Religious Syncretism for Beginners.
February 23, 2015 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Turns out – there is a word for what I’ve been fascinated by for some time! It even seems that it has been studied in some detail. Please suggest some readings for me so I explore this phenomenon in more depth.

I’m mainly interested in present day religious practice. I’m most familiar with Christianity, but would also like to learn about Islam Syncretism. I’m not a scholar of religion, so a heavy-duty religious treatise might be difficult for me to digest; an anthropological study might be easier, or even a travel memoir of someone who spent time in communities that combine various religious practices into one. Thank you!
posted by Dotty to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tulasi Srinivas's Winged Faith is an ethnographic study of the Sathya Sai movement, which pulls together Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Zoroastrian influences. It's fairly easy to read and she explores the syncretistic aspects in some detail.
posted by MFZ at 6:41 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recall liking The Serpent and the Rainbow quite a bit -- it's Wade Davis' look into the possible medical origin of the zombie myths of Haiti, but includes a pretty decent summary of literature on Haitian Vodun in the process. It's probably more of a starting point than anything else, but it's an enjoyable one.
posted by maxsparber at 7:35 PM on February 23, 2015

The Golden Bough was an early, far ranging look at the subject.
posted by vrakatar at 9:01 PM on February 23, 2015

It's about a (primarily) 19th century event, but you might want to check out The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca, on the Handsome Lake religion.
posted by gudrun at 9:52 PM on February 23, 2015

I don't have a specific book to recommend, but you should research the cofraída system in Mexico and Guatemala specifically, and religious practices in the same region in general.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:29 AM on February 24, 2015

A History of God by Karen Armstrong touches on these ideas, and goes into more detail in the section on Mysticism.
posted by ovvl at 9:47 AM on February 24, 2015

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley might help as well.
posted by cross_impact at 12:54 PM on February 24, 2015

Hi, so in college a course I took was a special topics course called "Islam in the Balkan States," which despite its seeming religious bent in the name, dealt a lot with cultural identity in the region and how it influenced people and events. Religious synecretism is a large part of that so I'd say check out any books dealing with religious and cultural identity in the Balkans. Sadly I'm not near any of my college books at the moment and some of the readings were print outs so I don't have a long list of book titles. One book title I do remember from that class is "Muslim Identity and the Balkan State," which may or may not have at least a chapter or two dealing specifically with syncretism. I know there is also a book out there with the same title as my course but I can't remember if it was actually part of our syllabus or not, so I don't have any insight on if it's a good read or not (I'm old and college was a little while ago).

Another topic you might want to check out are Hidden Christians of Japan. Sadly, again I don't have any books I can recommend off the top of my head since I kind of just picked up odds and ends of info about them here and there, but I promise, it's interesting. I don't know if this isn't "present day" enough (for example, if you mean specifically syncretic religions/traditions still being performed today), but considering most of these Christians practiced in secret until the 19th century this example is specifically a result of the times it existed in.
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:38 PM on February 24, 2015

I'd suggest that you also look into the African diaspora religions-- Voodoo, Santeria, Lukumi, Macumba. I am rather biased toward it, but I'm totally in awe of the way people managed to combine Christianity with their ancestral beliefs as a survival mechanism. Haiti's successful slave revolt was made possible by belief in the lwas, hidden under a very Catholic-looking veneration of the saints. Voodoo has, obviously, a terrible reputation, but the media representation of it is based in straight-up racism. I know it's not precisely what you asked about, but it's a very good example of syncretism.

My favourite book on the subject is probably Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by Maya Deren. I have a few more good ones at home. There's a lot of nonsense out there, of course. I hated Jambalaya by Luisa Tesh. Bowdlerized, pointless, and written, I think, with the sole goal of making Voudou seem palatable and homey to a white and white-lightey audience. Its heart may be in the right place, but it's not useful for serious research.

I'm at work right now, so I can't look for some of the other good stuff I have. I have a few nice resources on Santeria too. If you're interested. memail and I can dole out more later.
posted by Because at 5:16 AM on February 25, 2015

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