Syncretism (/ˈsɪŋkrətɪzəm/) is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture (known as eclecticism) as well as politics (syncretic politics).
The English word is first attested in the early 17th century, from Modern Latin syncretismus, drawing on Greek συγκρητισμός (synkretismos), supposedly meaning "Cretan federation", but this is a spurious etymology from the naive idea in Plutarch's 1st-century AD essay on "Fraternal Love (Peri Philadelphias)" in his collection Moralia (2.490b). He cites the example of the Cretans, who compromised and reconciled their differences and came together in alliance when faced with external dangers. "And that is their so-called Syncretism [Union of Cretans]". More likely as an etymology is sun- ("with") plus kerannumi ("mix") and its related noun, "krasis," "mixture."
Erasmus probably coined the modern usage of the Latin word in his Adagia ("Adages"), published in the winter of 1517–1518, to designate the coherence of dissenters in spite of their differences in theological opinions. In a letter to Melanchthon of April 22, 1519, Erasmus specifically adduced the Cretans of Plutarch as an example of his adage "Concord is a mighty rampart".
Overt syncretism in folk belief may show cultural acceptance of an alien or previous tradition, but the "other" cult may survive or infiltrate without authorized syncresis nevertheless. For example, some Conversos developed a sort of cult for martyr-victims of the Spanish Inquisition, thus incorporating elements of Catholicism while resisting it.
Syncretism was common during the Hellenistic period, with rulers regularly identifying local deities in various parts of their domains with the relevant god or goddess of the Greek Pantheon, as a means of increasing the cohesion of the Kingdom. This practice was accepted in most locations, but vehemently rejected by the Jews who considered the identification of Yahwe with the Greek Zeus as the worst of blasphemy. The Roman Empire continued this practice - first by the identification of traditional Roman deities with Greek ones, producing a single Graeco-Roman Pantheon and then identifying members of that pantheon with the local deities of various Roman provinces. An undeclared form of Syncretism was the transfer of many attributes of the goddess Isis - whose worship was widespread in the Later Roman Empire - to the Christian Virgin Mary. Some religious movements have embraced overt syncretism, such as the case of melding Shintō beliefs into Buddhism or the amalgamation of Germanic and Celtic pagan views into Christianity during its spread into Gaul, the British Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia. In later times, Christian missionaries in North America identified Manitou - the spiritual and fundamental life force in the traditional beliefs of the Algonquian groups - with the God of Christianity. Similar identifications were made by missionaries at other locations in the Americas and Africa, whenever encountering a local belief in a Supreme God or Supreme Spirit of some kind.
Indian influences are seen in the practice of Shi'i Islam in Trinidad. Others have strongly rejected it as devaluing and compromising precious and genuine distinctions; examples of this include post-Exile Second Temple Judaism, Islam, and most of Protestant Christianity.
Syncretism tends to facilitate coexistence and unity between otherwise different cultures and world-views (intercultural competence), a factor that has recommended it to rulers of multi-ethnic realms. Conversely, the rejection of syncretism, usually in the name of "piety" and "orthodoxy", may help to generate, bolster or authenticate a sense of un-compromised cultural unity in a well-defined minority or majority.
Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in a culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or (especially) practices.
Religions may have syncretic elements to their beliefs or history, but adherents of so-labeled systems often frown on applying the label, especially adherents who belong to "revealed" religious systems, such as the Abrahamic religions, or any system that exhibits an exclusivist approach. Such adherents sometimes see syncretism as a betrayal of their pure truth. By this reasoning, adding an incompatible belief corrupts the original religion, rendering it no longer true. Indeed, critics of a specific syncretistic trend may sometimes use the word "syncretism" as a disparaging epithet, as a charge implying that those who seek to incorporate a new view, belief, or practice into a religious system actually distort the original faith. Non-exclusivist systems of belief, on the other hand, may feel quite free to incorporate other traditions into their own. Keith Ferdinando notes that the term "syncretism" is an elusive one, and can apply to refer to substitution or modification of the central elements of a religion by beliefs or practices introduced from elsewhere. The consequence under such a definition, according to Ferdinando, can lead to a fatal "compromise" of the original religion's "integrity".
In modern secular society, religious innovators sometimes construct new religions syncretically as a mechanism to reduce inter-religious tension and enmity, often with the effect of offending the original religions in question. Such religions, however, do maintain some appeal to a less exclusivist audience. Note the Living Church in Soviet Russia and the German Evangelical Church in Nazi Germany.
