A Small Victory in the Struggle for the Capital P

I was contacted some time ago to write an article on contemporary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, now in production. After the usual writerly procrastination, I cranked out my 8,000 words (or whatever it was) and sent it in.

Then, in April, the copyedited version arrived for my approval. No problems there — except every instance of the word “Pagan” had been lowercased, except where it began a sentence.

I was quietly furious. The campaign for the capital P is not going to be won in a day.

One thing caught my eye — the editor who had contacted me (not the copyeditor) had a Indian name, Krishnan P_______. So whether a devout Hindu or not, perhaps he would be receptive to an argument based on a sort of semantic parallel. Like this:

  • “Pagan,” like “Hindu,” was a term imposed by outsiders.
  • Like “Hindu,” it covers a variety of worship traditions and philosophies —  admittedly not quite so many. But every bit as old, if you apply it all the way back, which I do.
  • Finally, the people whom it describes have come to use it as a neutral or even positive descriptor of who they are.
  • And publishers and academic groups increasingly use the capital P in the interest of fairness as a parallel to capital-M Muslim and so on.

And to my delight, he replied, “Thanks for writing to me. As per your concern, we will retain the capitalization for the word ‘Pagan’ throughout the article.”

Some British academics have been slow to accept this eminently sensible approach. At least one scholar I know wants to treat “paganism” as a collection of practices that pre-date the Big Five religions but are also found within them.

For instance, in his system, a pilgrimage to a sacred site is “pagan” no matter who does it. So my cousin who is currently four days along the Camino de Santiago (I think he is in Pamplona tonight) is carrying out a “pagan practice.”1)I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that! But I think that “Pagan” has more use as an umbrella for more than the new religious movements usually associated with it.  So onward to lexicological victory!

Notes   [ + ]

1. I would love to walk it myself, and I am obviously not Christian, so I am not sure how I would categorize that!

2 thoughts on “A Small Victory in the Struggle for the Capital P

  1. I–a life-long Pagan–have taken advantage of the energetic and mindful qualities of a few Catholic churches to carry out specifically Pagan or Craft activities, usually involving ancestors or those before us. Both Mission Dolores (original and new) in San Francisco and St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

  2. I’ve had similar experiences. I wrote an article for one journal, using the upper-case “P” for modern Paganism (although I do favour the lower-case “p” when referencing Europe’s pre-Christian belief systems) and they then converted every instance to the lower-case. I requested that they reverted to my original form, explaining my reasons, but the journal editor flatly refused, effectively ignoring the points that I had raised and insisting that I had to stick to the spelling and punctuation that they had listed on their guide sheet. Conversely, I had exactly the same situation crop up with another journal, but when I explained the situation to the editor, they were more than happy to make the change and ensure that the capital “P” was used.

    I guess that the moral of this story is that a conducive editor who is happy to discuss things with their authors is a very good thing.

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