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pagan, paganism  

Michele Renee Salzman

The Latin word paganus (pagan), which originally meant “a country district or community,” could take on a more general sense as “a place with fixed boundaries.” From this early meaning, paganus evolved to mean civilian as opposed to military. Its application by Christians to those who were not of their faith has been explained variously. Some scholars derive its Christian usage based on the association of pagans with the countryside, while others see Christians using the term for the civilians as opposed to “soldiers of Christ.” Only in the 4th century do the words pagan and paganism (paganismus) emerge with the general meaning of “non-Christian.” Some scholars dispute the pejorative nature of the term at this date, but non-Christians were increasingly attacked by hostile 4th-century Christian writers. Because of this enmity and due to the misleading denigration of non-Christians as pagans, some modern scholars have refused to use the term pagan or paganism in their works. Others, however, view its usage as justified, especially given the hostility of late Roman Christians to non-believers.

Article

demons in Christian thought  

Gregory D. Wiebe

The background of early Christian demonology was in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jews associated the Greek word daimōn with the false gods of the surrounding nations. This was in many ways an intuitive application of the Greek term. It carried the sense of ambivalent divine or semi-divine power, which significant philosophical traditions understood to mediate between humans and gods. The New Testament carries this theme, though its focus is more on Christ’s exorcisms of demons, and his gift of that power to his disciples, with the early church tying the two together in the theological literature, as well as baptismal exorcisms and renunciations of the devil and idolatry.Demons were widely thought to have aerial bodies, which allowed them to perform various marvels, like foretelling the future. They were ultimately taken to be fallen angels with Satan as their leader, though this was not a given early in the tradition. While the Christian understanding was that Christ had defeated them on the cross, this was not taken to preclude the ongoing influence of demons in human affairs prior to the final judgement. Indeed, they constituted a significant moral problem for the Christian life, which absolutely opposed them. For Christians, Christ and the demons were the two sides of the fundamental dilemma of every human soul. The problem of demons manifested differently depending on the context, whether in its encounter with false religion, from idolatry to the persecutions the gods inspired; or in the innumerable tempting thoughts encountered in the pursuit of ascetic discipline.

Article

Contemporary Pagan, Wiccan, and Native Faith Movements  

Chas S. Clifton

Paganism is based largely in an Enlightenment-era rejection of Christianity and Romantic-era ideas of the individual experience, emotion, and creativity, combined with a search for true ethnic culture in the lore and practices of the pre-Christian past and a rejection of universal transcendental religion, in favor of the local, the particular, the polytheistic, and the animist. Particularly in the United States, Pagans have challenged governmental accommodations for existing religions by demanding equal status in public spaces. Contemporary Pagan groups began forming in the 1930s, but the largest, Wicca, emerged in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s.

Article

Greek and Roman Priests and Religious Personnel  

Robert Garland

The Christian word “priest,” which is generally used to translate the Greek word hiereus and the Latin word sacerdos, only inadequately captures the essence of how those who bore this title functioned and were perceived in Greek and Roman polytheism. Foremost among the differences between pagan and Christian priests is the fact that the former did not have any pastoral responsibilities, were not expected to lead exemplary lives, and did not exist in a hierarchy under a centralized religious authority. Instead their duties were largely liturgical and administrative, the proper performing of sacrifice and the upkeep of the sanctuary being among the foremost. Methods of appointment varied—some priesthoods were reserved within specific kin-groups, others were available to the entire citizen body, and still others could be sold to the highest bidder. There were, however, important distinctions between Greek and Roman priests. In the Roman world, for instance, there were far fewer priestesses and a closer connection between religion and politics. In both systems, however, religion provided important outlets for women, not least by presenting them with a unique opportunity to enhance their social status. In Rome the connection between religion and politics strengthened over time. Under the Augustan Principate the position of pontifex maximus, a kind of high priest, became central to the identity of the princeps and was filled by all his successors at least until the late-4th century. The Graeco-Roman world also had a variety of other religious personnel, who performed important functions like the supervising of temple finances or the expounding of sacral law. Among the most important were seers or diviners, who produced oracles and had the expertise to interpret omens.

Article

anti-Semitism, pagan  

Catherine Hezser

Whether the modern term anti-Semitism, popularized by the German anti-Semitic agitator and founder of the League of Antisemites Wilhelm Marr (1819–1904), is appropriate for antiquity is controversial. Scholars have proposed to use alternative terms such as Judeophobia or hatred against Jews instead. Similarly controversial is the question whether racism existed and was directed against Jews in antiquity. Greek and Latin writers’ expression of anti-Jewish arguments and slanderous allegations against Jews need to be investigated within the respective social, political, and cultural contexts in which they occur. Several anti-Jewish writers lived in Egypt and created variant versions of a counter-narrative to the biblical exodus story. Egyptian “anti-Semitism” is usually explained by reference to relations between Jews and non-Jews in Alexandria and the Hellenistic and Roman rulers’ treatment of the different ethnic groups. Recurrent anti-Jewish arguments are directed against beliefs and practices associated with Jews, such as Jewish monotheism, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and abstinence from pork. Rather than being based on detailed knowledge of Judaism or close observance of Jewish practices, they reflect misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Some allegations were entirely fictional. Greek and Roman authors’ claims of their own culture’s superiority over Jews as an ethnic and religious minority flared up in times of rebellion and defeat. Conflicts and clashes also happened in Antioch, Caesarea, and Rome, where Jews were frequently expelled. Major Roman authors expressed hostile views of Jews and Judaism. Roman emperors’ policies shifted between submission and toleration. Not every form of conflict between Jews and others can be called anti-Semitism. When pagans became Christian, traditional pagan attitudes towards Jews merged with Christian anti-Judaism.