According to some authors, "Syncretism is often used to describe the product of the large-scale imposition of one alien culture, religion, or body of practices over another that is already present." Others such as Jerry H. Bentley, however, have argued that syncretism has also helped to create cultural compromise. It provides an opportunity to bring beliefs, values, and customs from one cultural tradition into contact with, and to engage different cultural traditions. Such a migration of ideas is generally successful only when there is a resonance between both traditions. While, as Bentley has argued, there are numerous cases where expansive traditions have won popular support in foreign lands, this is not always so.
The modern, rational non-pejorative connotations of syncretism date from Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie articles: Eclecticisme and Syncrétistes, Hénotiques, ou Conciliateurs. Diderot portrayed syncretism as the concordance of eclectic sources.
The Christian faith is inevitably assimilated in terms of the existing structures of thought of its adherents, whatever their culture. Nevertheless, there are points at which the worldview of any people will be found to be incompatible with central elements of the gospel; if conversion to Christianity is to be more than purely nominal, it will necessarily entail the substantial modification of the traditional worldview at such points. Where this does not occur it is the Christian faith which is modified and thus relativised by the worldview, and the consequence is syncretism. [...] The term 'syncretism' [...] is employed here of the substitution or modification of central elements of Christianity by beliefs of practices introduced from elsewhere. The consequence of such a process is fatally to compromise its integrity.
Candomblé (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃dõmˈblɛ], "dance in honour of the gods") is an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition, practiced mainly in Brazil by the povo de santo ("people of saint"). Candomblé originated in Salvador, Bahia at the beginning of the 19th century, when the first temple was founded. Candomblé is practiced primarily in Brazil, and is also practiced in other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela, having as many as two million followers.Candomblé developed in a creolization of traditional Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs brought from West and Central Africa by enslaved captives in the Portuguese Empire. Between 1549 and 1888, the religion developed in Brazil, influenced by the knowledge of enslaved African priests who continued to teach their religion, their culture, and language. In addition, Candomblé absorbed elements of Roman Catholicism and includes indigenous American traditions.As an oral tradition, it does not have holy scriptures. Practitioners of Candomblé believe in a Supreme Creator called Oludumaré, who is served by lesser deities, which are called Orishas. Every practitioner is believed to have their own tutelary orisha, which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Music and dance are important parts of Candomblé ceremonies, since the dances enable worshippers to become possessed by the orishas. In the rituals, participants make offerings like minerals, vegetables, and animals. Candomblé does not include the duality of good and evil; each person is required to fulfill their destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is.Christianity and Neopaganism
Christianity and Neopaganism overlap when the beliefs or practices of one religious path influence, or are adopted by, the other. Historically, Christianity sometimes took advantage of traditional pagan beliefs when it spread to new areas – a process known as inculturation. Thus newly established churches took on sites, practices or images belonging to indigenous belief systems as a way of making the new faith more acceptable.More recently, in a parallel process, some followers of modern pagan paths have developed practices such as Christopaganism by blending Christian elements into Neopagan practice.Espiritismo
Espiritismo (Portuguese and Spanish for "Spiritism") is a term used in Latin America and the Caribbean to refer to the popular belief that good and evil spirits can affect health, luck and other aspects of human life.History of Christianity
The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion, Christendom, and the Church with its various denominations, from the 1st century to the present.
Christianity originated with the ministry of Jesus in the 1st century Roman province of Judea. According to the Gospels, Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer who proclaimed the imminent Kingdom of God, and was crucified at c.30–33 AD. His followers believed that he was the raised from the dead and exalted by God, and would return soon at the inception of God's Kingdom.
The earliest followers of Jesus were apocalyptic Jewish Christians. Due to the inclusion of gentiles, the developing early Christian Church gradually grew apart from Judaism and Jewish Christianity during the first two centuries of the Christian Era.
In 313, Emperor Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan, officially legalizing Christian worship. In 380, with the Edict of Thessalonica put forth under Theodosius I, the Roman Empire officially adopted Trinitarian Christianity as its state religion, and Christianity established itself as a predominantly gentile religion in the state church of the Roman Empire.
Christological debates about the human and divine nature of Jesus consumed the Christian Church for a couple of centuries, and seven eucumenical councils took place to resolve these debates. Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nice (325), which supported the Trinitarian doctrine as expounded in the Nicene Creed.
