paganism

noun
pa·​gan·​ism | \ ˈpā-gə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce paganism (audio) \

Definition of paganism

1a : pagan beliefs or practices
b : a pagan religion
2 : the quality or state of being a pagan

What do pagan and heathen really mean?

Pagan is derived from the Late Latin paganus, which was used at the end of the Roman Empire to name those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Early Christians often used the term to refer to non-Christians who worshiped multiple deities. In Latin, paganus originally meant “country dweller” or “civilian"; it is believed that the word’s religious meanings developed either from the enduring non-Christian religious practices of those who lived far from the Roman cities where Christianity was more quickly adopted, or from the fact that early Christians referred to themselves as “soldiers of Christ,” making nonbelievers “civilians.”

The definition and etymology of heathen overlap with those of pagan: both words denote “an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible,” and heathen, like pagan, is believed to have come from the term for a country inhabitant, or in this case, a "heath dweller."

Both words have developed broader and pejorative meanings over time, with pagan being used to mean “an irreligious or hedonistic person” and heathen “uncivilized” or “strange,” but their original meanings are still in use.

Examples of paganism in a Sentence

the paganism of early Rome He is a practitioner of Paganism.
Recent Examples on the Web But Swedish archaeologist Sven Rosborn, says Kryda is wrong because Harald, who converted from paganism to Christianity and founded churches in the area, must have received an appropriate grave somewhere in the churchyard. Hartford Courant, 31 July 2022 But Swedish archaeologist Sven Rosborn, says Kryda is wrong because Harald, who converted from paganism to Christianity and founded churches in the area, must have received an appropriate grave somewhere in the churchyard. Monika Scislowska, ajc, 31 July 2022 Followers of paganism don special attire and flower garlands, which are believed to repel evil spirits, hold special rituals and start bonfires. Annabelle Timsit, Washington Post, 21 June 2022 Kyivans spoke a Slavic language that had no writing system, and practiced a paganism without idols or temples. Timothy Snyder, The New Yorker, 28 Apr. 2022 The time where the show takes place is at the breaking point of paganism right where Christianity is coming in. Jordan Moreau, Variety, 4 Apr. 2022 Its subject matter hints at one reason why Rubens was so fixated on classical history: Constantine was the first Roman emperor to throw polytheistic paganism overboard in favor of the monotheism of Christianity. Los Angeles Times, 6 Dec. 2021 In all of these religions – which include Hellenic paganism, druidry and heathenism, among others – both the Earth and the spirits that are believed to reside in animate and inanimate objects are seen as sacred. Helen A. Berger, The Conversation, 20 Oct. 2021 Wicca is one of the most popular forms of contemporary paganism, a set of religions whose practices are inspired by pre-Christian religions. Helen A. Berger, The Conversation, 20 Oct. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'paganism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of paganism

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of paganism was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near paganism

Paganini

paganism

paganity

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Statistics for paganism

Last Updated

5 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Paganism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paganism. Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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