Syncretism (religious studies)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The articles syncretism (religious studies) and syncretism overlap thematically. Help me to better differentiate or merge the articles (→  instructions ) . To do this, take part in the relevant redundancy discussion . Please remove this module only after the redundancy has been completely processed and do not forget to include the relevant entry on the redundancy discussion page{{ Done | 1 = ~~~~}}to mark. Olaf Studt ( discussion ) 7:12 pm, Jan. 28, 2018 (CET)

Antique bronze sculpture in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn , which combines the attributes of various gods in order to bundle their effective forces

In religious studies syncretism denotes the connection and mixing of religions or religious traditions. It is closely linked to research into the history of religions in the period of Hellenism and late antiquity , when there were intensive religious contacts, such as research into Gnosis and Manichaeism . The term also plays a role in theology and missiology , in the context of which it was often given a negative rating. In recent times the term “syncretism” has been increasingly used again in connection with so-called new religious movements .


Every thought and belief system moves between the extremes of dogmatism and change. New ideas and beliefs arise through the gradual wear and tear of the old or the emergence of external or internal enemy images or as a result of sudden natural disasters , migration movements , military conquests, scientific knowledge, etc. Of great importance is also popular belief , which is created through contact with the The outside world is subject to constant change.

Positions in today's religious studies view a certain degree of syncretism as a widespread phenomenon, as this is an obvious consequence of dealing with foreignness or newness. Colloquially, this process is therefore often assumed to have a certain "naturalness". But even within a denomination there are practically contradictions and currents of opinion. However, this process contradicts dogmatic ideas that have grown in the course of time in some religious organizations (e.g. churches ) and are intended to counteract arbitrariness. As a rule, monotheistic religions distinguish themselves more strongly from syncretistic tendencies than religions whose internal structure shows a certain pluralism anyway. The religion of Manichaeism, which originated in Persia in the 3rd century and is characterized by a dualistic system, in the mythological beginning of which the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light face each other, is even a deliberately syncretistic religion that claimed to have absorbed all previous knowledge and to have adapted to the respective religious environment (for example a statue of Mani is still venerated as a Buddha today). Epistemologically , neither a syncretistic nor a dogmatic system is more obvious.


Vietnamese Caodaism integrates Christian saints, Moses , Mohammed , Vietnamese national heroes ,
Confucius , personalities from European cultural history and the magic eye , among others . Temple in Tây Ninh
The "saint"
Maximón , venerated in the highlands of Guatemala , combines Indian and colonial beliefs.

The Buddhism , for example, is open to other teachings. He categorically denies the existence of a soul ( atma ) and the existence of a personality ( pudgala ) . In Nepal , Japan , Vietnam and China in particular , it is customary not to “belong” to one religion, but to mix different religions and teachings (Buddhism, Hinduism , Daoism , Confucianism , Shintō ) according to one's own ideas (cf. Shinbutsu-Shūgō , Japanese gods , Three Teachings , Quanzhen Daoism ). Their shrines are also alternately venerated.

Due to the aggressive, Eurocentric missionary work in the age of colonization , almost all indigenous peoples worldwide mixed ethnic and Christian beliefs and practices. The American anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits described the ostensible adoption of Catholic worship by African slaves in America and the Caribbean as “syncretistic cults” that were actually used to camouflage African spirituality . From this connection, the Afro-American religions Candomblé , Macumba , María-Lionza , Obeah , Rastafari , Santería , Umbanda and Voodoo emerged .

Syncretistic cults often develop around the veneration of a saint by members of two or more religious communities. In India, syncretistic practices by Hindus and Muslims have a long, religiously founded tradition, for which the philosophy of Kabir (1440–1518) in particular stands. The mystic, who came from a family of Webern and was brought up as a Muslim, advocated the universality of religions, the only difference between which was ultimately the name of God. Kabir's mystical experience and love of God influenced the Bhakti movement and Sikhism . Numerous holy places in India are worshiped by Hindus and Muslims. In Bengal, the Baul follow a way of life characterized by religious rituals based on Sufi and Hindu beliefs. Hindus and Muslims alike make offerings and practice daily, weekly and annual rituals at the mausoleum of the religious poet Manomohan Datta (1877–1909) in the Brahmanbaria district in eastern Bangladesh. For Manomohan, who recited the Koran but did not call himself a Muslim, religion was universal and the way to find the ultimate truth.

In Morocco there is an interfaith veneration of saints. Muslims also venerate the tombs of Jewish saints, which are valued as shared religious heritage. Muslims and Jews can participate in the religious Derdeba ritual in Morocco, which goes back to a black African tradition .

