Syncretism, Eclecticism, and other definitions

13 02 2013

When folks talk about certain sorts of spiritual practices, ranging from those of the African Diaspora to contemporary (neo)paganism, a few words tend to enter into the discussion pretty quickly. The most common is ‘syncretism,’ followed distantly by ‘eclecticism.’ The two words are often used in ways that make them nearly synonymous with each other. I’m not a big fan of legislating language, but I’m going to suggest that this habit isn’t particularly helpful in talking about these practices. What’s more, I’m going to suggest that the term ‘syncretism’ is used too often without specification, making it a term that means too little and too much all at once. In this post, I want to draw a distinction between eclecticism and syncretism and then proceed to discuss in detail some specific sorts of syncretisms in the hopes that it might nourish a more meaningful conversation about the way these religious practices originate and develop.

In making these sorts of distinctions, I’m drawing on discussions in psychology and philosophy. The distinctions aren’t entirely my own andthe issues raised in the religious discussion have parallels in other (lively) disciplinary discussions. That said, the specific strategies I’m employing to specify forms of syncretism are my own (though clearly owing more than a little to the sort of philosophical distinction-making pioneered by Plato and Aristotle).

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[Not Really a Review] Secrecy and the Gods by Alan Lenzi

18 06 2011

I have just started reading Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel by Alan Lenzi as part of an effort to educate myself a little in the emergence and diffusion of religious ideas in the cradle of civilization. That fits into a broader project I have going on, but I talk about that sort of stuff on my other blog, Spirited Culture (and it will be a little bit before I am ready to post anything about that there).

Here, I just want to wax poetic on the value and rewards of clear scholarly writing. Well-formed scholastic discourse, with a clear sense of its foundations and aims, is like tonic for the intellect. Lenzi does an exceptional job situating his work within his discipline and, in so doing, shines a bright light on the temperament of the field at present.

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