Gimme That Real Old Time Religion: Re-embedding White Identities Through Ethnic Neo-Pagan Reconfigurations of European Heritage in Texas

by Brett H Furth

Institution: Texas A&M University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Whiteness; Neo-Paganism
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2124022
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/155763


According to social theorists, Westerners are increasingly inter-connected with other societies through the complex processes of modernity and globalization, thereby creating an increasingly multiethnic and religiously pluralistic world still dominated by the rationalism of modernity. Consequently, their world is disenchanted and their identities disembedded from traditional contexts, thus placing many individuals in a state of identity crisis. For working and middle-class white Americans, this problem is exacerbated by the unmarkedness of white racial identities, and the subsumption of ancestral ethnic European identities within this unmarked racial category. This dilemma has led some to question and challenge the authenticity and legitimacy of their religious identities and traditions, and to develop strategies to re-embed, revalorize, and refashion their racial and class identities. My research offers an investigation of one such strategy, specifically that employed by Neo-Pagans with an ethnic focus. I explore how recent traditions compose a new strategy that is attractive to white Americans seeking to re-root and give new meanings to their racial and religious identities. Furthermore, I suggest that a key reason some are drawn to and mark identification with ethnic Neo-Pagan traditions is a desire to refashion ethnoreligious identities to re-embed themselves in a re-enchanted physical and social world where ethnic ancestry and whiteness matter in new ways. This research is guided by the following questions: How might ethnic Neo-Pagan options mitigate the foregoing dilemma experienced by primarily white and working or middle-class adherents? What potential benefits come with identification with these traditions? Are ethnic Neo-Pagans concerned with legitimacy and authenticity as they reconstruct European folk traditions and histories, and how might those practices and narratives conflate European ethnicities into newly revalorized forms of whiteness? These questions are addressed through a combination of qualitative data-collection methods. Interview and participant observation data for this project were collected at diverse Neo-Pagan field sites in Texas. I identified and analyzed themes of ethnic heritage and ancestry that emerged from these data to determine how they bear on prominent race and class performance theories, particularly regarding questions about changing constructions of race, ethnicity, and religious identities in response to globalization. Advisors/Committee Members: Green, Thomas (advisor), Dannhaeuser, Norbert (committee member), Dickson, Donald B. (committee member), Del Negro, Giovanna (committee member).