Pagan Family Values

Childhood and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary American Paganism

250 pages

10 halftones

July, 2013

ISBN: 9781479894604

$27

Paper

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Author

S. Zohreh Kermani received a PhD in American Religions from Harvard University in 2010. Her research interests include the history of new and alternative religions in the U.S. and childhood and religion. She currently teaches religious studies part time at Youngstown State University.

All books by S. Zohreh Kermani

For most of its history, contemporary Paganism has been a religion of converts. Yet as it enters its fifth decade, it is incorporating growing numbers of second‑generation Pagans for whom Paganism is a family tradition, not a religious worldview arrived at via a spiritual quest. In Pagan Family Values, S. Zohreh Kermani explores the ways in which North American Pagan families pass on their beliefs to their children, and how the effort to socialize children influences this new religious movement. 
 
The first ethnographic study of the everyday lives of contemporary Pagan families, this volume brings their experiences into conversation with contemporary issues in American religion. Through formal interviews with Pagan families, participant observation at various pagan events, and data collected via online surveys, Kermani traces the ways in which Pagan parents transmit their religious values to their children. Rather than seeking to pass along specific religious beliefs, Pagan parents tend to seek to instill values, such as religious tolerance and spiritual independence, that will remain with their children throughout their lives, regardless of these children's ultimate religious identifications.
 
Pagan parents tend to construct an idealized, magical childhood for their children that mirrors their ideal childhoods. The socialization of children thus becomes a means by which adults construct and make meaningful their own identities as Pagans. Kermani’s meticulous fieldwork and clear, engaging writing provide an illuminating look at parenting and religious expression in Pagan households and at how new religions pass on their beliefs to a new generation.

Reviews

  • "An intriguing, important, and often entertaining look at an under-studied aspect of new religions. Highly recommended." 

    —Douglas E. Cowan, author of Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet

  • "Kermani’s superb interweaving of survey-data, interviews, and observations of Spiral Scout meetings and festivals offers readers a rare glimpse into religious practice from the perspectives of multiple generations. She expertly explores how children and parents co-create their tradition, working together to build a shared history that is as much about remembering a mythic past as it is about forgetting parents’ struggles with institutional religion. Analyzing the daily practices of pagan families—who value childlike wonder and playful behavior in adults and preternatural wisdom in children—Kermani demonstrates the often-theorized interdependence of the definitions of 'child' and 'adult' with a clarity that will cause future scholars to rethink their assumptions about the fixed nature of these categories. This excellent volume is a must read for anyone interested in the creation and maintenance of religious practices, American Paganism, and childhood studies."

    —Susan Ridgely, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh

  • "This is one of the best and most nuanced ethnographic studies of contemporary Paganism to come along. Kermani takes us into the deeply conflicted religious lives of Pagan families, yet as she so deftly reveals, Pagans are not unique in their ambivalent desires for their children. While paying careful attention to how and why adults refashion their own lost childhoods to create religious traditions for their families, Kermani also attends to the often-uncomfortable ways real children experience these ritual practices and ethical guidelines. In so doing, she highlights a central dilemma in contemporary American cultural and religious life. This sensitively written book offers a powerful model for researching children’s religious worlds, the ways these worlds are constructed by adults and inhabited, resisted, and reshaped by children."

    —Sarah M. Pike, author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves

  • “Kermani has provided a valuable window not only onto a ‘new religious movement’ but onto the very problem of ‘religion’ in America.”

    —Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

  • "This study of the contemporary Pagan construction of childhood by Kermani (Youngstown State Univ.) is an important addition to academic collections, primarily because it covers an area of inquiry not addressed in the literature until now. Representing about 3 percent of the US population, Pagans are under-studied. This ethnography, drawing on both extensive fieldwork and survey research, provides good thick description and analysis."

    —G.J. Reece, Choice

  • “The author is at her strongest when discussing how four different foundation myths of religion result in different and sometimes conflicting views of how children should be integrated into the religion.  She gives a very thorough description of the strengths and weaknesses of parents’ attempts to integrate their children in their world, while at the same time providing them with avenues to question that participation and choose another path.  Pagan Family Values contributes to the growing literature on childhood within new religions that formed and grew in the 1960s and 1970s.  As the first book-length exploration of childhood within Paganism, it makes an important contribution to the field.”

    Sociology of Religion

  • "In this excellent book, Kermani explores contemporary Paganism by considering how children and childhood are taken up as conceptual categories within this eclectic new religious field...Kermani does an extraordinary job balancing the portrayals of her subjects as both modern, average people, and as imaginative and sometimes fantastic individuals defined by their self-assumed alterity...Kermani brilliantly weaves the first-person narratives of her subjects into her rich academic analysis."

    Nova Religio