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."


23 comments:

  1. What is Apuleius' problem? (He must secretly be in love with me!)

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    1. Y'all don't take AP too seriously when he gets all grumpy about academics--I don't think anyone else does. ;)

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    2. From reading their posts on the Egregor blog, I see AP (whom I am assuming is male) as an individual who is certainly disgruntled with academia. They have never revealed any academic qualifications of their own -- no PhDs, MAs or even BAs, nor do they appear to have ever published in peer-reviewed journals -- and yet they proceed to pronounce on academic matters using language which attempts to convey a sense of authority. I have encountered individuals like this before, both within Paganism and in the wider world; people who are fairly intelligent and knowledgeable, and who may even have some university qualifications, but who like to see themselves as better than the professional or semi-professional academics, whom they then proceed to viciously attack in a very un-academic manner. Of course, the internet provides the perfect setting for these individuals, better than the realms of self-publishing that they were formerly often constrained to.

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    3. I have praised many more scholars than I have ever criticized on my blog (which you would know if you had actually read my blog).

      Among my favorite contemporary academics, whose works have been cited with (often lavish) approval on my blog are Sarah Iles Johnston, Pierre Hadot, Eva Pocs, Jan Assmann, Ramsay MacMullen, Ruth Martin, James B. Rives, Anthony Kaldellis, Niketas Siniossoglou, Christina Larner, Julia Annas, Dorothy Watts, Charles W. Hedrick, Jr, Joscelyn Godwin, Arthur Versluis and Stefano Gasparri.

      How many of these scholars are you familiar with, Ethan?

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    4. Don't get me wrong Apuleius, I am familiar with much of your blog; did I not write that you were "clearly well read and well versed in archaeology" in my above blog post ? I have a basic familiarity with a number, although admittedly not all, of the above mentioned academics. Almost all focus their interests in the ancient societies of Greece and Rome, a part of the world which I have never focused on.

      More importantly, of what relevance is such a post ? Is it simply an attempt to make myself look poorly read in comparison to yourself ? If I were to list a series of academic authors who have written on the religious beliefs of Anglo-Saxon England, and ask which scholars you were familiar with, would it actually add to this discussion? I don't think so.

      I know that you are well read in certain academic areas, but that is beside the point. You are still pronouncing on the subject of Pagan Studies and, more importantly, on academics working in that field (in a very negative manner) without having presented evidence for your accusations.

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  2. But he writes really rude things - and puts them in a public place for everyone to see. So we can't ignore him entirely.

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  3. Having only just discovered this new set of responses to the interview with Caroline, I can't help being a little more than surprised. I have left a comment on Apuleius' blog, which may or may not be approved, in which I explained the context of this interview, and noted the fact that the politics of the Pagan scene, the Hutton debate, and the scholar-practitioner debate, are of no interest to the Greek readership since the very notion of Paganism and Pagan Studies are misunderstood at best, unknown in general, hence the purpose of the interview in the first place. I have no idea who this person is and what his gripe with Caroline is all about (being removed from the scene myself I have little interest in the politics involved), but the palpable envy and inferiority issues he displays should be apparent to any discerning reader. Caroline's interview shed light on a lot of details unknown to our readership, and that's all that really matters.

    Sasha Chaitow

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to reply to my original post Sasha, and thank you for undertaking the interview with Caroline in the first place. I enjoyed reading it, and believe that it may well be of real benefit to many Greek Pagans and esotericists; one of my Greek friends, a practicing Buddhist, has expressed a great interest in Thelema, Wicca and other forms of Contemporary Pagan religion, and has read much English-language literature on the subject, but I was unaware that his knowledge was not widespread among Greek Pagans, which is a shame. Clearly, you have a hard job on your hands helping to fight misinformation over there, and you have my support and encouragement in your ongoing efforts to do so.

      Best

      Ethan

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    2. Phoenix: "the palpable envy and inferiority issues he displays should be apparent to any discerning reader."

