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Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion

3.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814797082
ISBN-10: 0814797083
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Editorial Reviews


“Michael York’s audacious redrawing of traditional religious boundaries and scholarly categories reaffirms paganism's place both as legitimate spiritual expression and as a field of academic inquiry.”
-Chas S. Clifton,Colorado State University-Pueblo

“I have little doubt that it will reinvigorate not only the debate over the definition of religion but, perhaps more significantly, the debate over where one religion starts and another ends.”
-Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

“Folk religionists and those interested in placing 'pagan phenomena' in the context of worldwide religiousity will find York's book interesting.”
-Missiology: An International Review

“This work will interest anyone investigating the nexus of science, social policy, and the law in modern America.”
-Sociology of Religion

“Scholarly, but wholly accessible.”
-Terry Gifford ,University of Leeds

“An ambitious book, one that argues and then demonstrates that paganism is an important religious perspective by tracing specific themes through a surprisingly wide variety of spiritual traditions. This is the first successful attempt to articulate a theology that is based on what paganism is, rather than on what it is not when compared to Judeo/Christian traditions. York's work is an important contribution to the study of religion in general, and foundational for the emerging field of Pagan Studies. It is the beginning of a whole new dialogue.”
-Wendy Griffin,editor of Daughters of the Goddess

About the Author

Michael York is Principal Lecturer, Sophia Centre for the Study of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, and Director of the Bath Archive for Contemporary Religious Affairs, Bath Spa University College, UK.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 239 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814797083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814797082
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,970,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher W. Chase on March 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Michael York's book attempts to resurrect a category of cross-cultural religious understanding once thought to be irredeemably imperialist, archaic or Eurocentric. In examining Paganism, he is not concentrating on contemporary forms referred to as Neo-Paganism, but rather drawing thematic continuities to forms of worship across times and spaces. From Greco-Roman times onwards, York sees Pagan gods as essentially having an kindred affinity with Humans--different in degree rather than in kind. Fundamental "animism, polytheism, idolatry, corpospirituality, local emphasis," geosacrality, apotheosis, devotional reciprocity, regeneration, circular history, vitalism, phallicism, and most of all, celebration---these are the salient forms York finds in Paganism as a root religious type. Earth and Nature are the sacred texts for Pagan religions.

There is typically an "otherworld," but not a transcendent one. Rather, for York, Otherworlds in Paganism are earthly paradises, or at least realms that intersect with with this world and immanent, sometimes co-terminous, even "co-dependent" with this realm. Again, often a difference of degree, rather than kind. The flexibility and innovations of dioscuric triads and Shaman-Tricksters are common as well, and York connects this theme again across spaces, from the Norse trickster Loki to Hermetic Sacred Magic in the Western Tradition. Behaviorally, York draws on Peter Berger to claim that natural, spontaneous worship directed in this world is characteristic of Paganism, as well as the idolatrous bhakti devotions of vernacular Hinduism. Even Thai Theravada Buddhism is examined for its devotion to relics, veneration of images, and tradition of geolocal domestic spirit houses.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fine study of the ideas that lay behind ancient Paganism, and how they relate to and resemble the ideas of modern Paganism.
York proposes a model of Paganism which is pluralistic and polytheistic, nature-focused, human-focused and that seeks a good life on earth more than it does a specific sort of good afterlife.
He begins by examining some of the most well-preserved of ancient forms, those of China and India. He finds in traditional Taoist Paganism his first and most complete model. In Hinduism he has to choose among the many forms to find the (still fairly prominent) presence of Pagan ways. Having isolated the pagan remnants in those ways, he goes on to other world religions, including Japanese culture, European Catholicism and North American First Peoples. York makes fairly good use of material from the african world, including santeria, Lucumi, and the like.
After pointing out the Pagan ideas in the various world paths, he examines the neopagan movement, and reaches interesting conclusions.
I'd recommend this as a fine contribution to the development of Pagan theological thinking.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book initially because as a Solitary Eclectic Wiccan I have found precious little material exploring Wiccan theology and wanted to condense my own ideas with the help of some good reference material.

This book does help me in that regard, but not as much as I had hoped. I would say the vast majority of the book deals with what Isaac Bonewits referred to as "Mesopaganisms" and their comparison/contrast with "Paleopaganisms", with Neopaganisms being the extreme minority of the topics under discussion. There, he uses somewhat odd definitions and lumps all of Witchcraft into the same framework as Wicca, which isn't accurate or fair, but may be a useful enough construct to form sweeping theories with. Basically the most of the text is dedicated to creating definitions.

That said, the book gave me lots to ponder that wasn't on my original shopping list so to speak, and the final, shortest, chapter DOES handle theology more directly. The presentation is generalizing and nonspecific but still helpful. I was most taken by his idea that the New Age movement, which he characterizes as Gnostic, is essentially at odds with the Witchcraft religions in their basic worldviews (Paganisms envisioning the world, the Gods, and the human race as codependent, while Gnostic philosophy sets apart the idea of the One from all lesser emanations; in the one, Nature is sacred, while in the other, Nature is illusion). He surmises that these two incompatible philosophies form loose alliances due to the shared experience of Christian condemnation.

All in all I recommend this book for advancing Neopagans who are looking to help firm up their definitions of broad terms and identify themselves with the religious movements around the world that share common themes with their own.
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Format: Hardcover
There are plenty of books about theology. But not all that many on Pagan theology. That means that a book like this one could be pioneering, but it might also be trivial.

In spite of all that has been written about monotheistic theology, I find the concept of a "perfect Creator," let alone a just, good, omnescient, or omnipresent one rather silly. In my opinion, real Goddesses and Gods are perfections of attributes. Now, is that what most folks think? Is it what the author of this book thinks?

Well, it isn't something everyone agrees on. As York says in his preface, the associate provost of Boston University finds neopagans "confused, deluded, frivolous, and devoid of intellectual seriousness." Hey, that's what I think of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims! Anyway, the provost's point is that Pagan religions offer no ethical guidance. And there is something to that. Pagans often try to learn how to contribute as best they can in areas they feel are of value. Monotheists worry more about what it is they ought to value. But to claim that monotheists offer ethical guidance is something of an exaggeration, as is the suggestion that Pagans offer less ethical guidance.

So I can see why York wrote this book. He's quite properly defending the claim that Pagan religions are serious.

York begins with a chapter on Paganism as religion. He starts by leaving out the monotheists, the Buddhists, and even the Hindus (huh?) as Pagans. And he discusses folk religions of China, Japan, and elsewhere. The focus is on supernatural aspects.

Next comes a chapter on Paganism as behavior. That means the commitment that Pagans display. But just what is that commitment to?
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