A short note on syncretism

The following is a thought that’s been chasing around in my head for a while; I haven’t had the time or mental energy to develop the argument fully, but I wanted to toss it out and see if any of y’all had thoughts or insights to add, confirm or contradict…

Music requires structure and form; without it there’s just noise. Different forms produce different kinds of music, and any form you choose imposes certain limits on what you can and cannot do within the boundaries of the form – but they also support the music and give it shape and life.

I am coming to believe that the same is true with religion. Every religious tradition encodes a particular viewpoint, a way of being in the world and in relation with others, both human and Other; and every religion tends to accept and reject different types of experiences as falling within (or without) the bounds of the recognizable.

In each case there are rules and guidelines that must be understood and internalized before you can attain the goal of producing great music (or having a fulfilling spiritual life); and in each case choosing the right form is essential.

But… just because you select one genre or tradition to focus on, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from others.

Sometimes you can blend genres – jazz/classical fusion frequently works well, for instance. Sometimes such blendings yield something entirely new that can stand on its own – I have some hope that the recent Greco-Egyptian revival may be one of these, and Jewish/Buddhist syncretization has been growing slowly for decades.  Sometimes two forms can be blended temporarily, but don’t stand up over the long term; and some can never work together. Knowing what will blend appropriately, and when and how to do so (and when and how NOT to do so) is the art of successful syncretism.

[edited to add: And, of course, just because a musical style or religion may never become part of your repertoire, that’s no reason not to learn about it and expand your horizons!]

9 thoughts on “A short note on syncretism

  1. bluedruid

    One of the best analogies of syncretism I’ve read in awhile. This makes a lot of sense and is very pertinent to thoughts I’ve been having lately. Thanks for this :)


  2. Jeff Lilly | Druid Journal

    Absolutely agree 100%. I wrote something very similar to this — but much shorter, and less well fleshed-out — a few weeks ago as part of my “Six Arguments Against Religion” series… but I wrote it for the 6th argument, so it won’t be published for another week. ;-) That’s awesome, I’ll get to link to this post!

  3. Gordon

    Awesome analogy. I have previously only used cocktails as my ‘syncretism metaphor’. And it makes me sound like a crazy drunk.

    Of course, it doesn’t help my case that these kinds of topics only tend to come up after a few drinks.

    BUT… Mixing my analogy with yours (like the Noilly Prat & Bombay Sapphire that make the perfect Dirty Martini) you only arrive at the optimum ‘syncretini’ through trial and error. This is why the journey is so important.

    Pff… Now I’ve made myself thirsty. :)

  4. Feral Boy

    Gordon said:

    > … you only arrive at the optimum ’syncretini’ through trial and error. …

    “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”


  5. Pingback: Six Arguments Against Religion VI: The Illusion of Truth « Druid Journal

  6. Kay

    It also helps to remember that many (all?) of the major religions we have today are actually synchretic. Judaism (Babylonian influence), Christianity (Jewish and Greek), Buddhism (Hindu influence), Zen (Taoism and Buddhism). Eventually the syncretic parts meshed and created a new strand of music (though there is still discord with some of the parts). :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s