Differentiation from assimilation

An animistic Ai To'os in front of the church of Maubisse ( East Timor )

The pagan cults in the syncretistic worlds of belief were often reinterpreted. Here the concept of syncretism is no longer entirely applicable and turns into assimilation . The reinterpretations of the religious forms of missionized peoples did not allow the simultaneous (adequate) worship of the previously worshiped gods, but only the practice of the traditional rites under new, Christian guidelines.

Special forms

Egyptian mythology

In Egyptology , syncretism describes the merging of different gods into a new whole. The gods of conquered peoples were also merged and thus included in the Egyptian cult .

Neo-Paganism (Wicca)

A modern movement in Europe that often takes on syncretic traits is Wicca as a mainstream of neo-paganism , which combines Celtic neo-Paganism with the philosophies of the mystical-magical movement of the early 20th century. About Wicca is u. a. also created a bridge to Thelema and Theosophy , the aim of which was to build a new religion. Roman Catholic elements can be discerned in Wicca , such as the adoption of ecclesiastical apostolic succession .

Concept history

From antiquity to the "syncretistic dispute"

In ancient times, the term "συγκρητισμός" is used by Plutarch (approx. 50–125 AD). He names a custom of the Cretans who stand together in the event of an external threat, despite internal disputes.

In the early modern era, Erasmus von Rotterdam took up the term syncretism and introduced it into philosophical-theological debates. In connection with Plutarch, Erasmus uses syncretism to denote a coming together of people or parties with diverging views in the face of an external threat.

In the Christian theological debates that followed, the concept of syncretism was given an increasingly negative definition as “falsification”, “dilution” and as a “false peace” among Christian creeds, which endangered the alleged “purity” of Christian teaching (see “ syncretistic Dispute ").

Modern definitions

A religious studies discussion with the aim of specifying the previously diffuse and fuzzy concept of syncretism did not develop until the 20th century. Gerardus van der Leeuw , one of the main representatives of the phenomenology of religion , sees syncretism as a necessary transitional stage in the development of any religion, in the course of which religious phenomena grow together into a final form. According to Leeuw, the “essence” of syncretism lies in the shift in the meaning of religious phenomena, which defines the dynamics of developments in the history of religion. Later, researchers such as the American historian of religion and orientalist Robert D. Baird spoke out against the use of the term syncretism in religious studies because the term was too general as a scientific category and had a negative impact due to its history.

The Berlin religious scholar Carsten Colpe turned his attention to modern forms of syncretism as part of his research in the 1970s. Colpe drafts a typology of syncretism, which is based on the degree of intensity of connections between religious phenomena and a new form. Colpe suggests symbiosis, acculturation and identification as the three degrees of his typology .

For the English scholar of religion Michael Pye, syncretism is an expression of the dynamism of religious developments. In his view, temporary ambiguity about the meaning of religious elements within a religious system is the key to understanding syncretism.

The Bayreuth religious scholar Ulrich Berner has developed a so-called "heuristic model of syncretism research". As part of his model, Berner applies the concept of system, which he adopted from Thomas Luckmann , to religion. This enables him to differentiate between a syncretism at the system level - religion as a whole system - and at the element level, i.e. at the level of individual religious elements.

Kurt Rudolph suggests the following types of syncretism as a heuristic means for researching syncretism , which he largely adopted from Colpe:

  • Symbiosis: connection of two or more traditional components to a new unit; also in the sense of “living together” of outwardly separate religious traditions, which are perceived by the believers as a relative unit and which are used by the believers for specific religious needs; Example Korea: on Sunday attendance at a Christian church service, in the event of illness the use of a so-called shaman.
  • Assimilation : Adaptation to a dominant religious or cultural tradition while giving up one's own identity (an example is the adoption and continuation of pre-existing holy places, e.g. in Christianity)
  • Identification: especially in the context of ideas of gods (" Interpretatio Graeca ")
  • Metamorphosis: transformation, metamorphosis, transformation; (e.g. shamanism as a form of old religiosity is taken up as a leitmotif of student protest movement to express Korean identity).

Newer religious studies and conceptual criticism

According to Ulrichs Berner's system-theoretical approach of syncretism as an assimilation process between homogeneously conceived religious systems, syncretism is a “special case in need of explanation”, ie normally these systems are stable, syncretistic change processes only occur when they meet. In fact, however, religions are not closed homogeneous units, but rather show considerable inhomogeneities, especially with regard to their “social stratification” of religious expertise and the broad mass of followers: this is due to “selective, sometimes more extensive appropriations of ideas and practices from other relig . Traditions connected ”and results in“ a multitude of mutually independent merger, negotiation and change processes ”. Paul F. Knitter , professor of religious studies in New York, assumes that only from the assumption that a religion embodies the absolute truth of syncretism is described as a counterpart. As a result, syncretism is used as a dirty word. Syncretism shapes all religions.

