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What is Syncretism?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Syncretism is the attempt to bring together beliefs from several different and often contradictory schools of thought. Many modern theologists lay claim that most religions have either now or in the past practiced a certain degree of syncretism. Mainstream Christianity for instance, has incorporated much Judaic thought, and also picked up practices along the way that were not a part of early Christianity. When we celebrate Christmas with Christmas trees, and feasts, we hearken back to Pagan rituals that were swept up and incorporated into Christianity in an effort to convert non-Christians. If you hunt Easter eggs at Easter, you’re not only celebrating the resurrection of Christ but also adding Greek and Roman pagan ritual to your beliefs as a Christian.

While you can find syncretism in almost any modern religion, and you’ll certainly find many examples in newly formed religions like Scientology or Bahá'í, religion is not the only area in which reconciliation of disparate beliefs can occur. When you look at a country with a high influx of immigrants from various countries, the US for example, you’ll see numerous ways in which a number of traditions and belief systems have blended together to create unity among the people as one country. This unity may not be wholly complete, and there certainly exists discrete belief systems in the US that are not syncretic. The Amish, for example, though living in the US, tend to keep their spiritual practices and their way of life extremely separate from American living.

Failure to create syncretism within a society of people of many different backgrounds can result in significant pull and tension in a society. Racism in the United States, for instance, is a stance that resists syncretism because it resists seeing all people in the US as essentially equal. Until the Constitution received amendments banning the practice of slavery and offering civil rights to all, it was not fully syncretic, and it remains incompletely syncretic because of the extent and variety of thought.

In other forms of cultural expression, syncretism has blended with greater ease. Rock music for instance is the blending of so many different forms of music it’s hard to keep track. Art from a current period may blend the ideas of previous periods of art, and philosophy may also approach syncretism in a variety of ways.

Even in the political landscape, there is a constant attempt on the part of some politicians to achieve compromise, find common ground or move toward a more syncretic view of the country. As President Lincoln once expressed, “A house divided against it cannot stand” which references the book of Matthew and the way in which countries can destroy themselves if contradictory thought is too great.

It’s hard to know though if truly syncretic purpose and belief is possible on a small or large scale, especially in a culturally blended society like the US. Some also suggest that if all agreed there could be no growth or progress and we would evolve into a non-thinking world. Sometimes disparate beliefs provoke change, although this change may not always be comfortable.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Grivusangel — On Mar 17, 2014

Considering that Christianity came out of Judaism, it would be surprising it didn't pick up a few of the beliefs of the mother belief system. However, there's also no doubt that it picked up a few pagan customs along the way and Christianized them. Easter eggs and Easter bunnies are two good examples.

And, while the U.S. laws are based primarily on English common law, there are a few ideas that came in from other countries. Louisiana, for instance, still has some laws that are based on French law.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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