pa·gan·ism | \ˈpā-gə-ˌni-zəm \

Definition of paganism 

1a : pagan beliefs or practices

b : a pagan religion

2 : the quality or state of being a pagan

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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

And while 90 percent of all ancient literature has been lost, paganism still had a foothold on the streets. Bettany Hughes, New York Times, "How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World," 8 June 2018 Actions were extreme because paganism was considered not just a psychological but a physical miasma. Bettany Hughes, New York Times, "How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World," 8 June 2018 But based on the Voluspá’s account of a volcano-like event that brought paganism to its knees, the researchers posit that the terrifying Eldgjá eruption may have pushed Iceland’s population toward a new, monotheistic religion. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "A Violent Volcanic Eruption Immortalized in Medieval Poem May Have Spurred Iceland’s Adoption of Christianity," 23 Mar. 2018 What happens to the overall relationship of (inclusive) paganism and (exclusive) Christianity? Tom Bissell, New York Times, "Why Did Christianity Prevail?," 13 Feb. 2018 As Raphaelson explains, the Renaissance movement used ruins to symbolize the conquest of Christianity over paganism, while Neoclassicsts found inspiration in Roman ruins and Romanticists focused on what happens when nature overtakes architecture. Anna Diamond, Smithsonian, "These Photos of the Abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery Document Its Sticky History," 19 Dec. 2017 Christmas traditions derive from Norse paganism, at the winter solstice when people, without electricity, were desperate to fend off darkness. Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, "Trolls, ogres, and giant cats: How Iceland celebrates Christmas," 19 Dec. 2017 Del Toro was born in Mexico, where, thanks to the Spanish conquerors, paganism and pre-Colombian beliefs are forever fused with Catholicism. Emily Gaudette, Newsweek, "'Shape of Water' Director Guillermo del Toro Reflects on Sex, Monsters and Catholic Saints," 1 Dec. 2017 Halloween's roots can be traced back to paganism or early Christianity, but in contemporary America, the fright fest serves as an annual cause for debauchery. Marjua Estevez, Billboard, "Day of the Dead Google Doodle: 5 Things to Know About the Mexican Holiday," 2 Nov. 2017

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.

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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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English Language Learners Definition of paganism

: the state of being pagan

: a religion that has many gods or goddesses, considers the earth holy, and does not have a central authority

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