Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs and various
schools of thought A school of thought, or intellectual tradition, is the perspective of a group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook of a philosophy, List of academic disciplines, discipline, belief, social movement, Schools of economic ...
. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several
mythologies Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as Narrative, tales, p ...

religions Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the exchange is voluntary/involuntary. Etymology ...

, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of art and culture (known as
eclecticism and the Grand Boulevard in Budapest Budapest (, ) is the capital and the List of cities and towns of Hungary, most populous city of Hungary, and the Largest cities of the European Union by population within city limits, ninth-largest city in ...
) as well as politics (
syncretic politics Syncretic politics, or spectral-syncretic politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resourc ...


The English word is first attested in the early 17th century, from
Modern Latin New Latin (also called Neo-Latin or Modern Latin) is the List of revived languages, revival of Latin used in original, scholarly, and scientific works since about 1500. Modern scholarly and technical nomenclature, such as in zoological and botan ...
''syncretismus'', drawing on
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
συγκρητισμός (''synkretismos''), supposedly meaning "Cretan federation", but this is a spurious etymology from the naive idea in
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46–after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonism, Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, Biography, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo (Delphi), Temple of ...

's 1st-century AD essay on "Fraternal Love (Peri Philadelphias)" in his collection ''
Moralia The ''Moralia'' ( grc, Ἠθικά ''Ethika''; loosely translated as "Morals" or "Matters relating to customs and mores") is a group of manuscripts dating from the 10th-13th centuries, traditionally ascribed to the 1st-century Greek scholar Plutarc ...
'' (2.490b). He cites the example of the
Cretans Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern: , Ancient: '','' ) is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea The Mediterranean Sea is a ...
, who compromised and reconciled their differences and came together in alliance when faced with external dangers. "And that is their so-called ''Syncretism'' nion of Cretans. More likely as an etymology is sun- ("with") plus kerannumi ("mix") and its related noun, "krasis," "mixture."
Erasmus Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (; English: Erasmus of Rotterdam;''Erasmus'' was his baptismal name, given after St. Erasmus of Formiae. ''Desiderius'' was a self-adopted additional name, which he used from 1496. The ''Roterodamus'' was a schol ...

probably coined the modern usage of the Latin word in his ''
Adagia thumbnail, The compiler, Erasmus ''Adagia'' (singular ''adagium'') is the title of an annotated collection of Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic ...
'' ("Adages"), published in the winter of 1517–1518, to designate the coherence of
dissenter A dissenter (from the Latin ''dissentire'', "to disagree") is one who dissents (disagrees) in matters of opinion, belief, etc. Usage in Christianity Dissent from the Anglican church In the social and religious history of England and Wales, and, b ...
s in spite of their differences in theological opinions. In a letter to
Melanchthon Philip Melanchthon. (born Philipp Schwartzerdt; 16 February 1497 – 19 April 1560) was a German Lutheran Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identifies with the teachings of Martin Luther, a 16th-century German ...

of April 22, 1519, Erasmus specifically adduced the Cretans of Plutarch as an example of his adage "Concord is a mighty rampart".

Social and political roles

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''. For example, some
conversos A ''converso'' (; ; feminine form ''conversa''), "convert", () was a Jew who converted to Catholicism in Spain , * gl, Reino de España, * oc, Reiaume d'Espanha, , , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo ...
developed a sort of
cult In modern English, a cult is a social group In the social sciences, a social group can be defined as two or more people who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and collectively have a sense of unity. Regardless, soci ...
for martyr-victims of the
Spanish Inquisition The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition ( es, Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition ( es, Inquisición española), was established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Catholic ...
, thus incorporating elements of
Catholicism The Catholic Church, often referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide . As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning internation ...
while resisting it. The
Kushite The Kingdom of Kush (; Egyptian language, Egyptian: 𓎡𓄿𓈙𓈉 ''kꜣš'', Akkadian language, Assyrian: ''Ku-u-si'', in LXX grc, Κυς and Κυσι; cop, ; he, כּוּשׁ) was an ancient kingdom in Nubia, centered along the Nile V ...
kings who ruled Upper Egypt for approximately a century and the whole of Egypt for approximately 57 years, from 721 to 664 BCE, constituting the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in
Manetho's ''Aegyptiaca''
Manetho's ''Aegyptiaca''
, developed a syncretic worship identifying their own god
Dedun Dedun (or Dedwen) was a Nubia Nubia () is a region along the Nile The Nile ( ar, النيل, an-Nīl, , Bohairic , lg, Kiira , Nobiin: Áman Dawū) is a major north-flowing river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually fre ...
with the Egyptian
Osiris Osiris (, from Egyptian ''wsjr'', Coptic ) is the ancient Egyptian deities, god of fertility, agriculture, the Egyptian afterlife, afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation in ancient Egyptian religion. He was classically depicte ...

. They maintained that worship even after they had been driven out of Egypt. A temple dedicated to this syncretic god, built by the Kushite ruler
Atlanersa Atlanersa (also Atlanarsa) was a Kingdom of Kush, Kushite ruler of the Napata#Late Napatan kingdom, Napatan kingdom of Nubia, reigning for about a decade in the mid-7th century BC. He was the successor of Tantamani, the last ruler of the Twenty-f ...
, was unearthed at
Jebel Barkal Jebel Barkal or Gebel Barkal ( ar, جبل بركل) is a very small mountain A mountain is an elevated portion of the Earth's crust, generally with steep sides that show significant exposed bedrock. A mountain differs from a plateau in havin ...

