KIRAN ATMA: Ethnic
Showing posts with label Ethnic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethnic. Show all posts

Paganism And Ethnicity - To Be Or Not To Be Ethnic


The debate of whether ethnic identification is fundamental to modern Paganism or not has sparked heated debate. 

Members of various Pagan organizations from across Europe and North America, as well as a small group of scholarly observers were invited to attend a conference originally called the World Pagan Congress, which took place in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital, in June 1998.


  • Following many days of lectures and debates, during which it was decided to make the World Pagan Congress an annual conference with a continuous organization, the key participants assembled to ponder what the organization's name should be. 
  • Because of its historic use by Christian authority as a term of opprobrium for non-Christian and purportedly inferior and immoral religious ideas and practices, the majority of delegates rejected the name Pagan as being unduly derogatory. 


On the same basis, the term "heathen" was disallowed. 


  • Despite the fact that the vast majority of those gathered in Vilnius were Europeans or Euro-Americans, the suggestion of Native European Religion was dismissed as inadequate to the congress's ambitions to eventually include representatives of non-Christian, non-Muslim, non-missionary, Indigenous, and traditional religions from around the world. 
  • Indigenous was deemed appropriate because of its appropriation by native peoples of the Americas and other regions as a linguistic tool for distinguishing themselves from the colonizing, missionizing Europeans who conquered their lands, disrupted their societies, and attempted to eradicate native culture. 
  • Traditional was proposed as a phrase that many thought would emphasize the shared endeavor to conserve and follow previous spiritual and folkloric traditions, but it was rejected because it lacked specificity. 

The group was renamed the World Congress of Ethnic Religions in the end (WCER). 

Some attendees were concerned about the term ethnic's possible associations with such deplorable concepts as "ethnic purity" and "ethnic cleansing," as seen recently in the bloody aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia's multiethnic nation-state, but the majority found it appealing because of its roots in the Greek term ethnos and its associations with the European Union. 


Many observers are shocked, distrustful, or even terrified by the term ethnic in our name, as Denis Dornoy, a founding member of the WCER, subsequently wrote in The Oaks, the WCER's official newsletter: 

  1. Is there a link between ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansing? 
  2. Is this yet another racial ideology? 
  3. Is it necessary to be ethnic if you come from a long-forgotten people? 
  4. Isn't ethnic studies the domain of white-haired academics? 


Ethnic isn't any of the aforementioned, and its meaning is much more straightforward. Ethnos is Greek for people, and ethnic refers to anything that characterizes a group of people, such as their language, customs, everyday behavior, food, and spiritual viewpoint. 


This last aspect is referred to as ethnic religion. It refers to a group of people's customs, worship, and way of life. Ancestor worship is frequently, but not always, involved. 


  • It is often so ingrained in daily life that it is no longer considered “religion” (i.e., belief) by Western definitions. (The Oaks, no. 1, August 1999, viewed on October 12, 2003 at http://www.wcer.org) However, a mostly European majority decided on ethnic religion as the key descriptive phrase for the nature and aim of the organization. 
  • Another name, such as nature religions, which has been a popular descriptive name among religious studies experts in the United States and Canada, might have been adopted by a group of North Americans. 
  • The Nature Religions Network, an Internet mailing list started and managed by Chas Clifton, a professor at the University of Colorado, has been one of the key discussion platforms for researchers interested in Paganism and related themes in North America. 
  • This situation exemplifies the greater importance European Pagans place on cultural and spiritual traditions in preserving ethnic identity, as opposed to the American and Canadian tendency to place nature worship at the center of their Pagan religious activities, downplaying or dismissing ethnic identity as irrelevant. 


The lack of interest in ethnicity among certain North American Pagans has a long history. 


