Monday, January 19, 2009

Copyediting Religion

Orthographic payback is a bitch.

For years--starting when I wrote for Gnosis in the 1980s--I was one of those pushing for the capitalization of the words Witch and Pagan when used to describe first, the followers of the new, self-consciously created polytheistic mystery religion and, second, Pagan as a more general term for both old and new polytheism.

When I wrote The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics in the early 1990s, I won the capitalization battle over "Paganism," but lost on changing BC/AD to BCE/CE.

It should be noted that some Pagan scholars prefer "pagan," either because they are English or because they see "paganism" as a way of being religion in which people of all faiths participate. For instance, making a pilgrimage to a saint's tomb is "pagan" in Michael York's view.

But now I am editing and laying out an anthology intended as a college textbook on world religions. And almost everyone has their capitalization quirks.

The writer on Judaism wants write not merely "Israel" but its full diplomatic name: "State of Israel." Oddly enough, she does not insist on "Federal Republic of Germany."

The writer on Mormonism wants to capitalize priesthood, as in Aaronic Priesthood, while all the other contributors lowercase it, e.g., Zoroastrian priesthood.

The writer on Islam has a whole capitalization list for me too. The Baha'i wants Baha'i Faith capitalized--which is fine--but also "faith" when it stands alone. And of course the expert on Christianity wants Church to be "up," even though that runs contrary to the stylebook, which specifies, for instance, "the early church."

And so on.

Unfortunately the The Chicago Manual of Style does not pronounce on all these issues (except "church"), sending me to other sources, such as the The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, in order to try to keep the book consistent.

Wouldn't it be easier to handle these issues in German, with its capitalization of all nouns, or in Spanish, which is, as we editors say, very "down style"?

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Anonymous jim davis said...

Does the Islamic section cover the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims (followers of the Aga Khan) who are one of the most liberal-progressive (in the western sense) Islamic group?

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Laura Jean Karr said...

Good luck, Chas. I do not envy your position of dealing with the "capital wars at all. You're more patient than I am. :)

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...


Although the author spends time on Shia Islam, he does not break out the Ismailis. The chapter is more of a higher-level overview.


I am trying to be patient--and trying to determine how far my editorial remit extends.

9:02 AM  

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