In the early Middle Ages, missionary activities spread Christianity towards the west among German peoples. During the High Middle Ages, eastern and western Christianity grew apart, leading to the East-West Schism of 1054. Growing criticism of the Roman Catholic ecclesiological structure and its behaviour, led to the Protestant movement of the 16th century and the split of western Christianity.
Since the Renaissance era, with western colonialism, Christianity has expanded throughout the world. Today there are more than two billion Christians worldwide, and Christianity has become the world's largest religion.Hoodoo (folk magic)
Hoodoo is a traditional African American folk spirituality that developed from a number of West African spiritual traditions and beliefs. Hoodoo is a mixture of various African religious practices created by enslaved Africans in the New World. These religious practices were held in secret away from white slave owners. Following the Great Migration, hoodoo practice spread throughout the United States.Interpretatio graeca
Interpretatio graeca (Latin, "Greek translation") or "interpretation by means of Greek [models]" is a discourse used to interpret or attempt to understand the mythology and religion of other cultures; a comparative methodology using ancient Greek religious concepts and practices, deities, and myths, equivalencies, and shared characteristics.
The phrase may describe Greek efforts to explain others' beliefs and myths, as when Herodotus describes Egyptian religion in terms of perceived Greek analogues, or when Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Plutarch document Roman cults, temples, and practices under the names of equivalent Greek deities. Interpretatio graeca may also describe non-Greeks' interpretation of their own belief systems by comparison or assimilation with Greek models, as when Romans adapt Greek myths and iconography under the names of their own gods.
Interpretatio romana is comparative discourse in reference to ancient Roman religion and myth, as in the formation of a distinctive Gallo-Roman religion. Both the Romans and the Gauls reinterpreted Gallic religious traditions in relation to Roman models, particularly Imperial cult.
Jan Assmann considers the polytheistic approach to internationalizing gods as a form of "intercultural translation":
The great achievement of polytheism is the articulation of a common semantic universe. ... The meaning of a deity is his or her specific character as it unfolded in myths, hymns, rites, and so on. This character makes a deity comparable to other deities with similar traits. The similarity of gods makes their names mutually translatable. … The practice of translating the names of the gods created a concept of similarity and produced the idea or conviction that the gods are international.
Pliny the Elder expressed the "translatability" of deities as "different names to different peoples" (nomina alia aliis gentibus). This capacity made possible the religious syncretism of the Hellenistic era and the pre-Christian Roman Empire.Loa
Loa (also spelled lwa) are the spirits of Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo. They are also referred to as "mystères" and "the invisibles" and are intermediaries between Bondye (from French Bon Dieu, meaning "good God")—the Supreme Creator, who is distant from the world—and humanity. Unlike saints or angels, however, they are not simply prayed to, they are served. They are each distinct beings with their own personal likes and dislikes, distinct sacred rhythms, songs, dances, ritual symbols, and special modes of service. Contrary to popular belief, the loa are not deities in and of themselves; they are intermediaries for, and dependent on, a distant Bondye.Macumba
Macumba (Portuguese pronunciation: [maˈkũᵐbɐ]) is a syncretic religion practiced in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. It is sometimes considered by non-practitioners to be a form of witchcraft or black magic. Macumba was originally used to categorize all religions who practiced or believed in animistic-syncretism during the 1800s. In the 1900s Macumba became a slang term among Brazilians who aren’t affiliated with these religions. The religions that are referred to under the umbrella term Macumba are Candomblé, Giro, and Mesa Blanca. Although the word Macumba may be used among Afro-Brazilian religion praticioners to kindly refer to their practices, it is also used as a pejorative and even a racial slur by evangelical hate groups against these religions.Mercury (mythology)
Mercury (; Latin: Mercurius [mɛrˈkurius] listen ) is a major god in Roman religion and mythology, being one of the 12 Dii Consentes within the ancient Roman pantheon. He is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld.