      I am not aware of any accomplishments by Caroline Tully that might cause "envy" or feelings of "inferiority". Perhaps you could enlighten me and explain what these accomplishments are? As far as I know she is simply a graduate student who has one peer-reviewed publication to her credit.

      Far from "envy" and "inferiority", I feel great respect and appreciation for people who make substantive contributions to scholarship, and also to those who make constructive contributions to the Pagan community, regardless of any disagreements I might have with them.

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    3. In response to your question as to what scholarly and academic works Tully has actually produced, it is of note that she has published three scholarly papers that had their basis on her master's degree thesis on the relationship between 19th century European occultism and Ancient Egypt:

      1) "Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and Isis." In Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon (edited by Dave Evans and Dave Green, Hidden Publishing, 2009).

      2) "Florence and the Mummy." In Women's Voices in Magic (edited by Brandy Williams, Megalithica Books, 2009). Not an academic publication, granted, but nonetheless the article is scholarly in quality.

      3) "Walk like an Egyptian: Egypt as authority in Aleister Crowley's reception of The Book of the Law", The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 12(1), (2009).

      Accompanying these three works, she has also published her recent opinion piece in The Pomegranate that you have previously commented on.

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    4. A book chapter in a commemorative festschrift (especially one not produced by an academic publisher) does not count (and even as festschrifts go, that one is pretty underwhelming). So, like I said, precisely one peer-reviewed academic publication. Which is great for a graduate student. But it is not the stuff that envy and inferiority complexes are made.

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  4. I am still trying to figure out what Tully is on about when she claims that there is an "internet smear campaign" against Ronald Hutton "motivated" by the writings of Ben Whitmore.

    Please feel free to completely ignore this direct challenge to the substance of what Tully has written, as I am sure that you will. For my part I have compiled an extensive list of comments from around teh interwebs concerning Whitmore's criticisms of Hutton, and if anyone can find any sign of a smear campaign therein (or anywhere else) then please let me know:
    http://egregores.blogspot.com/2012/03/carolline-tully-and-internet-smear.html

    Tully herself apparently can't be bothered with producing any actual evidence to support her ludicrous claims.

    Here are some questions:
    1. Should Tully provide evidence for her claim of a "smear campaign"?
    2. If she cannot provide any evidence, should she retract her claim.
    3. If she neither provides any evidence nor retracts her claim, should anyone take her seriously?

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  5. Apuleius, nowhere have I ever criticised you for disliking Tully's opinion piece, or for arguing that there are problems with it. You are perfectly entitled to that opinion, and to your right to propagate those beliefs through the medium you have chosen, your online blog. This is not why I take issue with your post. The reasons that I took issue with what you wrote in "Pre-emptive response to the forthcoming adulation for Caroline Tully" was that:

    a) You have made outrageous and unfounded accusations against Caroline Tully as a person, using language that is both vicious and mocking.

    b) You have denigrated Pagan Studies as a field, claiming that it is only "pseudo-academic," without providing any evidence to back this up.

    As both a published Pagan Studies scholar and a friend of Ms Tully's, I felt the need to publicly contest your claims, which I consider to be damaging to the relationship between the Pagan community and academics working within the realm of Pagan Studies. This is the issue at hand, not the content of Tully's opinion piece, which is an entirely different matter altogether.

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    1. As far as my characterization of Pagan studies as a "pseudo-academic" field, I would humbly submit my analysis of Ronald Hutton's views on reincarnation as exhibit A:
      Ronald Hutton, Vergil, Ovid, and GradeSaver.Com

      As Exhibit B I would submit the fact that not one single "Pagan scholar" has ever taken up the issue of Ronald Hutton's egregious misrepresentations concerning reincarnation in order to set the record straight.

