Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches

By Gary Taylor; Steve Spencer | Go to book overview
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Jenny Blain

Increasingly, anthropologists and social theorists look at identity as fluid, constructed within social relationships and discourses - including discourses of spirituality and religion. Where as there have been tendencies to look at religion as a cultural 'given' (and to investigate it as a factor of cultural maintenance or cultural expression), today's theorists deal in choices, changes and deliberate, agentic constitution of belief, practice and 'self'. If, as Bauman (1997) indicates, post-modernity is 'about' choice, religion is an area where 'choosers' are evident and spiritualities are chosen, and, often, changed. In an article in The Times, January 2001, Mark Chadbourn commented that:

Around 1,000 people swap every week; “religious traffic” is heading in all directions as traditional barriers between religions crumble…none of the religions quite seem to satisfy. (source of figures: Romain, 2000)

However though it is possible to view those who change as shoppers in a 'spiritual supermarket', a view only of religious affiliation as consumer choice disregards the importance, the centrality, which spiritual practice has in the lives of at least some choosers. Further, some of these spiritual consumers become involved in the invention or development of practices and theologies, particularly where they are part of the fluid groups that constitute emergent religions, notably those of paganisms and the so-called 'new age'. Religion, spirituality, identity and life-style are interwoven so that, as with indigenous religions elsewhere, a division into sacred and secular is neither practical nor appropriate.

This chapter will discuss some ideas relating identity and religion, taking as examples areas from my work on shamanic practices, Paganisms within post-modernity, and people's approaches to 'sacred sites'. I will begin with some examples of pagan concepts of self, land, 'nature' and community, give an example from my work with seidr or northern European shamanistic practice, and conclude with how in the UK 'sacred sites' form identity foci for various pagan groups.

Paganism and Identity

The terms 'Paganism', 'earth-religion', 'nature religion' cover a number of practices and belief systems. These can be traced historically, and are


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Social Identities: Multidisciplinary Approaches


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