Date of Award
Religious and Theological Studies
Richard Clemmer-Smith, Ph.D.
Cultural theory, Heathenry, Race, Religion, Revitalization, Sociology
This dissertation is an investigation of religious, ethnic, and racial identification in the social "field" of Heathenry. Heathenry is a reconstructionist religious movement attempting to reconnect with or revive the pre-Christian traditions of the Germanic tribes of northern Europe. Often articulated as an "ethnic religion," Heathenry has also been frequently tied to white supremacist violence and hate crimes. Applying Anthony Wallace's model of revitalization movements, I attempt to make sense of what it is contemporary Heathens are trying to accomplish in today's society: What is it Heathens are trying to revitalize?
As a field of contestation over common-sense meanings about the world and the nature of our place in it, Heathenry is the location of frequent and heated debates around the negotiation of religious, racial, and ethnic identities. Much of the common-sense notions prevalent in the Heathen community, however, are derived from and built upon historical trajectories of which most contemporary Heathens seem blissfully unaware. While Heathenry provides a good example of a revitalization movement, it differs from the cases investigated by Wallace (the Iroquois, for example) in that the historical and cultural distances between the current day revivers and the idealized model being revitalized necessitates that intermediary categories (including intermediary subcultures and ideologies) and ideals of identity/identification must stand in as intermediaries for the ideal ancient Heathen identity being imaginatively and contentiously "revived."Stated more bluntly: For many Heathens, white racial identity is at least as important, often more so, than any relationship with spiritual beings, religious practices, or cultural identities.
By means of historical and textual analysis of both scholarship on Heathenry and contemporary Heathen blog discourses this dissertation will show how Heathen evasions (or denials) of their movement's history and development, combined with both a common-sense cultural understanding of white racial identity and a suggestive but ambiguous euphemistic use of language (especially "the Folk" and "our ancestors") allow some contemporary Heathen entrepreneurs to produce and defend a common-sense notion of racial identity which supports and reinforces white supremacist ideologies. Pierre Bourdieu's practice-based model of the interplay between structure and agency provide the basic outlines of a cultural theory of social interaction. Combined with the concept of projects of identification, developed from a combination of Herder's theory of the social construction of Völker, Wallace's theory of Revitalization Movements, and the theorizing of racial and ethnic projects by Omi and Winant, and Brubaker, this allows a critically historical look at the use of discourse, narratives, and cultural/symbolic capital to create and contest identifications with a plethora of categories (races, ethnicities, nationalities, political parties, religions, etc.).
The evasion/denial of the early history of Heathenry allows for the incorporation of völkisch cognitive frameworks and assumptions about the nature of reality (and especially race) into the objective structures (doxa) of the field of Heathenry. By denying the origins and trajectories of these ideas McNallen and other "ethnic" Heathens slip racialist/racists conceptions and logic into the "common sense" of the Heathen community. The myth of contemporary origins prevents many contemporary Heathens from recognizing the sometimes-troubling origins and history of much of their own meaningful sense of identity. This evasion of Heathen history leaves both contemporary Heathens and contemporary scholars of Heathenry in the dark regarding the significance and history of many basic Heathen ideas and conceptions. This lack of awareness of our own historical trajectories contributes substantially to "Ethnic" Heathen efforts to disguise logics of racial essentialism as merely celebration of culture and heritage (a.k.a. "ethnicity").
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Horrell, Thad Nathan, "The Negotiation of Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Identification in American Heathenry" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1348.
Received from ProQuest
Thad Nathan Horrell
Religion, Sociology, Philosophy