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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Growth Cycles

21 05 2012

I keep chewing over the role of growth in the development of the United States. At the moment, it seems a bit like the royal road into the American (un)consciousness. I’m sure some of that is just the excitement of finding a new approach to this material. Still, there is much that can be worked by exploring these avenues. Without undertaking the journey quite yet, I want to layout a rough outline of the map this approach suggests.

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On Memes and the Slipperiness of Rhetoric

12 05 2012

I have seen this meme floating around lately. The image attached to it varies (some variety of norse-flavored fantasy), but the caption always reads thus:


I smiled and chuckled the first few times I saw it. How clever, I thought, a nicely done zing, regardless of my opinion on the subject matter. I started watching people reply to it and realized they didn’t get it. Then I realized I didn’t get it. Then I realized, the ‘getting’ is in the getter. Then I thought of Aristotle.

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[Religious Types 8] Shadow in Life

24 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

In talking about how our shadow functions give shape to our conscious ones, I made a point in passing that becomes important now: the shadow isn’t just an underdeveloped function, but a function that has been overrun by the external world. The way in which those functions are overrun, the exact content that animates them, is personal. It is personal in the sense that it varies from person to person, having everything to do with our place and time, but it is also personal in the sense that it is what makes us the person that we are, rather than an abstract confluence of preexisting types.

This interchange between the stable type and our fluid history is key. Our personality profile defines a mode of life in the face of changing events, and our development as a person has everything to do with how we do or do not manage to adapt those patterns to those events. Since those events manifest most clearly in our shadow function, we can talk about the way those functions both have a history and remain stable.

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[Religious Types 1] Carl Jung’s Liber Novus and Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis

15 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

I have recently spent some time reading Jung’s Liber Novus (aka The Red Book); it reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis. Anyone who has read both texts will probably not be surprised by the comparison. Both are the works of intellectual men dealing with powerful religious experiences that transform their relationship to themselves and their world. Both approach the experience with their full intellectual and creative capacities. The many substantive differences between the two works has a lot to do with the resources, cultural and personal, available to their creators.

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[Follow Up] La Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra

12 05 2011

I started to do some digging into the response to the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth and, finding only a little discussion online, decided to do a little summary post here about those responses.

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Park51, or when it’s virtuous not to have an opinion

10 09 2010

I have dipped in and out of discussions about the proposed community center, Cordoba House/Park51, in Lower Manhattan.  All in all, I’m struck by how hollow the discussion feels.  It’s either about sweeping political virtues (‘freedom of religion’ or ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘sacred remembrance’ or ‘defending our culture’ or etc.) or narrow personal feelings.  The reality of the situation seems hopelessly lost between those two poles.

It’s a combination toxic to healthy society because, without the mediating concrete situation, people tend to either identify more and more intensely with their political position for its own sake, absent its results or they disengage from political activity in general, abandoning the civil sphere to the ideologues.

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