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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

PAPERBACK; Published: 4/13/2021
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7880-9
Price: $ 29.99
404 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.

Table of Contents

Foreword, by Robert P. George
1. A Portentous Question, a Quixotic Proposal
2. Homo Religiosus
3. City of the Gods
4. Believing in Paganism
5. Looking beyond the World: The Christian Revolution
6. The Logic of Pagan Persecution
7. The Struggle for the City
8. Under a Christian Canopy
9. Secularism and Paganism
10. Counterrevolution, Part I: Symbols, Sex, and the Constitution
11. Counterrevolution, Part II: Religious Freedom
12. Coming Home? The Imminent Immanent City

“Smith’s book is as engrossing, lucid, and jargonless a scholarly book as has ever been written.”
— Booklist (STARRED review)
“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
“In a tour de force of political/institutional history and moral/political theology, Smith 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.”
— Choice
“An elegant take on T. S. Eliot’s proposition that a contest between Christianity and ‘modern paganism’ would decide the West’s future.”
— Publishers Weekly
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.”
— Anthony Kronman
Yale Law School
“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.”
— John Inazu
Washington University in St. Louis
“A fascinating new take on America’s culture wars, rooted in history that most of us know in only the vaguest way.”
— Douglas Laycock
University of Virginia Law School
“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.”
— Robert P. George (from the foreword)
Princeton University
Christian Scholar's Review
“Historians, sociologists, educators, pastors, theologians, and others in the Christian community and beyond will benefit from a careful consideration of Steven D. Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City.”