College Of Humanities and Fine Arts

Sarah Pike

My training is in religion in America and my research and teaching blend ethnographic and historical methods and materials with an ongoing interest in how religion is practiced and lived outside institutions. In my courses I explore the relationship between religion and ecology as well as religion and ethnicity, identity and cultural expression. I am particularly interested in points of conflict and tension within and between religious communities. My teaching responsibilities have included RELS 313 Religion and Nature, RELS 224 Religion and America's Ethnic Minorities, RELS 257 The End of the World, RELS 322 Religion in America, RELS 325 American Indian Worldviews, RELS 332, World Religions and Global Issues, RELS 339 Confronting the Animal, and RS 482, the senior seminar, on topics including "Cults" and New Religions, Religion and Animals, Religion, Nature and Environmentalism, and Religion and Societal Institutions.

My research has focused on ritual studies and new religious movements and I have written numerous articles and book chapters on contemporary Paganism, ritual, the New Age movement, the Burning Man festival, spiritual dance, environmental activism, and youth culture. Much of my current research focuses on the relationship between humans and the natural environment. My ethnography of contemporary Pagan festivals, Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community, was published by the University of California Press in 2001 and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America was published by Columbia University Press in the Contemporary American Religion Series in 2004. It was named a Choice “Outstanding Academic Title.” My most recent book, For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism, was published by the University of California Press in 2017.


For the Wild book cover

For the Wild - Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism

(University of California Press, 2017)

For the Wild explores the ways in which the commitments of radical environmental and animal-rights activists develop through powerful experiences with the more-than-human world during childhood and young adulthood. The book addresses the question of how and why activists come to value nonhuman animals and the natural world as worthy of protection. Emotions and memories of wonder, love, compassion, anger, and grief shape activists’ protest practices and help us understand their deep-rooted dedication to the planet and its creatures. Drawing on analyses of activist art, music, and writings, as well as interviews and participant-observation in activist communities, Sarah M. Pike delves into the sacred duties of these often misunderstood and marginalized groups with openness and sensitivity.

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New Age Book Cover

New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

(Columbia University Press series on Religion in Contemporary America, 2004)

This book is part of a series that surveys the American religious landscape at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. I describe the nineteenth-century roots of the Neopagan and New Age movements and their emergence from the 1960's counterculture. I focus on healing, gender and sexuality, millennialism, and ritual experience as the aspects of these religions that attract participants as well as critics.

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Earthy Bodies, Magical Selves Book Cover

Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community

(University of California Press, 2001)

Recent decades have seen a revival of Paganism, and every summer people gather at Neopagan festivals across the United States to celebrate this increasingly popular religion. I attended these festivals over a five-year period, interviewing participants and sometimes taking part in rituals and workshops. In the book I look at debates over drumming, sacred space and sexuality and conflicts between Neopagans and other religious communities, such as conservative Christians and Native Americans.

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Portrait of Sarah Pike