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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Romantic Industrial Pantheism

15 06 2012

There is a strong minor chord in contemporary religious thought that emphasizes the unity of the Earth and all its elements in an organic and spiritual system, a naturalistic pantheism or pantheistic naturalism. The increasing scientific evidence of the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate places fuels this, though the theology races well ahead of the science in positing that this system forms an organic unity rather than just a series of overlapping networks. I find this sort of holism problematic and want to think through it a little. This post is intended to clear some space, but little else. What I’m clearing space for…well, more to come on that, though I hope a reader can glimpse some of that through the other posts here.

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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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[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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‘Tis the Season

24 12 2010

Watching the back and forth around Thorn Coyle’s blog post on Christmas has been mostly disappointing.  I know, it is the internet and people on the internet (myself included sometimes) tend to respond rather than read and consider.  Still.

Why the urge to respond away her uncomfortable concerns, rather than to just sit and consider?  Consideration of her post does not equate to acquiescence to it.  Especially when the post itself is itself written from a place of consideration and not demand.

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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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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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