Syncretism—The Term And Phenomenon -- By: Irina A. Levinskaya

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: Syncretism—The Term And Phenomenon
Author: Irina A. Levinskaya

Syncretism—The Term And Phenomenon1

Irina A. Levinskaya


In this article the history of the use of the term syncretism is traced. It shows that apart from being used etymologically incorrectly it has acquired vague meanings. Thanks to its universal potential it became an expression for every kind of religious or even cultural contact. Being used to describe different religious phenomena it creates an illusion of correlation, each of them with the rise of a mixed religion. This pattern of thought was especially popular among scholars of the nineteenth century. It still affects the modern investigations of the Mediterranean religious situation of the Hellenistic and Roman periods as the epigraphic example demonstrates.

The problem of scholarly terminology does not belong to the sphere of purely theoretical speculation. Scientific language possesses an ability to shape our thoughts and to play games with us through words. This can sometimes create confusion. The term syncretism epitomises the problem.

If we try to define precisely the meaning of the word syncretism and to consult lexicographical references the picture is rather confusing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines syncretism as ‘attempted union or reconciliation of diverse and opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy and religion’. It treats syncretism, firstly as a result and not as a process, and secondly as something man-made and not natural. The German Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart suggests a more complicated picture, which also leaves room for the natural course of events: ‘er bezeichnet einerseits den bewußten Zusammenschuß verschiedener Religionen bzw., einzelnen Elemente in ihnen, anderseits das organische Zusammenwachsen von Religionen oder ihre Anschauungen und Praktiken zu einer Einheit’. If we turn to more specialised scholarly literature we find the picture even more uncertain. G.

Van der Leeuw in his famous book Phänomenologie der Religion (published in English under the title Religion in Essence and Manifestation) understands syncretism as ‘the process leading repeatedly from Polydemonism to Polytheism’.2 Later in the same book, while trying to ‘apprehend its essential nature somewhat more thoroughly’, he describes it ‘as one form of the dynamic of religions’.3 For J.H. Kamstra syncretism means amalgamation, something opposite to an encounter, i.e. the existential meeting of two religions.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe

visitor : : uid: ()