Syncretism / Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis

Syncretism / Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis

Syncretism / Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis

Syncretism / Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis

Synopsis

Syncretism - the synthesis of different religious traditions - is a contentious word. Some regard it as a pejorative term, referring to local versions of notionally standard 'world religions' which are deemed 'inauthentic' because saturated with indigenous content. Syncretic versions of Christianity do not conform to 'official' (read 'European') models. In other contexts however, the syncretic amalgamation of religions may be validated as a mode of resistance to colonial hegemony, a sign of cultural survival, or as a means of authorising political dominance in a multicultural state.In Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism the contributors explore the issues of agency and power which are integral to the very process of syncretism and to the competing discourses surrounding the term.

Excerpt

'Syncretism' is a contentious term, often taken to imply 'inauthenticity' or 'contamination', the infiltration of a supposedly 'pure' tradition by symbols and meanings seen as belonging to other, incompatible traditions. Diverse local versions of notionally standard 'world religions' such as Christianity and Islam are often pointed to as prime examples of syncretism in this critical sense, especially in the writings of missionaries and theologians. Interestingly, a similarly negative view of the concept of syncretism also holds sway over many anthropologists and scholars in religious studies who work without any particular religious affiliation or commitment. Yet within anthropology, where notions of the 'purity' of traditions have not had much credibility for some time, syncretism has been ascribed a neutral, and often positive, significance. Recently, the simmering scepticism about perennial, stable 'traditions' has boiled over into a number of concise statements by both anthropologists and historians (such as Wagner 1980; Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Handler and Linnekin 1984; Marcus and Fisher 1986), which point to the 'invention of tradition' while criticizing concepts such as cultural purity, wholeness or 'authenticity'. An optimistic view has thereby emerged in post-modern anthropology in which syncretic processes are considered basic not only to religion and ritual but to 'the predicament of culture' in general:

Twentieth century identities no longer presuppose continuous cultures or traditions. Everywhere individuals and groups improvise local performances from (re)collected pasts, drawing on foreign media, symbols and languages. This existence among fragments has often been portrayed as a process of ruin and cultural decay, perhaps most eloquently by Claude Lévi-Strauss in Tristes Tropiques (1955)… But [this]…assurnes a questionable

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