Sonya Harwood-Johnson Nature and Esoteric religion

hello world!

My name is Sonya Harwood-Johnson and I am originally from Grimes, Iowa. I received my B.S. in Anthropology and Religious Studies, with a minor in Environmental Studies, from Iowa State University in May of 2020. I am currently pursuing my MA in Religion in Culture at the University of Alabama. My research is focused on American Esoteric traditions, such as Wicca and the Feminist Reclaiming movement. My paper, entitled “Esoteric Negotiation: An Insider-Outsider Perspective” was accepted to the UMAAR conference in April 2020. I am very passionate about ethnographic research as I love learning people's stories.

research interests

I am fascinated by the materials people choose to help themselves and others connect to nature and the world around them on a more spiritual level. Items such as crystals, plants, oils, minerals, tarot cards, astrology charts, etc. have been used for centuries for spells, divination, and healing.

method of research

As a trained anthropologist, my preferred method of data collection is through ethnography. I love talking to practitioners about how and why they do what they do, and what tools they use to accomplish their spiritual goals. It is through these conversations and connections that trust is built - without this trust, there is no benefit to engaging in ethnographic research. It is the job of the researcher to educate the world while honoring those they work with.

the insider-outsider perspective

Throughout my research, I have come across a highly-debated issue in the field: the insider-outsider paradigm. Those who practice the religion are not taken seriously by academics as they are accused of being unable to isolate their biases. Those who do not practice are oftentimes barred from truly learning about the community due to a lack of established trust and religious rules. This issue creates many gaps in the current shared knowledge. I believe it is essential for both perspectives to work together to ensure those who practice are being respected and biases are acknowledged as much as possible.

research locations

I have conducted ethnographic research in Des Moines, Iowa; New Orleans, Louisiana; Honolulu, Hawai'i; and Edinburgh, Scotland. I am always looking to explore new sacred spaces.

museum work

Over the course of my career, I have worked in multiple museum settings in many different capacities. From January through October of 2019, an exhibit I curated entitled "Timeless: Love and Romance in the Victorian Era" was on display at the Farm House Museum at Iowa State University. Additionally, I have lead tours, maintained objects, researched accessioned pieces, and given lectures on everything from snakes to German singing cult groups. I love being able to educate the public in non-traditional ways. I believe museums play an essential role in community education as well as cultural preservation.

contact me!

I love sharing stories with people, whether they be esoteric in nature or not! If you would like to get in contact with me, the best way is by email at srharwood1@crimson.ua.edu.

Created By
Sonya Harwood


Created with images by Kunal Shinde - "Creative Lively " • Kira auf der Heide - "untitled image" • Marcos Paulo Prado - "Sage Spirituality - All pictures edited with my presets that you can find on my website in BIO" • Content Pixie - "Mixed gemstones on a golden mirror" • Jen Theodore - "The Lumina Tarot deck of cards and guidebook sit in a wooden tray with crystals and gemstones, Buddha statue and fortune telling wooden coin that reads YES. This is a makeshift altar for Eastern practices and tarot readings." • Matt Briney - "Old medicine shelf"