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Researching the Past is a Foreign Country

Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions

By Caroline Jane Tully

[Snip] I propose that trying to understand academic research in history and archaeology is, for many modern Pagans, akin to visiting a foreign country where the inhabitants speak an indecipherable language. I argue that the new interdisciplinary category of Pagan Studies scholar—hybrid offspring of the academy and Paganism—is uniquely suited to bridge this communication gap. Utilising the theory of Cognitive Dissonance, this paper will highlight examples of combative interaction between Pagans and academic researchers at three types of site-as-stage: the text, the archaeological excavation, and the museum. In each case, while concessions may be made on either side, the performers actually fail to communicate. Thus the Pagan Studies scholar can act as a “gobetween,” connecting academia and Pagan practitioners, functioning both to defuse antagonism and to introduce hybrid vigour into modern Paganism.

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