Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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Syncretism combines heterogeneous beliefs, usually uncritically. The term was first used by Plutarch (De fraterno amore , 19) for the fusion of religious cults that was common in the ancient world—as in gnosticism and the Hermetic literature. Theosophy exemplifies the same tendency in modern times, although it is probably found everywhere there is contact between different religions. For example, to claim to be at once Muslim and Buddhist is to forget that Muslims believe passionately in God, whereas Buddhists are indifferently agnostic about the matter. However, apparently contradictory beliefs need not actually be so; "God does not exist," meaning there is no white-bearded gentleman in the sky, does not contradict "God exists" in the sense that there is that than which none greater can be conceived. Christians who learn from Confucianists or Marxists about, for example, the moral implications of their own beliefs should not necessarily be stigmatized as syncretist in an abusive sense.

Hugo Meynell


J. D. Gort et al. (eds.), Dialogue and Syncretism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1989)

J. Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths (London: Macmillan, 1988).

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