European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism – a conference panel in Amsterdam, 20 April 2012

Last December I was approached by Markha Valenta, a colleague in the history department of the UvA and an occasional contributor to the OpenDemocracy project, asking if I wanted to organize a panel for the upcoming international conference on “Regimes of Religious Pluralism in 20th-Century Europe”. The invitation was inspired by some of the things I wrote on this blog concerning Behring Breivik and religion last summer, and my role would be to compose a “heterodox” component for the conference. I said yes, and started contacting some people. Now, one month before the conference starts, we have three speakers and a juicy topic: “European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism”. Below follows a description of the panel’s theme, and a list of speakers and titles.

Conference: “Regimes of Religious Pluralism in 20th-Century Europe”

“European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism”

(Where and when: April 19-21; panel on April 20, exact time to be announced; University of Amsterdam).


The identity of Europe has typically been built on the two pillars of Christianity and Enlightenment secularism. Consequently, religious alternatives are always positioned in systems of pluralism where “Christianity” and the “secular society” are seen as hegemonic. Other religious identities (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist) are thus typically seen as additions to the main stream of European culture, rather than integral parts of the development of European culture itself. This monolithic view of European identity is however increasingly being rejected by scholars: not even in the Middle Ages was “Christianity” a monolithic entity, nor was it the only religious identity available.

While it is well known that interconfessional encounters with Islam and Judaism have played a significant role in the European history of religion, less attention has been given to the role of “Paganism”. Nevertheless, the memory of a Pagan past has been a major focus in historical attempts to define what “we” are not: from the early Church fathers’ struggle with pre-Christian intellectual authorities, to the sometimes violent exorcism of allegedly “pagan” survival during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, to the reinvention of Paganism as irrationality and superstition during the Enlightenment. In this sense, Paganism has been an ultimate “Other” in constructions of Western identity – but an insidious and internal Other that has instilled not only an attitude of demonization and rejection, but also continuously inspired fascination.

This panel explores the role of the “memory of Paganism” in modern and contemporary struggles of identity politics in Europe. Upsetting the triangular encounter between Christian, Muslim and Secular identities that dominate the public discourse, reconstructions of Pagan visions for individual nation states as well as for Europe as a whole have resurfaced in the European New Right movement in recent decades. Historically, memories of Paganism have played a part in nationalist movements across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The papers in this panel explore, from various angles and different case studies, how the amorphous ideas of “Paganism” continue to be used for challenging not only the assumedly hegemonic identities of Christianity and Secularism alike, but also to suggest completely new regimes for governing the relation between “religion”, “state”, and “the people”.


–       Jacob Christiansen Senholt (University of Aarhus): “Identity Politics of the European Right: Pagan Challenges to the Secular-Christian Regime of Modernity”

–       Colin Duggan (University College Cork): “Religious pluralism and national narratives in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland”

–       Julian Strube (University of Heidelberg): “The Aryan Jesus from Outer Space: New Age Adaptations of völkisch Christianity”


Egil Asprem (University of Amsterdam)

This is just our programme. Make sure to check out the rest of the conference here.


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reblogged this on Gideon Jagged.

  2. […] your calendars for the European Identity Politics and the Memory of Paganism conference panel. […]

  3. Naturally, I’m sorry I won’t be there for this. Looks great.

  4. Sorry for the duplicate comment, was having trouble with the comment function this morning.

    • No problem, Amy, I’ll fix it. And yes, I understand you share some of these interests. Hopefully you’ll be able to discuss the issues in a good context in Stockholm in August.

  5. […] movements. Incidentally, we will be discussion some of these questions at the conference on “Regimes of Religious Pluralism” in Amsterdam at the end of the week. The Breivik trial will most likely appear as a very special background to these discussions, and […]

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