Nature Religion as a Cultural System?Sources of Environmentalist Action and Rhetoric in a Contemporary Pagan Community
Keywords:nature religion, Wicca,
AbstractClifford Geertz defines religion as “a system of symbols which act to produce powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations.” The Geertzian framework is applied here to the use by the contemporary Pagan community of Nature, the Earth, and the Environment as symbols in creating a system of pro-environmentalist moods and motivations that spill over into non-religious aspects of life. If Geertz is correct, Pagan imagery of Earth/ Nature as nurturing but vulnerable mother should contribute to creating a mood of concern about the state of the Earth, and motivation to engage in environmental activism or other pro-environmentalist actions. Results of a quantitative study of environmental attitudes and actions of 159 people who self-identify as Wiccan or Pagan are reported. Their responses to Gallup Poll questions on the environment are compared to those of the general population. In general, Pagan respondents did not report greatly higher levels of environmental concerns than Gallup Poll respondents, but did report a significantly better record of following pro-environmental practices. Questions are raised, however, about the degree to which differences between Pagan responses and those of others on Gallup Poll questions are the result of religious outlook vs. other confounding variables, such as levels of education. These numerical data serve as the starting point for an analysis that seeks to understand what an ethic of care for the Earth means to contemporary Pagans in their everyday lives. The author examines rhetorical uses to which Pagans put Earth/Nature imagery in explaining their own ideas and behavior with regard to environmental issues.
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