He was considered the son of Maia, who was a daughter of the Titan Atlas, and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is possibly related to the Latin word merx ("merchandise"; cf. merchant, commerce, etc.), mercari (to trade), and merces (wages); another possible connection is the Proto-Indo-European root merĝ- for "boundary, border" (cf. Old English "mearc", Old Norse "mark" and Latin "margō") and Greek οὖρος (by analogy of Arctūrus/Ἀρκτοῦρος), as the "keeper of boundaries," referring to his role as bridge between the upper and lower worlds. In his earliest forms, he appears to have been related to the Etruscan deity Turms; both gods share characteristics with the Greek god Hermes. He is often depicted holding the caduceus in his left hand. Similar to his Greek equivalent Hermes, he was awarded the caduceus by Apollo who handed him a magic wand, which later turned into the caduceus.Native American Church
The Native American Church (NAC), also known as Peyotism and Peyote Religion, is a Native American religion that teaches a combination of traditional Native American beliefs and Christianity, with sacramental use of the entheogen peyote. The religion originated in the U.S. State of Oklahoma in the late nineteenth century after peyote was introduced to the southern Great Plains from Mexico. Today it is the most widespread indigenous religion among Native Americans in the United States (except Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians), Canada (specifically First Nations people in Saskatchewan and Alberta), and Mexico, with an estimated 250,000 adherents as of the late twentieth century.Obeah
Obeah (sometimes spelled Obi, Obeah, Obeya, or Obia) is a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans in the West Indies. Obeah is difficult to define, as it is not a single, unified set of practices; the word "Obeah" was historically not often used to describe one's own practices. Diana Paton has contended that what constitutes Obeah in Jamaica has been constructed by white society, particularly law enforcement. Accordingly, different Afro-Caribbean communities use their own terminology to describe the practice, such as "science", among the Jamaican Windward Maroons. Obeah is similar to other Afro-American religions such as Palo, Haitian Vodou, Santería, and Hoodoo in that it includes communication with ancestors and spirits and healing rituals. Nevertheless, it differs from religions like Vodou and Santeria in that there is no explicit canon of gods or deities that is worshipped, and the practice is generally an individual action rather than part of a collective ceremony or offering. It differs from Myal in that Myal focuses more on the connection of humans and spirits. By some early colonial authorities they differed in that Obeah was viewed as nefarious while Myal was a more positive influence.Variants of Obeah are practiced in the Bahamas and in the Caribbean nations of Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St.Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Virgin Islands, as well as by the Igbo people of Nigeria. In some cases, aspects of these folk religions have survived through syncretism with Christian symbolism and practice introduced by European colonials and slave owners.Palo (religion)
Palo, also known as Las Reglas de Congo, is a religion with various denominations which developed in Cuba among Central African slaves and their descendants who originated in the Congo Basin. It is completely different from Santería and Ifa. Denominations often referred to as "branches" of Palo include Mayombe (or Mallombe), Monte, Briyumba (or Brillumba), and Kimbisa. The Spanish word palo "stick" was applied to the religion in Cuba due to the use of wooden sticks in the preparation of altars, which were also called la Nganga, el caldero, nkisi or la prenda. Priests of Palo are known as Paleros, Tatas (men), Yayas (women) or Nganguleros. Initiates are known as ngueyos or pino nuevo.Religion in Africa
Religion in Africa is multifaceted and has been a major influence on art, culture and philosophy. Today, the continent's various populations and individuals are mostly adherents of Christianity, Islam, and to a lesser extent several Traditional African religions. In Christian or Islamic communities, religious beliefs are also sometimes characterized with syncretism with the beliefs and practices of traditional religions.Religious syncretism
Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. It is contrasted by the idea of multiple religious belonging and polytheism, respectively.
This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in the culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or, especially, practices.
Religions may have syncretic elements to their beliefs or history, but adherents of so-labeled systems often frown on applying the label, especially adherents who belong to "revealed" religious systems, such as the Abrahamic religions, or any system that exhibits an exclusivist approach. Such adherents sometimes see syncretism as a betrayal of their pure truth. By this reasoning, adding an incompatible belief corrupts the original religion, rendering it no longer true. Indeed, critics of a specific syncretistic trend may sometimes use the word "syncretism" as a disparaging epithet, as a charge implying that those who seek to incorporate a new view, belief, or practice into a religious system actually distort the original faith. The consequence, according to Keith Ferdinando, is a fatal compromise of the dominant religion's integrity. Non-exclusivist systems of belief, on the other hand, may feel quite free to incorporate other traditions into their own.
