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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

May 12, 2022

The official conversion of the nation of Lithuania to Christianity was in 1387. This means officially Lithuanians have been Christian for 635 years, and did not adopt the religion until more than 1,000 years after Constantine the Great accepted Christianity and set the Roman Empire on its way to becoming synonymous with the faith. But Francis Young, a historian of religion, is here to tell you there’s more to this story. His new book, Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic: Sixteenth-Century Ethnographic Accounts of Baltic Paganism, is an account of the practices and persistence of Baltic paganism down to the 16th-century, the age of the Renaissance and Reformation.

Over the course of their conversation, Razib asks Young the reasons Lithuania came to Christianity so late (in the 1500’s, 30-40% of Lithuanians were pagan in their practice and belief), and how late did Lithuanian folk paganism persist? Debates still rage in the history of religion about the persistence of heterodox religious views and practices in Europe after Christianization, but Young makes a convincing case that in the instance of Lithuania there were historical and cultural reasons why a critical mass of the rural peasantry remained staunchly pagan down to early modernity, in contrast to the case in Western and Southern Europe, where Christianity’s roots ran deeper.