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Nazism and Religion  

Eric Kurlander

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) always had a complicated relationship with religion, emblematic of the diverse völkisch movement out of which the NSDAP emerged. This relationship became even more complicated during the later years of the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted millions of new supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. The NSDAP’s attitude toward the Christian churches was nonetheless ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of Church power and the influence of Christianity across the German population, but it simultaneously reflected an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that a number of Nazi leaders saw as antithetical to National Socialism. Many Nazis therefore sought religious alternatives, from Nordic paganism and a “religion of nature” to a German Christianity led by a blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus. This complex mélange of Christian and alternative faiths included an abiding interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religion, tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia. Ultimately, there was no such thing as an official “Nazi religion.” To the contrary, the regime explored, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movement and broader supernatural imaginary of the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.

Article

The Rise of Paganism and the Far Right in Europe  

Kaarina Aitamurto

Since the end of the 19th century, pagan ideas have inspired some representatives of nationalist, conservative, and far right political ideologies. The idea of a native tradition connected to land and ancestry, as well as the image of organic, hierarchical societies with warrior values, has fascinated conservative thinkers. Paganism as the suppressed other has also served as a symbol for various subversive ideologies. However, the use of pagan symbols, mythology, and imagery in political movements is often superficial. Therefore, it is crucial to distinguish between different forms of paganism. While some appear more unambiguously religious, others can be better described as political, cultural, or philosophical paganism. Having said that, neither contemporary pagan religious movements nor pagan-inspired politics can be understood separately from each other. Ideas, concepts, and individuals move between the two, and they are both shaped by changes in the surrounding society. In the early 21st century, the mainstream pagan religious organizations of many European countries have adopted a generally apolitical and anti-racist stance. However, the rise of xenophobia and far right parties provides fertile ground for the rise of illiberal and exclusivist forms of paganism as well.

Article

Praetextatus, Vettius Agorius, Roman senator, c. 320–384 CE  

Maijastina Kahlos

Vettius Agorius Praetextatus was a learned Roman senator (c. 320–384 ce). He is usually remembered as the leading proponent of Graeco-Roman religious tradition (paganism) during the late Roman Empire.Vettius Agorius Praetextatus was a Roman senator (c. 320–384 ce). He was a learned aristocrat who never converted to Christianity even though the Christianisation of the Roman aristocracy was already in gradual process during his lifetime, and by the end of the century, in the years after his death, the Roman aristocracy as a whole had become Christian (at least nominally). Praetextatus is usually remembered as the leading proponent of Graeco-Roman religious tradition (paganism) during the late Roman Empire. He was a friend and correspondent of the orator Q. Aurelius Symmachus. Symmachus’ epist. 1.44–55 are addressed to him.1Praetextatus held the high offices of praefectus urbi in 367–368 ce and praefectus praetorio in 384; when he died in that year, he had been designated consul for the following year. A few laws extant in the Theodosian Code (8.14.1; 9.40.10; 14.4.4; 6.35.7; 13.3.8; 1.6.6) are addressed to him as .

Article

Nicomachus (4) Flavianus, Virius, Roman senator, c. 340–394 CE  

Gavin Kelly

Virius Nicomachus (4) Flavianus (c. 340–394 ce), was a Roman aristocrat, officeholder, and author, though no works survive. He has traditionally been seen alongside his fellow senators Vettius Agorius Praetextatus and Q. Aurelius Symmachus as a major figure in the last days of Roman paganism; Flavianus in particular is seen as having supported a pagan revival under the usurper Eugenius, whom he served as praetorian prefect and consul in 394 before committing suicide upon Eugenius’s defeat by Theodosius I at the Battle of the River Frigidus. The supposed pagan revival has been called into question in recent scholarship. Flavianus is also known to have written a history, which is lost.Nicomachus Flavianus1 was the son of Venustus, a native of Canusium who had the typical public career of a 4th-century Roman aristocrat: occasional periods of officeholding for a year or two with intervening decades of leisure (.

Article

Cyril of Alexandria  

Matthew R. Crawford

Serving as bishop of Alexandria from 412 until his death in 444, Cyril was one of the two most influential episcopal leaders of the city during Late Antiquity, second only to Athanasius in terms of his involvement in ecclesiastical politics and his significance as an authority for later Christian traditions. His career was marked by attempts to oppose Jews, pagans, and Christians whose theology he regarded as contrary to the Nicene faith. In pursuit of this goal he proved to be a politically savvy tactician, as well as a rhetorically and intellectually powerful polemicist in pamphlets, letters, florilegia, and treatises. He was also an effective bishop who exhibited pastoral concern for the organization and vitality of the Egyptian church as well as its unity with other churches throughout the empire.Details of Cyril’s early life are murky. All that survives are much later reports that may not be accurate, such as the claim that he spent five years in the Nitrian desert receiving instruction from the ascetic Serapion (Severus ibn al-Muqaffa‘, .