In modern secular society, religious innovators sometimes create new religions syncretically as a mechanism to reduce inter-religious tension and enmity, often with the effect of offending the original religions in question. Such religions, however, do maintain some appeal to a less exclusivist audience. Discussions of some of these blended religions appear in the individual sections below.Romano-Germanic culture
The term Romano-Germanic describes the conflation of Roman culture with that of various Germanic peoples in areas successively ruled by the Roman Empire and Germanic "barbarian monarchies".
These include the kingdoms of the Visigoths (in Hispania and Gallia Narbonensis), the Ostrogoths (in Italia, Sicilia, Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Dalmatia and Dacia), the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Sub-Roman Britain and finally the Franks who established the nucleus of the later "Holy Roman Empire" in Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Lugdunensis, Gallia Belgica, Germania Superior and Inferior, and parts of the previously unconquered Germania Magna. Additionally, minor Germanic tribes, like the Vandals, the Suebi, and the Visigoths established kingdoms in Hispania.
The cultural syncretism of Roman and Germanic traditions overlaid the earlier syncretism of Roman culture with the Celtic culture of the respective imperial provinces, Gallo-Roman culture in Gaul and Romano-British culture in Britain. This results in a triple fusion of Celtic-Roman-Germanic culture for France and England in particular.
Romano-Germanic cultural contact begins as early as the first Roman accounts of the Germanic peoples. Roman influence is perceptible beyond the boundaries of the empire, in the Northern European Roman Iron Age of the first centuries AD. The nature of this cultural contact changes with the decline of the Roman Empire and the beginning Migration period in the wake of the crisis of the third century: the "barbarian" peoples of Germania Magna formerly known as mercenaries and traders now came as invaders and eventually as a new ruling elite, even in Italy itself, beginning with Odoacer's rise to the rank of Dux Italiae in 476 AD.
The cultural syncretism was most pronounced in Francia. In West Francia, the nucleus of what was to become France, the Frankish language was eventually extinct, but not without leaving significant traces in the emerging Romance language. In East Francia on the other hand, the nucleus of what was to become the kingdom of Germany and ultimately German-speaking Europe, the syncretism was less pronounced since only its southernmost portion had ever been part of the Roman Empire, as Germania Superior: all territories on the right hand side of the Rhine remain Germanic-speaking. Those parts of the Germanic sphere extends along the left of the Rhine, including the Swiss plateau, the Alsace, the Rhineland and Flanders, are the parts where Romano-Germanic cultural contact remains most evident.
Early Germanic law reflects the coexistence of Roman and Germanic cultures during the Migration period in applying separate laws to Roman and Germanic individuals, notably the Lex Romana Visigothorum (506), the Lex Romana Curiensis and the Lex Romana Burgundionum. The separate cultures amalgamated after Christianization, and by the Carolingian period the distinction of Roman vs. Germanic subjects had been replaced by the feudal system of the Three Estates of the Realm.Shugendō
Shugendō (修験道, literally "the way of shugen, or gen-practice") is a highly syncretic religion that originated in Heian Japan. Practitioners are called Shugenja (修験者) or Yamabushi (山伏, literally "mountain prostrate").Tambor de Mina
Tambor de Mina is an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition, practiced mainly in Brazilian states of Maranhão, Piauí, Pará, and the Amazônia.Trinidad Orisha
Trinidad Orisha, also known as Shango, is a syncretic religion in Trinidad and Tobago and is of Caribbean origin, originally from West Africa (Yoruba religion) and influenced by Roman Catholicism. Trinidad Orisha incorporates elements of Spiritual Baptism, and the closeness between Orisha and Spiritual Baptism has led to use of the term "Shango Baptist" to refer to members of either or both religions. Anthropologist James Houk described Trinidad Orisha as an "Afro-American religious complex", incorporating elements mainly of traditional African religion and Yoruba and incorporates some elements of Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Hinduism, Islam (especially Sufism), Buddhism, Judaism, Bahá'í, and Trinidad Kabbalah.Yoruba religion
The Yoruba religion comprises the traditional religious and spiritual concepts and practice of the Yoruba people. Its homeland is in present-day Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, commonly known as Yorubaland. It shares some parallels with the Vodun practiced by the neighboring Fon and Ewe peoples to the west and to the religion of the Edo people to the east. Yoruba religion is the basis for a number of religions in the New World, notably Santería, Umbanda, Trinidad Orisha and Candomblé. Yoruba religious beliefs are part of Itan, the total complex of songs, histories, stories, and other cultural concepts which make up the Yoruba society.