Jebel Barkal
. Syncretism was common during the
Hellenistic The Hellenistic period spans the period of Mediterranean history The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Western Europe, We ...

period, with rulers regularly identifying local deities in various parts of their domains with the relevant god or goddess of the
Greek Pantheon upright=1.8, Fragment of a relief Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term ''wikt:relief, relief'' is from the Latin verb ''relevo'', to raise. To create a ...
as a means of increasing the cohesion of their kingdom. This practice was accepted in most locations but vehemently rejected by the
Jews Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelites Israelite origins and kingdom: "The first act in the long drama of Jewish history is t ...

, who considered the identification of
Yahweh Yahweh was the national god of ancient Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), Israel and Kingdom of Judah, Judah. His origins reach at least to the early Iron Age, and likely to the Late Bronze Age. In the oldest biblical literature, he is a Weather ...
with the Greek
Zeus Zeus or , , ; grc, Δῐός, ''Diós'', label=genitive In grammar In linguistics, the grammar (from Ancient Greek ''grammatikḗ'') of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' compos ...

as the worst of blasphemy. The
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity it included large territorial holdings aro ...

Roman Empire
continued the practice, first by the identification of traditional Roman deities with Greek ones, producing a single
Graeco-Roman pantheon Roman Theatre of Mérida, Spain. The term "Greco-Roman world" (also "Greco-Roman culture" or ; spelled Graeco-Roman in the Commonwealth), as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to geographical regions and countries that cultura ...
, and then identifying members of that pantheon with the local deities of various Roman provinces. Allegedly, 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 Shinbutsu-shūgō, melding Shintō beliefs into Buddhism or the supposed amalgamation of Germanic and Celtic Christianity and Paganism#Pagan influences on Christianity, pagan views into Early Christianity#Spread of Christianity, Christianity during its spread into Gaul, Ireland, Britain, 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 people, Algonquian groups, with the God of Christianity. Similar identifications were made by missionaries at other locations in the Americas and Africa whenever they encountered 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 include post-Babylonian captivity of Judah, Exile Second Temple Judaism, Islam, and most of Protestantism, 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 multiethnic empire, realms. Conversely, the rejection of syncretism, usually in the name of "piety" and "orthodoxy", may help to generate, bolster or authenticate a sense of uncompromised cultural identity, cultural unity in a well-defined minority or majority.

Religious syncretism

Religious syncretism is the blending of two or more religious Belief#Collective belief, 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 exclusivism, 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 syncretistic trend may use the word or its variants as a disparaging epithet, as a charge implying that those who seek to incorporate a new view, belief, or practice into a religious system pervert 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 secularism, secular society, religious innovators sometimes construct new faiths or key tenets syncretically, with the added benefit or aim of reducing inter-religious discord. Such chapters often have a side-effect of arousing jealousy and suspicion among authorities and ardent adherents of the pre-existing religion. Such religions tend to inherently appeal to an inclusive, diverse audience. Sometimes the state itself sponsored such new movements, such as the Living Church founded in Soviet Russia and the German Evangelical Church in Nazi Germany, chiefly to stem all outside influences.

Cultures and societies

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.

Din-i Ilahi

In the 16th century, the Mughal Empire, Mughal emperor Akbar proposed a new religion called the Din-i Ilahi ("Divine Faith") that was intended to merge some of the elements of the religions of his empire and thereby reconcile the differences that divided his subjects. Din-i Ilahi drew elements primarily from Islam and Hinduism but also from Christianity, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. More resembling a personality cult than a religion, it had no sacred scriptures, no priestly hierarchy, and fewer than 20 disciples, all hand-picked by Akbar himself. It is also accepted that the policy of ''sulh-i-kul'', which formed the essence of the Dīn-i Ilāhī, was adopted by Akbar as a part of general imperial administrative policy. ''Sulh-i-kul'' means "universal peace".

During the Enlightenment

The modern, rational non-pejorative connotations of syncretism arguably date from Denis Diderot's ''Encyclopédie'' articles: ''Eclecticisme'' and ''Syncrétistes, Hénotiques, ou Conciliateurs.'' Diderot portrayed syncretism as the concordance of eclectic sources. Scientific or legalistic approaches of subjecting all claims to critical thinking prompted at this time much literature in Europe and the Americas studying non-European religions such as Edward Moor's ''The Hindu Pantheon'' of 1810, much of which was almost evangelistically appreciative, embracing spirituality and creating the space and tolerance in particular disestablishmentarianism, disestablishment of religion (or its stronger form, official secularisation as in France) whereby believers of spiritualism, agnosticism, atheism, atheists and in many cases more innovative or pre-Abrahimic based religions could promote and spread their belief system, whether in the family or beyond.

See also

* Confederation, Confederacy * Conflation * Cultural appropriation * Cultural assimilation * Multiculturalism * Multiple religious belonging * Religious pluralism


Further reading

* * * * HadžiMuhamedović, Safet (2018
''Waiting for Elijah: Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape''
New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. * HadžiMuhamedović, Safet (2018
"Syncretic Debris: From Shared Bosnian Saints to the ICTY Courtroom"
In: A. Wand (ed.) ''Tradition, Performance and Identity Politics in European Festivals'' (special issue of ''Ethnoscripts'' 20:1). * Cotter, John (1990). ''The New Age and Syncretism, in the World and in the Church''. Long Prairie, Minn.: Neumann Press. 38 p. ''N.B''.: The approach to the issue is from a conservative Roman Catholic position. * *

External links

* {{Authority control Syncretism,