      For Exhibit C I would submit the fact that there is not one single "Pagan scholar" who has published a single article on the subject of clandestine Paganism in Byzantium. There is now a growing body of evidence of three independently verifiable groups of underground Pagans during Byzantine history: one in the sixth century around Procopius, John Lydus and others; one in the 12th century around Michael Psellos and John Italos; and one in 15th century centered in Mistra and involving George Gemistos Plethon. Much of this work comes from two scholars, Anthony Kaldellis and Niketas Siniossolgou, but others have been involved as well, including Stephen Runciman, John Monfasani, N.G. Wilson, C.M. Wodehouse, and others.

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    2. If I may be permitted to be just a little pedantic, I must emphasis the use of "Pagan Studies scholar" over "Pagan scholar". These two terms have very different meanings and must not be confused. A "Pagan Studies scholar" is an individual, who might be Pagan, or who might not be, who studies Pagan Studies. A "Pagan scholar" is an individual, Pagan in faith, who is also a scholar, in whatever field. They are not synonyms.

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  6. On your first two points (which appear intricately connected), you seem to be arguing that in The Triumph of the Moon (1999), Professor Ronald Hutton made a historical judgment regarding the Contemporary Pagan belief about reincarnation that you think was premature, rejecting as it did the possibility that these beliefs had a native European rather than Asian source. Personally, I think that this is a valid point on your behalf, and does expose a problem in Hutton's argument.

    However, you furthermore seem to suggest that simply because no Pagan Studies scholar has publicly challenged Hutton on this point, then Pagan Studies as an entire discipline is "pseudo-academic." I find this rather ludicrous and really fail to grasp the logic of this argument.

    In your third point, you then argue that because no figure involved in Pagan Studies has examined the survival of pre-Christian, pagan cults within the Late Mediaeval Byzantine Empire (a subject on which I know very little, I will admit now), then that also shows that the entire discipline of Pagan Studies is "pseudo-academic". Again, I really don't see any logic to your argument here.

    You have failed to show exactly how Pagan Studies -- as a field of study -- is "pseudo-academic", in the way that Parapsychology or Intelligent Design is pseudo-academic, imitating many of the conventions of academia but in fact rejecting the core tenets of stringent investigation, be it sociological, anthropological, historical or whatever.

    Is there a significant problem with the methodologies employed by those studying Pagan Studies ? Is The Pomegranate incorrectly peer-reviewed ? In general, has academic protocol been neglected throughout the entire discipline ? If you can prove these things, then I would indeed concede to you that Pagan Studies is pseudo-academic. Until then, I will remain a critic.

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    1. The analysis of mine that I was referring to was not in response to what Hutton wrote regarding reincarnation in Triumph of the Moon (which you would know if you had read what you are attempting to reply to). What little he did say on the subject in that book was so vague and incoherent that I was never able to figure out a way to respond to it specifically and coherently.

      Rather, my critique was in direct response to the far more specific statement that professor Hutton made during his address to the Dion Fortune Seminar in 2009. In that address, Hutton stated of reincarnation that "It is not a Western idea at all," and, moreover, that:

      "The concept of reincarnation comes from the East, being especially associated with Hindu and Buddhist thought. It reached Europe, like so much else, in the 18th century, and was especially influential in Britain because the British conquest of India, followed by Ceylon and Burma, opened a highway for it.

      "The first person to make it widely known among English and French intellectuals was Sir William Jones, who has already been mentioned as one of the earliest proponents of divine polarity as the basis of the cosmos."


      Had Ronald Hutton ever made a serious attempt at tracing the history of the idea of reincarnation in the West, he would have very easily discovered a wealth of sources, in England and elsewhere, directly contradicting his misinformed views. Many of these sources are laid out in great detail in the analysis that I have already linked to. Here are four examples:
      * The writings of Tertulian (c.160-c.225 AD), sometimes referred to as "the first Western theologian"
      * The writings of Fran├žois Bernier (1625-1688) and Thomas Tryon (1634-1703).
      * The contemporary scholarship of Brian Ogren on metempsychosis on Renaissance Jewish mysticism.

