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Pagans and Christians in the City
Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac
Steven D. Smith
Foreword by Robert P. George

HARDCOVER; Published: 11/15/2018
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7631-7
Price: $ 48.00
408 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9
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Series: Emory University Studies in Law and Religion

Traditionalist Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and other cultural developments in the United States wonder why they are being forced to bracket their beliefs in order to participate in public life. This situation is not new, says Steven D. Smith: Christians two thousand years ago faced very similar challenges. 

Picking up poet T. S. Eliot’s World War II–era thesis that the future of the West would be determined by a contest between Christianity and “modern paganism,” Smith argues in this book that today’s culture wars can be seen as a reprise of the basic antagonism that pitted pagans against Christians in the Roman Empire. Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City looks at that historical conflict and explores how the same competing ideas continue to clash today. All of us, Smith shows, have much to learn by observing how patterns from ancient history are reemerging in today’s most controversial issues.

Booklist (STARRED review)
“Smith’s book is as engrossing, lucid, and jargonless a scholarly book as has ever been written.”
Anthony Kronman
— Yale Law School
Pagans and Christians in the City by Steven D. Smith is a wonderfully wide-ranging and deeply thoughtful book. Its lucid style draws the reader into a world of ancient questions and contemporary debates whose often surprising connections Smith helps us to see in a new and suggestive light. Secularists and believers alike have much to learn from his careful, balanced, and generous account.”
John Inazu
— Washington University in St. Louis
“Written with Smith’s characteristic clarity and bite, Pagans and Christians in the City canvasses a broad landscape of history, law, political theory, and religion to explore some of the deepest past and present questions of humanity—and warns how our answers to those questions will shape our future.”
Douglas Laycock
— University of Virginia Law School
“A fascinating new take on America’s culture wars, rooted in history that most of us know in only the vaguest way.”
Robert P. George (from foreword)
— Princeton University
“The Romans perceived Christianity as a threat—and Christian ideas about sex figured significantly in that perception. They feared that Christianity would, in Smith’s evocative phrase, ‘turn out the lights on that “merry dance” [of paganism.]’ . . . We need a sober, penetrating, deeply insightful diagnosis of our current condition and account of where we are and how we got here. Professor Smith deserves our deep thanks for providing it.”


"In a tour de force of political/institutional history and moral/political theology, Smith (law, Univ. of San Diego) pairs the culture wars between paganism and Judeo/Christianity in imperial Rome with contemporary culture wars in the US. The imminent religiosity/theology of polytheistic paganism, then and now, battles transcendent religion for symbolic, cultural, and political dominance. One of the few legal writers to make sense of the seemingly incoherent and contradictory jurisprudence of church-state relationships in contemporary America, Smith contextualizes and vindicates his argument. . . . Highly recommended."

Booklist (starred review)
“Smith’s book is as engrossing, lucid, and jargonless a scholarly book as has ever been written.”
“Fascinating. . . . Smith argues that much of what we understand as the march of secularism is something of an illusion, and that behind the scenes what’s actually happening in the modern culture war is the return of a pagan religious conception, which was half-buried (though never fully so) by the rise of Christianity.”
— Ross Douthat in The New York Times