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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Syncretism \Syn"cre*tism\, n. [Gr. ?, fr. ? to make two parties join against a third: cf. F. syncr['e]tisme.]

  1. Attempted union of principles or parties irreconcilably at variance with each other.

    He is plotting a carnal syncretism, and attempting the reconcilement of Christ and Belial.

    Syncretism is opposed to eclecticism in philosophy.

  2. (Philol.) The union or fusion into one of two or more originally different inflectional forms, as of two cases.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"reconciliation of different beliefs," 1610s, from French syncrétisme (17c.) and directly from Modern Latin syncretismus (used by German Protestant theologian David Pareus, 1615), from Greek synkretismos "union of communities," from synkretizein "to combine against a common enemy," from syn- "together" (see syn-) + second element of uncertain origin. One theory connects it with kretismos "lying," from kretizein "to lie like a Cretan;" another connects it with the stem of kerannynai "to mix, blend;" krasis "mixture." Related: Syncretist; syncretistic.


n. 1 The reconciliation or fusion of different systems or beliefs (or the attempt at such fusion). 2 (context linguistics English) The fusion of different inflexional forms.

  1. n. the union (or attempted fusion) of different systems of thought or belief (especially in religion or philosophy); "a syncretism of material and immaterial theories"

  2. the fusion of originally different inflected forms (resulting in a reduction in the use of inflections)


Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture (known as eclecticism) as well as politics ( syncretic politics).

Syncretism (linguistics)

In linguistics, syncretism exists when distinct morphological forms of a word are identical in form. This phenomenon is typical of fusional languages.

For example, in English, the nominative and accusative forms of you are the same, whereas he/him, she/her, etc., have different forms depending on grammatical case. In Latin, the nominative and vocative of third-declension nouns have the same form (e.g. rēx "king" is both nominative and vocative singular). Similarly, in German, the infinitive, first person plural present, and third person plural present of almost all verbs are identical in form (e.g. nehmen "to take", wir nehmen "we take", sie nehmen "they take"). In the Finnic languages, such as Finnish and Estonian, there is syncretism between the accusative and genitive singular case forms, and the nominative and accusative plural case forms.

Syncretism can arise through either phonological or morphological change. In the case of phonological change, forms that were originally distinct come to be pronounced identically, so that their distinctness is lost. Thus in the German case, the infinitive nehmen comes from Old High German neman, the first person plural nehmen comes from nemēm, and the third person plural nehmen comes from nemant. In the case of morphological change, one form simply stops being used and is replaced by the other: this is the case with the Latin example, where the nominative simply displaced the vocative in the third declension.

Syncretism (Chinese philosophy)

Syncretism or the Mixed School in Chinese philosophy is an eclectic school of thought that combined elements of Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, and Legalism. The Syncretist texts include the Huainanzi, Lüshi Chunqiu, and the Shizi. The (c. 330 BCE) Shizi is the earliest of the Syncretist texts.

Usage examples of "syncretism".

Wherever traditional religions are united under the badge of philosophy a conservative syncretism is the result, because the allegoric method, that is, the criticism of all religion, veiled and unconscious of itself, is able to blast rocks and bridge over abysses.

In some passages the Christianity of the Homilies really looks like a syncretism composed of the common Christianity, the Jewish Christianity, Gnosticism, and the criticism of Apelles.

The movement toward religious syncretism of which Bahaism is just now the expression will not be so easy to dispose of.

Modernity's necessary differentiation of the subject from an unreflexive immersion in magico-mythic syncretism must therefore actually be an unresolved birth trauma that is primarily alienating.