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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Marxism and Nature, Critique and Anthropology

29 08 2012

This post begins in two disparate observations, but comes together around a common issue. The first observation is that there is a common misreading of Marx that portrays him as believing that nature has no value in and of itself. The second observation is that efforts to justify anthropology’s distinctiveness as a discipline are terribly unpersuasive to me. These two observations bring me to discuss what constitutes an intellectual discipline. I’ll talk about the two observations first, which should make clear how they lead me to the issue of justifying a discipline.

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[Religious Types 16] Pattern, Archetype, Psychological Type

4 07 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

I spent much of the last post critical of the way in which Jung’s concept of archetype has been applied. Much of that rests on a concern for how the concept elides differences between images, effectively short-circuiting genuine comparative work by positing their identity ahead of time. In place of the notion of archetype for comparative work, I suggested a concept of pattern, modeled on the way psychological types are used. Now, I want to examine the concepts of archetype and pattern from the perspective of Jung’s psychological type. An examination of them reveals the way in which each depends on the integration of  two different psychological functions. This enables us to talk about a couple of things.

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[Religious Types 9] Type, Time, and Community

29 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

I take Jung’s typological distinctions, especially as developed over the last century, seriously. I take them to be fairly basic ways of distinguishing how we access and interact with the world. I also take seriously the epistemological and ontological implications of the system, especially in regards to the integration of the individual and their environment. That integration has a personal dimension, but that personal dimension rests on a still more basic dimensions, those of the social/cultural and the biological.

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Witch Hunts, some notes toward better discussion

2 08 2010

[4/2/2012: Heavily revised to articulate the argument of this short essay in a more general fashion. Previous version relied over-much on a very narrow discussion of witch hunts going on in the online pagan community.]

One of the difficulties in making sense of the reports of Nigerian witch hunting rests not just on our inability to access the ‘life on the ground,’ but also on the presuppositions we bring to terms like ‘witch hunt.’  For those of us with roots in the European world, we have the cultural baggage of the Enlightenment to deal with as well.

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[News] Nigerian Witch Hunts

19 10 2009

I have a handful of posts in various stages of completion, but then this Wild Hunt post comes up in regards to Nigerian witch hunts.  I’m going to put the other posts on hold for a moment and just talk a little about this one.  I don’t have anything strong to say, just some thoughts about how the picture is more complicated than it appears.

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Towards a proper understanding of religious community

29 07 2009

[8/5/2010: Virtually no modification from original posting in July of 2009]

This post is largely critical, distinguishing obstacles that have come between me and a healthy concept of religious community.  It’s propadeutic.  It includes some glimmers of how I want to start talking about religion and community, but an awful lot about what I think may stand in the way of that.

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