Some Thoughts on Eclecticism, Syncreticism, and Inter-Cultural Transmission
Posted on September 12, 2014
Alternative Title: Get the Blog Juices Flowing!
And now for a bit of a “no duh” post..that will more than likely just sort of ramble.
Eclecticism has become something of a dirty word within reconstructionist/recon-derived communities, where it is viewed with distaste because of the appropriationist and culturally insensitive actions of the New Age community and the Wiccan boom of the 1990s. And this kind of mentality has come to dominate approaches towards methodologies like syncretic belief. Syncretism is well attested as kind of an intercultural transmission between different groups in classical antiquity, and even that is an overly used and misunderstood terminology.
Which is unfortunate, really, because eclecticism denotes a lack of rigidity and dogmatist allegiance to a singular set of paradigms. It is also not a new phenomenon: the Greeks viewed it as choosing the best of things. And it transcends cultural or religious methods that are taken and mutated into a personalized belief. It is also not a focus on religious terminology, but
I’m of the mind that eclecticism cannot be truly obtained in an individual polytheistic practice. Conversely, I am not personally of the mind that syncretism is intrinsic to polytheism and I dispute the application of the term “syncretic” with the use of source material derived from outside the religion itself. I believe that the polytheist approach allows a great deal more give-and-take in terms of inter-cultural transmission and is probably one of the greatest beauties of the theistic understanding it provides.
After all, we’ve seen Romano-Gallic, Graeco-Buddhist, West African Vodun and other Diasporic religions, Mystery Cults, and even inter-cultural transmission in the “culturally isolated” world of the Northern European peoples (among countless others), all before the advent of the internet and globalization! These examples, and other attested historic interactions, are the reasoning why I believe that rigidly enforced religio-cultural isolation and “purity” is a pointless, frivolous enterprise designed to do nothing much else but engender a sense of superiority over other people.
That is not to say that individuals and groups who stick with exclusive pantheons and practices are wrong, at all. My sense is the distinction between “syncretic religion” and “personal religion” is a lot more nuanced than many people think and cannot be so easily applied. I don’t think that a personal religion, which many of us often perform (especially those of us who are solitaries) can be syncretic, and that the term itself represents a broader melding of different factors, both cultural and religious, into something identifiably different.
A core problem with the idea of eclecticism (and, to a lesser extent, syncretic interpretation) is because there’s a certain level of cultural appropriation that is seen as inherently happening, and this comes in to play from the cherry-picking nature of the New Age influences of the ’70s and ’80s. And I feel that this appropriation is more noticeable when the religion that is suffering from the pejorative of “eclecticism” is more rigidly defined in terms of methodology and practice. I’m sure there’s some residual irritation at the lengthy history of Christianity and the appropriation of non-Christian traditions in order to spearhead conversion.
There are always going to be people who have an issue with the appearance of appropriation. And I am not saying that being culturally appropriationist is permissible. The line between appropriation and a realistic transmission is slim and ill-defined. But I tend to be a bit more forgiving now than when I was younger. I don’t have any sources to back these ideas up, other than the recognition that cultures were not static entities and that religion – as a prime mover of cultural interests – was hardly a fossil. There’s no reason to treat these beliefs as living dinosaurs.
I also am not saying that polytheists can’t be appropriationist and that it’s all those dastardly Wiccans or monotheists that do it. I’m saying that the polytheistic experience allows for a greater dissemination of ideas and beliefs across cultural boundaries. And to argue otherwise is historically and culturally ill-informed.
Just some thoughts.
This’ll probably be edited later when I think of this more, I just wanted to get something up.
Thanks for reading.