Tuesday, 2 November 2010
CASE 143 - Paganism
Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning "country dweller", "rustic") is a blanket term, typically used to refer to polytheistic religious traditions, although from a Christian perspective, the term can encompass all non–Abrahamic religions.
It is primarily used in a historical context, referring to Greco-Roman polytheism as well as the polytheistic traditions of Europe before Christianization. In a wider sense, extended to contemporary religions, it includes most of the Eastern religions, and the indigenous traditions of the Americas, Central Asia, Australia and Africa, as well as non-Abrahamic folk religion in general. More narrow definitions will not include any of the world religions and restrict the term to local or rural currents not organized as civil religions. Characteristic of pagan traditions is the absence of proselytism and the presence of a living mythology, which explains religious practice. The term pagan is a Christian adaptation of the "gentile" of Judaism, and as such has an inherent Abrahamic bias, and pejorative connotations among monotheists, comparable to heathen and infidel also known as kafir (كافر) and mushrik in Islam. Peter Brown observes:
"The adoption of paganus by Latin Christians as an all-embracing, pejorative term for polytheists represents an unforeseen and singularly long-lasting victory, within a religious group, of a word of Latin slang originally devoid of religious meaning. The evolution occurred only in the Latin west, and in connection with the Latin church. Elsewhere, 'Hellene' or 'gentile' (ethnikos) remained the word for 'pagan'; and paganos continued as a purely secular term, with overtones of the inferior and the commonplace."
For these reasons, ethnologists avoid the term "paganism," with its uncertain and varied meanings, in referring to traditional or historic faiths, preferring more precise categories such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism.
In the late 20th century, "Paganism", or "Neopaganism", became widely used in reference to adherents of various New Religious Movements including Wicca. As such, various modern scholars have begun to apply the term to three groups of separate faiths: Historical Polytheism (such as Celtic polytheism, Norse paganism, and Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism also called Hellenismos), Folk/ethnic/Indigenous religions (such as Chinese folk religion and African traditional religion), and Neopaganism (such as Wicca and Germanic Neopaganism).