From the colonial period until very recently, immigrants in the United States saw the rejection or hiding of ethnic identity as an essential first step toward integration into mainstream American society: 

  • In the seventeenth century, the form of minority life formed in the English colonies set the bar for future European minorities in this nation. 
  • The majority group of English colonists and subsequently Americans valued the work that newcomers could supply, but they expected the immigrants to swiftly embrace the prevailing culture while discarding their own. 
  • Minority group members were desired for their work but disliked for their lack of understanding of English, devotion to Old World traditions and beliefs, and ignorance of the American way of life. 13 (Dinnerstein and Reimers, 1988). 
  • That is, significant pressure to erase any indications of ethnicity in favor of assimilation to the so-called melting pot ideal of de-ethicized national unity is firmly rooted in the social construction of American identity, with comparable sentiments existing in Canada (Gans 1979; Waters 1990; Jacobson 2002). 
  • Although there has been a greater embrace of ethnic variety and identity in recent decades, a better knowledge of the multiethnic, multicultural makeup of American and Canadian culture has elicited mixed feelings of gratitude and worry. 
  • Modern North American Pagans who boldly embrace ethnic identity as a significant component of their religious values system may find themselves facing accusations of racism and even Nazism. 
  • Greater awareness of African slaves' suffering and the annihilation of Native American and Native Canadian peoples and cultures by the European founders of modern North American nation-states has led some Canadians and Americans to question whether European ethnic heritage is worth celebrating, while others believe that all forms of ethnic distinctiveness are inherently valuable. 
  • The sheer variety of ethnic identity in modern Canada and the United States is another problematic element. With immigration from all over the world and rising marriages between ethnic groups, North America has a population that is more ethnically mixed and varied than Europe. Understanding and articulating one's ethnic identity is frequently a difficult task. 


For all of these reasons, ethnicity in the United States and Canada has become a far more complicated and contentious topic than it is in many areas of Europe. 


As a result, many modern American and Canadian Pagans, like many of their non-Pagan neighbors, prefer to categorize themselves simply as Americans or Canadians, avoiding any attempt to untangle the befuddling complexity of mixed and splintered ethnic identities across generations of immigration and intermarriage. 

Choosing the religious path of Paganism may involve a desire to more closely affiliate with some single strand of their mixed-ethnic, ancestral tapestry; to identify with one or another ethnic group whose history or traditions they find particularly appealing; or to reach toward a spiritual identity beyond ethnic distinctions altogether for North Americans of such complex and convoluted ancestry.


Creative Redefining of Ethnicity


  • Ethnic identity is a considerably more obvious and appealing idea for Europeans with a lengthy line of ancestors in the same nation, speaking the same language, and performing the same traditions across many generations. 
  • With the probable exception of Britain, this is mirrored in the increasing prominence given to ethnicity in modern European Paganism. 
  • Decades of immigration from former British Empire territories as well as other places have greatly expanded ethnic diversity in the United Kingdom, making it far closer to North America than Europe in this sense. 
  • As a result, one may anticipate British paganism to lay less emphasis on ethnic identification than that of more ethnically homogeneous European nations. 
  • The debate between modern European and North American Pagans over whether ethnic identity should be at the heart or on the perimeter of their religious identity has numerous repercussions. 
  • Modern Pagans that hold ethnicity in high regard may limit membership in their organization to those who claim or demonstrate ancestral ties to the ethnic group traditionally linked with the resurrected religious tradition. 
  • Language plays a role in the ethnic equation for European Pagans, since knowing the language of a specific Pagan tradition is one of the ways to demonstrate ethnic identity.
  • As a result, some Pagans have entirely rejected ethnic identification as a requirement for membership, which has been extensively discussed and occasionally criticized as racism by observers and opponents. 
  • They believe that persons who have a strong emotional attachment to the gods and goddesses or other components of a Pagan tradition are eligible to membership based on their sense of personal belonging. 
  • In the context of modern Celtic Paganism, Marion Bowman (2000) developed the term Cardiac Celts to describe a large category of persons with no specific Celtic lineage who are emotionally drawn to Celtic myth and religion and identify as spiritual, rather than ethnic, Celts. Individual affinity and choice, rather than communal ancestry, determine religious identification for such Pagans. 

The notion of rebirth is used by some modern-day Pagans to avoid ethnicity issues. 


According to them, the affinity that people of various ethnic backgrounds have to a specific ethnically based Pagan tradition, such as the Celtic or Scandinavian heritage, may stem from a previous existence as a Celt or a Scandinavian. 

A non-ethnically Scandinavian individual may be invited to join an ethnically Scandinavian Pagan movement, and the same may be true of many other ethnically focused Pagan groups, thanks to this creative redefining of ethnicity.


You may also want to read more about Paganism here.

Be sure to check out my writings on Religion here.