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6.6: Syncretism and Exclusivism

  • Page ID
    5321
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    Syncretism

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    Syncretism is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion, resulting in a change in the fundamental beliefs of those religions. This change does not always result in a total fusion of the religions but bits and pieces that one religion has adopted from another. In some cases, deities or influential figures are blended and called by one name but retain attributes, images, symbols and sometimes holy sites from the original religions.

    An ethnographic example of syncretism is The Virgin of Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego, a Nahuati speaking man, at Tepeyac hill near Mexico City. This was the site of the temple or the Aztec mother goddess Tohantizin. Mary requested a church be built on that site. When Juan Diego visited the Bishop and told him what Mary had said, the Bishop requested a sign that Juan Diego was telling the truth. Juan Diego returned to the hill where Mary told him to collect roses and bring them to the Bishop. When he returned to the bishop with roses in his timla, he dropped the roses at the feet of the Bishop, and on the tilma appeared the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This merged the pre-Christian goddess Tohantizin with the Catholic saint the Virgin of Guadalupe, creating a way through which the local people could practice their faith through a Catholic conduit.

    Exclusivism

    Exclusivism is the view that one's own religion is inerrant and all others are in error. Exclusivism may also relate to practice, as in the way the gods, dietys, etc. are revered, rather than mere belief.

    An example of exclusivism is the Ancient Greek Religion, which combined many local deities, such as nymphs and other divinities connected to nature, into the myth system of the Greek Pantheon. The Decree of Diopithes of 430BCE forbade the worship or introduction of and the belief in deities other than the Greek Pantheon and made it an offense punishable by death.

    Another form of exclusivity can be seen through Christianity, by way that they do not promote syncretism, but instead contextualization. 21st Century Christians consider syncretism as a Christian exhibiting actions that do not reflect Christian beliefs, yet proclaim themselves as such. Christians discourage syncretism because Christians are supposed to live out their beliefs and lead a life that confirms their belief. Contextualization is when Christians associate with non-believers yet exhibit their beliefs, which is encouraged in place of syncretism.

    In its more extreme form, religious exclusivism teaches that only the members of one religion or sect will reach Heaven, while others will be doomed to eternal damnation. In the past there was the saying in relation to the belief in God that was often used saying 'if you don't believe in God you will go to hell'. The opposite of religious exclusivism is universalism, the teaching that all will eventually share in the eternal blessings of God or the heavenly realm.


    This page titled 6.6: Syncretism and Exclusivism is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

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