger, Leach and Shaffer, “Politics” (skim) Pp. 54-88.
  • Helen Berger and Ezzy, “The Goddess is Alive: Feminism and Environmentalism” Pp. 169-198 in Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy. Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self (Rutgers University Press, 2007)

Week 6. Lecture: Neopagan Beliefs and Theology

  • Michael York, “Paganism as Theology,” Pp 157-168 in York, Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion (New York: NYU Press, 2003).
  • Helen Berger and Ezzy, Chap 6 “If it Harm None, Do As Thou Wilt” Pp. 205-228.

Week 7 Lecture: Neopagan Rituals and Festivals

  • Starhawk, “Ritual as Bonding: Action as Ritual”, Pp. 326-335, in Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ, eds., Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper Collins: 2000).
  • Wendy Hunter Roberts, “In Her Name: Toward a Feminist Thealogy of Pagan Ritual.” Pp: 137-162 in Marjorie Proctor-Smith and Janet R. Walton, Women at Worship: Interpretations of North American Diversity. (Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993).
  • Mary Jo Neitz, “Queering the Dragonfest: Changing Sexualities in a Post-Patriarchal Religion” Pp. 259-280 in Scott Thumma and Edward Gray, Gay Religion (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 2005).

Week 8: Review and Writing Week: Midterm Proposals Due

Week 9 Lecture: Neopagan Diversification in the Land of Religious Freedom

  • Review Adler reading for Week 4
  • Berger, Leach & Shaffer, Pp. 3-34 and skim 89-103
  • Marilyn Gottschall, “The Mutable Goddess,” Pp. 50-72 in Griffin. op cit.

Week 10 Lecture: Neopagans Face Congregationalism, Denominationalism & Ecumenicism

  • Adler, op.cit. Pp. 417-437.
  • Helen Berger, “ High Priestess: Mother, Leader, Preacher.” Pp 103-118, in Griffin, op.cit.
  • Berger, Leach & Shaffer, “Unitarian Universalist Pagans” and “Popularization & Institutional Changes.” Pp. 105-114, 169-202.

Week 11 Lecture: Becoming: Interested, a Participant, a Neopagan

  • Northcote, “Becoming a Participant” whole Ch. 4, Pp 81-119.
  • Berger and Ezzy, “Coming Home to Witchcraft”, whole Ch. 2, Pp. 56-84.
  • Berger, Leach and Shaffer, “Forms of Practice”, Pp. 114-139.

Week 12 Lecture: TV/Cyberculture, Cults, Pagans and Paganoids: Where Next?

  • Russell and Alexander, on public media & witches, Pp. 178-192
  • Berger and Ezzy: “Teenage Witchcraft, Why, What & Whereto?” Pp. 229-242.
  • Douglas Cowan, Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet. Ch.3, “The Mists of Cyberhenge.” Pp. 51-79. (Routledge, 2005).

Week 13 Summary and Instructions for Final Paper

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