Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.
It can sometimes seem inelegant or lacking in simplicity, and eclectics are sometimes criticized for lack of consistency in their thinking. It is, however, common in many fields of study. For example, most psychologists accept certain aspects of behaviorism, but do not attempt to use the theory to explain all aspects of human behavior. A statistician may use frequentist techniques on one occasion and Bayesian ones on another.
Eclecticism was first recorded to have been practiced by a group of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers who attached themselves to no real system, but selected from existing philosophical beliefs those doctrines that seemed most reasonable to them. Out of this collected material they constructed their new system of philosophy. The term comes from the Greek “ἐκλεκτικός” (eklektikos), literally “choosing the best” and that from “ἐκλεκτός” (eklektos), “picked out, select”. Well known eclectics in Greek philosophy were the Stoics Panaetius and Posidonius, and the New Academics Carneades and Philo of Larissa. Among the Romans, Cicero was thoroughly eclectic, as he united the Peripatetic, Stoic, and New Academic doctrines. Further eclectics were Varro and Seneca.
In religion and philosophy, one is Eclectic when they use certain elements from multiple sources, religions, philosophies, or other texts and dogma to bring about their own beliefs or views on religious and philosophical ideas. These ideas include life, karma, the afterlife, God, the Earth, and other spiritual ideas. Most Eclectic people gather their Eclectic ideas from a mix of Abrahamic, Dharmic, Neopagan, and Daoic religious doctrine, beliefs, and ideals.
Syncretism (English pronunciation: /ˈsɪŋkrətɪzəm/) is the attempt to reconcile contrary beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means “combining,” but see below for the origin of the word. Syncretism may involve attempts to merge and analogise several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology ofreligion, and thus assert an underlying unity allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.
The Oxford English Dictionary first attests the word syncretism in English in 1618. It derives from modern Latin syncretismus, drawing on Greek συγκρητισμός (synkretismos), meaning “Cretan federation.”
The Greek word occurs in Plutarch‘s (1st century AD) essay on “Fraternal Love” in his Moralia (2.490b). He cites the example of the Cretans, who reconciled their differences and came together in alliance when faced with external dangers. “And that is their so-called Syncretism.”
Erasmus probably coined the modern usage of the Latin word in his Adagia (“Adages”), published in the winter of 1517–1518, to designate the coherence of dissenters in spite of their differences in theological opinions. In a letter to Melanchthon of April 22, 1519, Erasmus specifically adduced the Cretans of Plutarch as an example of his adage “Concord is a mighty rampart”.
Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in the culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or, especially, practices.
Religions may have syncretic elements to their beliefs or history, but adherents of so-labeled systems often frown on applying the label, especially adherents who belong to “revealed” religious systems, such as the Abrahamic religions, or any system that exhibits an exclusivist approach. Such adherents sometimes see syncretism as a betrayal of their pure truth. By this reasoning, adding an incompatible belief corrupts the original religion, rendering it no longer true. Indeed, critics of a specific syncretistic trend may sometimes use the word “syncretism” as a disparaging epithet, as a charge implying that those who seek to incorporate a new view, belief, or practice into a religious system actually distort the original faith. Non-exclusivist systems of belief, on the other hand, may feel quite free to incorporate other traditions into their own.
In modern secular society, religious innovators sometimes create new religions syncretically as a mechanism to reduce inter-religious tension and enmity, often with the effect of offending the original religions in question. Such religions, however, do maintain some appeal to a less exclusivist audience.
Religious pluralism is a loosely defined expression concerning acceptance of various religions, and is used in a number of related ways:
- As the name of the worldview according to which one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions.
- As acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This posture often emphasizes religion’s common aspects.
- Sometimes as a synonym for ecumenism, i.e., the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion.
- As term for the condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.
- As a social norm and not merely a synonym for religious diversity.
Polytheistic reconstructionism (Reconstructionism) is an approach to Neopaganism first emerging in the late 1960s to early 1970s, and gathering momentum in the 1990s to 2000s. Reconstructionism attempts to re-establish historical polytheistic religions in the modern world, in contrast with syncretic movements like Wicca, and “channeled” movements like Germanic mysticism or Theosophy.
Many practitioners of folk religions live outside of the original cultures and territories from which those historical religions arose, and reconstructonists consequently face the problem of understanding, and then implementing, the worldview of pre-modern rural societies in a modern, possibly urban environment.
- Germanic: Germanic Polytheistic Reconstructionism
- Celtic: Celtic Polytheistic Reconstructionism
- Greek: Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism
- Slavic: Slavic Neopaganism
- Baltic: Baltic Neopaganism
- Finnish: Finnish Neopaganism
- Roman: Roman polytheistic reconstructionism
- Egyptian: Kemetic Revivalism
- Canaanite: Semitic Neopaganism
Folklorism vs. reconstructionism
Folketro (Danish, Norwegian) or Folktro (Swedish) is the Scandinavian for “folk religion” or “superstition“, referring to Scandinavian folklore in particular. In Scandinavian neopagan discourse, the term is used for a religion that consists of a folklore that is believed to be the descendant of historical Norse paganism. Folktro is considered a living tradition and that does not include the use of reconstructionism in any way, nor the use of historical sources such as the Edda or notation of folklore. The term is in conscious contrast to Asatru, the reconstructionist revival of medieval Norse polytheism. Preferred terms are fornsed “old custom” or nordisk sed “Nordic custom”, avoiding the connotation of hard polytheism evoked by reconstructionist approaches centered on the Aesir. Attention is rather given to traditional song, dance, folk music and festivals.
Critics refer to the Folketro movement as Funtrad (for Fundamentalistisk Traditionalisme “fundamentalist traditionalism”. Not to be confused is the “radical traditionalism” of the New Right, which invokes national mysticist or occultist notions of a “Pan-Indo-European tradition” rather than the unpretentious focus on regional customs advocated by Folketro. Proponents of Folketro include:
- Samfälligheten för Nordisk Sed, Sweden
- Foreningen Forn Sed, Norway
A similar approach is current in Baltic neopaganism