Embodied Ethics and Contemporary Paganism

Jamison, Ian (2011). Embodied Ethics and Contemporary Paganism. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ee3d


Contemporary understandings of ethics consistently situate them as the result of a focussed rational and intellectual process within a narrow range of academic and religious areas. I challenge this approach, and theorise an embodied approach to ethics as both possible and desirable. I argue that such an approach may be most easily located in the contemporary Pagan approach to environmental ethics, given that the rhetoric of Paganism valorises the body and privileges the natural environment. While I agree that Paganism is indeed a nature religion, I theorise that there are two simultaneous yet contradictory discourses of nature informing Paganism: the animist (privileging nature qua nature) and the esoteric (privileging a symbolic understanding of nature).

I assert that my qualitative fieldwork demonstrates that some Pagans have developed an embodied ethic through close relationship with nature. I acknowledge that the development of such a profound relationship requires considerable effort and a great deal of time. I then compare this against quantitative data from an online survey of self-identifying Pagans in order to establish the extent to which such an approach might be representative. The Initial analysis of the online data supports the assertion that my respondents are likely to express positive attitudes to the environment, but are unlikely to participate in activism in relation to a number of specified areas. Deeper analysis compares the data between different groups identified along the animist/esoteric scale, and suggests that those Pagans who are more influenced by the animist discourse are indeed more likely to express environmentally friendly attitudes and to take part in activism.

I conclude that such an embodied environmental ethic is possible, although this may be substantially contingent upon lifestyle. I posit that by understanding the diversity of discourses informing Pagan approaches to nature, academics may be able to more accurately interpret the diversity of Pagan approaches, and Pagans themselves may be able to move forward in discussions between their various traditions.

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