Review: „Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement“

Review: „Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement“

The paper „Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement“ analyses the relationship between the new religious movement Heathenry and postcolonialism. It was written by Thad N. Horrell, who is himself a Heathen and who problematises discourses within the movement that seek to invalidate postcolonial concerns. Horrell first gives an overview of the term postcolonialism and presents different scholarly notions on this terminology. To describe his own findings, he chooses the words anti- and pro-colonial, which he both associates with modern Heathen discourses.

Horrell begins his analysis by illustrating how Heathenry depicts itself as anti-colonial. This anti-colonial stance is linked to Christianity as a colonising force. Many modern Heathens see themselves as the descendants of Europe’s pre-Christian population that was “colonised” through forced conversion to Christianity, which in Heathen narratives is also linked to the modern age: „In reaction to and rejection of the Christian efforts to convert the contemporary world, Heathens seek to return to the ways of their pre-Christian ancestors, to revive or reconstruct the religious worlds and worldviews which were largely, if not entirely, destroyed by the coming of the missionaries.“[1] This is sometimes accompanied by a fear of homogenisation through globalisation and “monoculture” Heathens who perceive their religion as an “Indigenous” faith, are concerned about losing their uniqueness and becoming part of a homogenised culture.

In the second part of his analysis, Horrell shows in what ways Heathenry is pro-colonial, rather than anti-colonial. He illustrates how ideas around protecting Heathenry as an “Indigenous religion” are often linked to narratives concerning race and racial purity. The idea of Christianity as a colonising force in Europe is often used to minimise the disastrous impact of the colonisation of the Americas. Christianity is seen as the sole colonising force that first destroyed the Indigenous cultures of Europe and then went on to destroy the Indigenous cultures of other parts of the world. Through this narrative, white, politically conservative Heathens distance themselves from the actual processes of colonisation and of the real privilege they still hold, taking on the role of the colonised victim.

Horrell concludes by repeating that Heathenry is postcolonial in very contradictory terms. It is anti-colonial in the sense that it questions the colonising force of Christianity, but also pro-colonial since it often combines narratives of colonisation with narratives about race. Horrell argues that this combination of anti- and pro-colonial ideas is the most common stance on postcolonialism taken in Heathen discourses and that it trivialises the actual impact of colonialism rather than fostering solidarity with colonised peoples.

[1] Horrell, Thad. „Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement“. The Journal of Religion, Identity, and Politics. nr 1, p. 4.

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