Doctor of Philosophy
Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies
Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction
Verwaayen, K.J. (Kim)
Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
This dissertation draws upon the visual and oral life stories of thirteen participants (plus myself) to examine self-identified Pagan women and Pagan gender-variant persons’ experiences and memories of trauma and the potential healing power of storytelling. Specially, I use auto/biographical portraiture — framed as a form of self-guided visual life storytelling— to theorize links between embodied life experiences, traumatic experiences, and subjectivity. Geographically participants are located across Canada, United States, and Ireland where Paganism is still a minority religion, but also on the rise. Contemporary Paganism is a new religious movement that includes a plethora of religions and/or spiritual traditions located across diverse cultures and histories. Pagan religions are orthopraxical rather than orthodoxic; that is, it is shared practices that unite various Pagan religions rather than an official doctrine. However, contemporary Pagan epistemologies commonly encompass holistic paradigms, draw upon variously located vernacular religions and folk knowledges, and include belief in the supernatural beings and/or more-than-human worlds. Participants in this study locate their religiosity across the spectrum of Paganism.
My dissertation situates Pagan healing paradigms and practices within the scope of holistic healing and decolonizing trauma scholarship. In this context, auto/biographical portraiture is a form of creative and critical self-inquiry that can function as a medium for self-healing. My study finds that auto/biographical portraiture can be cathartic, empowering and healing, whether used alone or alongside other modalities of healing, including mainstream psychotherapy and/or Pagan healing rituals. For this reason, my findings can be useful for practitioners of conventional trauma discourse in supporting Pagans on their healing journeys. At the same time, this dissertation adds a feminist and decolonial trauma and violence-informed approach to Pagan practices.
My transdisciplinary approach places my research at the meeting place of arts-based, autoethnographic, feminist and decolonial methodologies and theoretical frameworks which make explicit that trauma and healing experiences are at once an interpersonal experience and a structural phenomenon. Thus, this dissertation makes clear that understanding Pagan persons’ experiences of trauma and healing necessitates an attentiveness to the structural roots of trauma, including gender and racial oppression.
Summary for Lay Audience
The purpose of this study is to understand self-identified Pagan women and Pagan gender-variant persons’ experiences of trauma and the potential healing power of storytelling. More specifically, I am interested in understanding how trauma shapes Pagan women and Pagan gender-variant persons’ sense of selfhood. Further, I am interested in understanding Pagan approaches to healing. My study has been guided by the question: what can auto/biographical portraiture tell us about Pagan persons’ experiences of trauma and healing? In this context, auto/biographical portraiture is a form of self-focused photography that participants use as a form of visual life storytelling. Theoretically, the term auto/biographical portraiture locates my study within life writing scholarship. In practice, auto/biographical portraiture can be selfies, conceptual self-portraits, documentary style photography or mixed media such as composite art. As an autoethnographic project, my own portraits are examined alongside the portraits of the thirteen people who participated in this study.
Contemporary Paganism is a modern religious movement that includes a range of religions and/or spiritual traditions that are located across diverse cultures and histories. There is no central doctrine in Paganism; instead, religions under this umbrella are connected through shared practices. However, Pagan worldviews and practices are typically holistic, include belief in the supernatural and often draw upon folk belief and traditional knowledge. Thus, Pagan healing paradigms are located under the umbrella of holistic healing. Further, my findings in this study indicate that Pagan persons blend Pagan practices and mainstream Western trauma paradigms as part of their healing strategies.
To examine participants’ experiences of trauma and healing, my study uses feminist and decolonial scholarship and practices. Specifically, my study uses an intersectional feminist framework which recognizes that folks’ sense of self and their experiences are shaped by overlapping identities and social locations, including gender, race/ethnicity, religion, economic status and more. Further, my feminist and decolonial approach to trauma acknowledges that individual persons’ experiences of trauma occur within specific social and cultural contexts, including ideas and prejudices about gender, race, and religion. All of this comes together to inform how Pagan women and gender-variant persons experience trauma and healing.
Snooks, Gina, "Between Worlds: Artful Auto/Biography and/as Pagan Healing" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8647.