In recent religious studies research, for example, the conceptualization of syncretism as "exchange processes", which are co-determined by different framework conditions, has sharpened awareness of dynamic forms in the long term. Since then, syncretism has ceased to be a problematic special case of a religious history that is otherwise characterized by relative stability. to be understood, but as a rule of constant complex negotiation discourses in equally religious, political, economic. and other cultural factors in certain constellations ”. In their monograph on syncretism, Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw focus on the influence of power structures and interests. For them, syncretism is a suitable category for examining, on the one hand, the political dimension of syncretistic processes (“the politics of religious synthesis”) and, on the other hand, the discourses on syncretism with regard to the actors involved and the interests they pursue.


  • Gregor Ahn : “Syncretism”, § 1: Approach to the history of religion: research history. in: Heinrich Beck et al. (Hrsg.): Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde . Vol. 30 de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, pp. 216-218.
  • Ulrich Berner: Investigations into the use of the syncretism term (= Göttingen Orient Research, Series Basics and Results; 2). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1982.
  • Ulrich Berner: Synkretismus ". In: Hubert Cancik et al. (Hrsg.): Handbuch Religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe , Vol. V. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart et al. 2001, pp. 143–152.
  • Kurt Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. In: Humanitas Religiosa (Festschrift Harald Biezais). Almqvist Wiksell, Stockholm 1979, pp. 194-212.
  • Charles Stewart, Rosalind Shaw (Eds.): Syncretism / Anti-Syncretism. The politics of religious synthesis. Routledge, London / New York 1994.
  • Fritz Stolz : Exchange processes between religious communities and symbol systems. In: Volker Drehsen , Walter Sparn (ed.): In the melting pot of religions. Contours of modern syncretism. Gütersloher Verl., Gütersloh 1996, pp. 15–36.

Individual evidence

  1. Berner: "Syncretism" . 2001, p. 144.
  2. ^ Siegfried G. Richter : The Coptic Egypt. Treasures in the shadow of the pharaohs (with photos by Jo Bischof). Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2019, ISBN 978-3-8053-5211-6 , pp. 112-116.
  3. A teaching system is considered Buddhist if it moves within the framework of the four seals : 1. Everything created is impermanent 2. All contaminated things are suffering 3. All appearances are empty and selfless. 4. Nirvana is peace. From: The Eye of a New Mindfulness , p. 134, Dalai Lama .
  4. Anukul Chandra Banerjee: The Vaibhasika School of Buddhist Thought. 1982
  5. Karl R. Wernhart: Ethnic Religions - Universal Elements of the Religious. Topos, Kevelaer 2004, ISBN 3-7867-8545-7 . P. 146.
  6. Cf. JJ Roy Burman: Hindu-Muslim Syncretism in India. In: Economic and Political Weekly , Vol. 31, No. 20, May 18, 1996, pp. 1211-1215.
  7. Masahiko Togawa: Syncretism Revisited: Hindus and Muslims over a Saintly Cult in Bengal. In: Numen, Vol. 55, No. 1, 2008, pp. 27–43, here p. 39.
  8. Eric Maroney: SCM Core Text: Religious Syncretism. SCM Press, London 2006, p. 87.
  9. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, pp. 194-196.
  10. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, p. 197.
  11. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, pp. 198-199.
  12. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, pp. 202-203.
  13. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, p. 202.
  14. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, pp. 205-206; see also Berner: Investigations on the use of the term syncretism. 1982.
  15. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, pp. 209-210.
  16. Ahn: "Syncretism", § 1: Approach to the history of religion: history of research. 2005, p. 217.
  17. Ahn: "Syncretism", §1: Approach to the history of religion: history of research. 2005, p. 217.
  18. ^ Rudolph: Syncretism. From theological reproach to the concept of religious studies. 1979, p. 208.
  19. Ahn: "Syncretism", §1: Approach to the history of religion: history of research. 2005, p. 217.
  20. Religious pluralism - theology without claim to absoluteness. Retrieved on May 4, 2020 (German).
  21. Pride: Exchange processes between religious communities and symbol systems. 1996.
  22. Ahn: "Syncretism", §1: Approach to the history of religion: history of research. 2005, p. 217.
  23. ^ Ahn: Syncretism, § 1: Approach to the history of religion: history of research. 2005, p. 218.
  24. Stewart / Shaw: Syncretism / Anti-syncretism. 1994, p. 2.
  25. Stewart / Shaw: Syncretism / Anti-syncretism. 1994, p. 2.