Saturday, 9 June 2012

Caroline Tully and one noisy critic...

Hop over to Necropolis Now, the online blog of Aussie archaeologist and practicing Pagan Caroline Jane Tully, to read a new interview with her conducted in April 2012 by the academic Sasha Chaitow that first appeared in the pages of the Greek magazine Fainomena. In it, Tully discusses her relationship with both archaeology and Paganism, and -- perhaps most interestingly -- her approach and interest in Pagan Studies. Catch it here.
As the interview reveals, earlier this year, Ms Tully came all the way over to Europe to undertake some research on the archaeological evidence for pre-Christian tree cults in the Aegean for her PhD. First spending some time in Greece, where the interview took place, she then popped over to London to do some work in the British Museum and a few other institutions in this country. It was then that we met up for the afternoon, having a delightful time touring the coffee houses and occult bookstores of Central London. She really is a delight, and I hope that we have the chance to catch up again, despite the great distance between Great Britain and its far off Australasian colony.

Caroline Tully, Australian Pagan and archaeologist.
Image (C) Craig Sillitoe, 2005.
Unfortunately, there are voices within the Pagan community who have decided that Ms. Tully is a bit of a bogeyman -- or, perhaps, bogeywoman -- attacking the quality of her scholarship and furthermore denigrating her as an individual, painting her out to be some sort of narcissistic media-whore who seeks only the spotlight for herself. Over at the Egregores blog, the vocal Web-Pagan who goes under the anonymous pseudonym of Apuleius Platonicus has lambasted Tully in a blog entry entitled "Pre-emptive response to the forthcoming adulation for Caroline Tully", published online on the very same day that Tully published her interview. Well known on the Pagan blogosphere for their vocal criticism of academics involved in Pagan Studies (in particular the University of Bristol's Ronald Hutton), Apuleius has clearly now set their sites on Tully, mockingly referring to her as a "[w]orld renowned graduate student" and asserting that "the interview dutifully perpetuated the mythology of Tully as both an important figure in both modern Paganism and a leading light in the pseudo-academic niche of "Pagan studies"." As I hope anyone with any knowledge of academia should be aware, labeling an established academic field -- however minor it may be -- as "pseudo-academic", is a serious allegation, and one that requires a substantial explanation; notably, Apuleius fails to provide any explanation whatsoever. Equally, as those who have the good fortune of knowing Ms Tully will be aware, she has never set out to present herself as either an "important figure" or "a leading light" of Paganism or Pagan Studies, and claiming so is downright wrong and bordering on slanderous. I see such statements as nothing more than a form of petty character assassination which is tantamount to schoolyard bullying.

Normally I would try to ignore the rants of these self-important bloggers who hide behind pseudonyms while posting offensive and erroneous comments about those hard working academics who do such an important job in studying these fascinating new religious movements, but in this instance I really was moved to speak out. Ms Tully is a wonderful person who both loves the world of Paganism and who aims to explain the rigour of academic scholarship to a wider Pagan audience, and she doesn't deserve the treatment that this faceless figure has meted out to her, hiding as they are behind their shield of anonymity. They are of course entitled to make critical comments of her recent opinion-piece in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, entitled "Researching the Past is a Foreign Country: Cognitive Dissonance as a Response by Practitioner Pagans to Academic Research on the History of Pagan Religions," just as I would welcome Pagans to make critical comments on any of my published papers or reviews, but there is a stark difference between supplying constructive criticisms which ultimately enhance the world of scholarship (as academic reviews *should* do), and outright attacks on the work's authors themselves (which I'd expect from the tracts of poorly educated ideological extremists). As anyone acquainted with the Egregores blog will be aware, its author is clearly well read and well versed in archaeology -- this is no "poorly educated ideological extremist" -- but the behaviour exhibited in this particular post is thoroughly inappropriate and presents both misleading and downright erroneous claims about Pagan Studies and Ms Tully. In light of Apuleius' recent statements, I can only stress an old motto that my grandmother always used to say to me; "if you don't have anything nice to say about somebody, don't say anything at all."

An update: bachelor degrees and publications...

Back in September 2009, fresh from secondary school, I embarked on a new stage of life and began my academic study of archaeology at the prestigious Institute of Archaeology, now a part of University College London. Yesterday afternoon, that all came to an end. Thankfully, three years of hard work has paid off, and I managed to be one of the twelve individuals in my year to have obtained a first-class degree, something that I hope will set me in good stead for future employment and all that. At the end of this Summer, I start my masters degree, also in archaeology, which will again be based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, a really fantastic place that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone wishing to study the subject in the United Kingdom.

While waiting outside the grey 1950s block that is the Institute yesterday afternoon, an amiable Russian colleague-in-arms named Eugenia handed me a copy of the latest edition of Artifact magazine. A publication brought out by students, for students, Artifact is now into its second year and fifth issue, a special edition dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Institute that contains an interview with Institute director Steve Shennan. For the first time, some of my own work has been included within its pages, the transcript of a talk I gave at the May 2011 UCL-IOA undergraduate conference, which was based on the rather broad theme of "Archaeology in a Rapidly Changing World." Entitled "Archaeology and Neopaganism: A Stormy Relationship in Britain Today", the transcript, like the talk which I originally gave, is designed as an introduction to the relationship between archaeology and the Pagan community in contemporary Britain, delving into the work of academics like Cynthia Eller, Robert Wallis and Jenny Blain, naturally accompanied by some of my own observations from having been involved with both communities.I'll be the first to admit that it is hardly pioneering or scholarly stuff, but I hope that it might just get a few archaeologists to think a little differently when they next encounter a Pagan.

Once again, my name has been
erroneously double-barreled!!!
Nice use of images though.

The latest edition of Artifact magazine,
brought to you by the fine undergraduate
students of the UCL-IOA.