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    2. But Apuleius, once again this strays from the primary discussion at a great tangent. You list all of this information and argument over at your blog, in far greater detail. Agreed, it does highlight a problem in one of Hutton's many arguments pertaining to the development of contemporary Paganism, but it by no means makes him a "pseudo-academic," nor does it make Pagan Studies as an entire discipline "pseudo-academic."

      If you continue to make statements like your claims regarding the "pseudo-academic" nature of Pagan Studies without fully substantiating them, you are simply opening yourself up to criticism and ridicule; indeed, is this not the very charge with which you accuse Ms Tully ? I say this not to mock you or offend you, but as advice, to do with what you will. I simply ask that you show a little more courtesy in future when dealing with Pagan Studies academics, who don't deserve to have vicious misinformation propagated against them, particularly not from figures with no discernible academic credentials who hide being anonymous pseudonyms. There is much on your blog that is of worth -- your critical commentary on academic arguments and the encroaching threat of Christian Fundamentalism among them -- but personal attacks are beneath educated debate.

      I feel that I have said enough on this issue. Such arguments as that we appear to be having can ultimately offer little more than heated animosity and bad blood, and I have much more important work to be getting on with. Go in peace, and I hope that you understand and appreciate where I -- and others who share my opinions -- are coming from. A little more respect for others will go a long way.

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  7. Well, I have to thank you Ethan, for this blog post and your comments. As for you Apuleius... so what if I'm a "graduate student"? So what? I'm a lot of things...

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  8. Caroline, if you and Clifton, and Aloi, and Hutton, and Ethan Doyle White, etc, weren't so keen on making an issue of other people's credentials (or lack thereof) then I certainly wouldn't make an issue of yours.

    As it is, however, you have chosen to assume the status of some kind of authority figure, and to smugly lecture others on the proper way in which history and archaeology are to be understood by Pagans. While I obviously disagree with your interpretations of history and archaeology, I even more strongly disagree with the notion that you are an established authority on these matters whose opinions count any more than anyone else's.

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  9. I must refute that Ms Tully has ever tried to "assume the status of some kind of authority figure" within the Pagan movement or that she's presented herself as "an established authority on these matters whose opinions count any more than anyone else's."

    I have never seen any evidence for either of these semi-slanderous assertions, either in her personal communication with myself or in her published writings.

    She is, however, both a long-term practicing Pagan with an experience in a variety of different traditions *and* a trained academic in one of the social sciences. As a result, she does have the necessary experience and credentials to formulate ideas that fit within the remit of Pagan Studies, and subsequently offer them up for academic peer-review and publication.

    Furthermore, being a Pagan, she has every right to propagate these arguments within the Pagan community, allowing practitioners to better understand the work going on in Pagan Studies. At the same time, she is also giving individuals like yourself the opportunity to raise objections and challenge her ideas if you so wish. In my opinion, this is all perfectly legitimate behaviour.

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  10. Yes! Thank you again Ethan. Apuleius, the academic study of something such as Paganism - or Archaeology or History, Art or Religion for that matter - is about *discourse* which is a back-and-forth, continuous discussion. It is not about lofty "pronouncements", dictating to others, trying to impose authority, or having a "last word" on a topic. Discourse is about proposing something, and then someone else, if they disagree, proposing another view, and then someone else perhaps proposes a third view and so on. It keeps going. It is not about "rightness" or "truth" or telling other participants to shut up, but is a continuous building upon a subject. It is the way different scholars move around a large subject. Modern Pagansim is a work in progress, as is the discussion of it. I propose certain things, people either agree, disagree, or are indifferent to them. I do not tell anyone to listen to me only, and I don't try and silence other opinions. I'm part of a huge discussion going on within Pagan Studies and in the wider Pagan movement. As are you and anyone else participating in it.

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  11. I don't know; I think if you really know about something, you have the last word ! Why not ? Someone has to !

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