Pagans petition Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan”

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Oberon Zell

It is a matter of continuing frustration to modern self-identified Pagans that newspaper and magazine copy editors invariably print the proper terms for their religion (i.e., “Pagan” and “Paganism”) in lower case. Journalists who have been confronted about this practice have replied that this is what the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks recommend.

The word “Pagan” derives from pagus (Latin), the local unit of rural government in the Roman Empire, and thus pagan referred to the traditional “Old Religion” of the countryside, as opposed to Christianity, the urban new religion with universal aspirations. Paganism, therefore, was by definition pre-Christian religion. Over time, with the expansion of the Roman Church, “pagan” became a common pejorative by Christians toward any non-Judeo-Christian religion.

In the 19th century, the terms pagan and paganism were adopted by anthropologists to designate the indigenous folk religions of various cultures, and by Classical scholars and romantic poets to refer to the religions of the great ancient pre-Christian civilizations of the Mediterranean region (as in the phrase, “pagan splendor,” often used in reference to Classical Greece).

Today, the terms Pagan and Paganism most commonly refer to alternative nature-based religions, whose adherents claim their identity as Pagan. Contemporary Pagans seek attunement with nature and hearken to traditional and ancient pagan cultures, myths, and customs for inspiration and wisdom.

But names of religions—both nouns and adjectives—are proper terms, and as such should always be capitalized.

The current journalistic convention of printing lower case for these terms has been attributed to the Associated Press Stylebook, first published in 1953.  However, a new era of religious pluralism has emerged over the past sixty years. The terms “Pagan” and “Paganism” are now being capitalized in a wide variety of publications, texts, documents, and references, including religious diversity education resources such as On Common Ground: World Religions in America, The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, and Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices, Technical Reference Manual, Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Department of Justice.

To address this issue, a coalition has been formed of academic scholars in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Their purpose was to create a simple petition to the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions. The petitions were mailed off to the Stylebook editors on Monday, Dec. 2, with 60 extremely impressive signatures.

Many people concerned with religious equality subsequently asked to sign the petition, so to facilitate further signatories, the coalition has created an online master version in Change.org:

http://www.change.org/petitions/university-of-chicago-press-associated-press-capitalize-pagan-in-chicago-manual-of-style-ap-stylebook

Contact: Oberon Zell at CapitalizePagan@yahoogroups.com

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1 Response

  1. Jan 23, 2014

    […] “It is a matter of continuing frustration to modern self-identified Pagans that newspaper and magazine copy editors invariably print the proper terms for their religion (i.e., “Pagan” and “Paganism”) in lower case. Journalists who have been confronted about this practice have replied that this is what the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks recommend.” Oberon Zell – Pagans petition Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” […]

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