Becoming a Virtual Pagan: “Conversion” or Identity Construction?


  • James R. Lewis University of Tromsø



Paganism, Solitary, Internet, Conversion, Social Networks, Identity Construction,


Well before the advent of the Internet, Paganism had been experiencing increasing fragmentation due to the growing numbers of solitaries. The Internet did more than simply bring new people into the movement; it also dramatically altered the overall social organization of Paganism. The present article brings together questionnaire data that paint a quantitative picture of these changes. Through the use of a quasi-longitudinal technique, data collected in 2009/2010 is projected backwards in time to show how points of entry for new participants gradually changed across the course of five decades. Information from other questionnaire items is then used to measure how Paganism changed from a movement based on face-to-face interactions to a community of physically-separated individuals interacting within a virtual world. Finally, we consider whether this kind of involvement should be understood as comparable to ‘conversion’ in the traditional sense, or whether this sort of mediated and mediatized interaction is better described as a form of identity construction.

Author Biography

James R. Lewis, University of Tromsø

James R. Lewis is a professor of religion within the Department of History and Religious Studies, University of Tromsø, Norway. Elements of the current article have appeared in other publications. Specifically, Tables 1 and 2 were drawn from James R. Lewis, “Cracks in the Conversion Network Paradigm,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 3, no. 2 (2012): 143–62. Prototypes of Tables 3 and 4 were drawn from James R. Lewis, “Fit for the Devil: Toward an Understanding of ‘Conversion’ to Satanism,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 1, no. 1 (2010): 117–38.


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.

Berger, Helen A., Evan A Leach and Leigh S. Shaffer. Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Berger, Helen A., and Douglas Ezzy. Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

Bibby, Reginald W., and Merlin B. Brinkerhoff. “When Proselytizing Fails: An Organizational Analysis.” Sociology of Religion 35 (1974): 189–200.

Cerulo, Karen A. “Identity Construction: New Issues, New Directions.” Annual Review of Sociology 23 (1997): 385–409.

Chue, Glen. “Born-Again: Continuity and Subjectivity in Pentecostal Conversion.” Paper presented at the conference Religion, Humanitarianism, and World Order, American University in Cairo, June 3–5, 2008.

Dawson, Lorne L. “Who Joins New Religions and Why: Twenty Years of Research and What Have We Learned?” In Cults and New Religious Movements: A Reader, edited by Lorne L. Dawson, 116–30. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

Engberg-Pedersen, Troels. Paul and the Stoics. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000.

Ezzy, Douglas, and Helen A. Berger. “Becoming a Witch: Changing Paths of Conversion in Contemporary Witchcraft.” In The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, edited by Hannah E. Johnston and Peg Aloi, 41–55. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Gallagher, Eugene. “A Religion Without Converts? Becoming a Neo-pagan.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62, no. 3 (1994): 851–67.

Harvey, Graham. Contemporary Paganism: Listening People, Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lewis, James R. “Cracks in the Conversion Network Paradigm.” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 3, no. 2 (2012): 143–62.

——. “Fit for the Devil: Toward an Understanding of ‘Conversion’ to Satanism.” International Journal for the Study of New Religions 1, no. 1 (2010): 117–38.

Lewis, James R., and Sverre Andreas Fekjan. “Beyond Hogwarts: Higher Education and Contemporary Pagans.” The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 15, nos. 1–2 (2013): 273–84.

Magliocco, Sabina. Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

McLean, Kate C. “The Emergence of Narrative Identity.” Social and Personality Compass 2 (2008): 1685–702.

Reid, Síân. “‘A Religion Without Converts’ Revisited: Individuals, Identity and Community in Contemporary Paganism.” In Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Murphy Pizza and James R. Lewis, 171–91. Leiden: Brill, 2009.

Snow, David A., and Richard Machalek. “The Sociology of Conversion.” Annual Review of Sociology 10 (1984): 167–90.

Snow, David A., Louis A. Zurcher, Jr and Sheldon Ekland-Olson. “Social Networks and Social Movements: A Microstructural Approach to Differential Recruitment.” American Sociological Review 45 (1980): 787–801.

Turner, Bryan S. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.




How to Cite

Lewis, J. R. (2015). Becoming a Virtual Pagan: “Conversion” or Identity Construction?. Pomegranate, 16(1), 24–34.