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Syncretism and Its Synonyms: Reflections on Cultural Mixture Author(s): Charles Stewart Reviewed work(s): Source: Diacritics, Vol.

29, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 40-62 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/05/2012 12:47
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The subjectmatterof anthropologyhas graduallychanged over the last twenty years. rarelysearchfor a stableor originalformof cultures;they are Nowadaysethnographers usually more concerned with revealing how local communitiesrespond to historical on transnational flows of ideas, change andglobal influences.The burgeoningliterature and cultural mixture reflects this shift This of attention. increased institutions, global awarenessof culturalinterpenetration in the cribeen instrumental has, furthermore, thatcast it as too stable,bounded,andhomogetique of earlierconceptionsof "culture" neous to be useful in a world characterized by migrations(voluntaryor forced), cheap and telecommunications.' social theory travel, international marketing, Contemporary has accordinglyturnedto focus on phenomenasuch as globalization,transnational naIn and the situation of communities. this of literature the word tionalism, diaspora body and syncretismhas begun to reappearalongside such relatedconcepts as hybridization creolizationas a means of portraying the dynamicsof global social developments. In whatfollows I considersome currentattemptsto theorizemixturebeforeturning to examine the suitability,or not, of the terms listed above. Anthropologistsand other social scientistshave expressedambivalenceaboutall threeterms-syncretism, hybridity, and creolization.I discuss these reservationsbefore presentinga genealogical considerationof the single term syncretism.My purposein consideringthe historyof syncretismup to the presentis not to enforce a standard usage confined to the domain of religion; nor is it my goal to promotesyncretismto a position of primus interpares in the companyof all otherterms for mixture.I see my approachinsteadas an attemptto illustratehistoricallythat syncretismhas an objectionablebut neverthelessinstructive past. If this past can be understood,then we are in a position to consciously reappropriate syncretism[Shaw and Stewart2] and set the ethnographicstudy of culturalmixture on new tracks. This might seem too minimalistto readerswho currently have no reservations about the term, but many anthropologists, on both sides of the Atlantic, have personallyexpressed to me strongreservationsaboutever employing the word syncretism.If asked why they hold this view, they are often unable to articulatea specific reason. Some, however,did expressone or bothof the following objections:(1) syncretismis a pejorative term, one that derides mixture,and/or (2) syncretismpresupposes"purity" in the
I am gratefulto RosalindShawand StephanPalmiefor suggestionsthatenrichedthis article, and I profited from seminardiscussionsat Keele Universityand Cornell University. Support from the National Endowment for the Humanitiesand a fellowship at the National HumanitiesCenter made the completionof this article possible. 1. Critiquesof the (old) cultureconcepthave been numeroussince the mid-1980s. Examples would be Cliffordand Marcus, Clifford,Predicamentof Culture;Rosaldo, Cultureand Truth; Friedman. Barth; Abu-Lughod;


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traditionsthatcombine.Both of these reservationswill be consideredbelow, butit is the of broad disagreementwithin the anthropologicalcommunity on the appropriateness the very term syncretismthat has stimulatedthis inquiry.Such ambivalencereflects basic uncertaintiesabouthow to conceptualizeculturalmixture.

CurrentDiscussions of Mixture Cultures,if we still wish to retain this term (and I do), are porous; they are open to with other,differentculturesand they are subjectto historicalchange preintermixture on account of these influences.2This has no doubt always been the case. Cercisely and the entry into a postmodernitywhere master narrativesof decolonization tainly and to valorizingrecognipurity homogeneityare vulnerableto doubthave contributed tions of mixture where formerly they had been stigmatized as inauthenticand hence uninterestingfor anthropologicalstudy.Researchin the Caribbean,in Sidney Mintz's view, startedrelativelylate precisely because this region "was consideredtheoretically unfruitful... its peoples supposedly lacked culture, or were culturallybastardized" [303]. aretoday seen as partof the very natureof Culturalborrowingandinterpenetration cultures [Glissant 140-41; Rosaldo, Forewordxv]. To phrase it more accurately,syncretismdescribesthe processby which culturesconstitutethemselves at any given point in time. Today's hybridizationwill simply give way to tomorrow'shybridization,the events andcontingencies.In examform of which will be dictatedby historico-political ining culturalhybridity,writerssuch as EdwardSaid and James Clifford [Predicament 14-15] have lifted syncretismout of the frameworkof acculturation. Syncretismis no when, with time, assimilationoccurs.As longera transient"stage"which will disappear Said expresses it: all culturesare involved in one another;none is simple and pure, all are hybrid,heterogenous,extraordinarily differentiated and unmonolithic"[xxv]. Even traditionalist movementsmountedby minoritygroups or peripheral, postcolonialsocieties in the conscious, nativist effort to resist "Westernization" or "Americanization" For Sahlins,"syncretismis not a contradiction cannotescape culturalhybridity. of their culturalism-of the indigenous claims of authenticityand autonomy-but its systematic condition"[389]. In literarytheory and culturalstudies-some of the best examples of which are producedby cosmopolitanwriterswho themselves have migratedto Europeor North America from recently decolonized countries-the condition of hybridityhas become somethingto celebrate.In Bhabha'sview displacementandmixturegive rise to a "Third Space"from which colonialism'sfailed projectof promotingpurityandpolaritymay be properly seen, criticized, and rejected [37]. For Gilroy the "blackAtlantic"poses an example of a diasporaloosely linked by a variety of overlappingand criss-crossing
2. 1 use the term culture to refer to loosely bounded zones of differencebetween human groups in the world (for example,language, law, religion). Differencedoes not implyinferiority. Total globalization would spell the end of cultures and thus the end of culture, as Wallerstein Counterworks"] point out. But [ "TheNational and the Universal"] and Fardon["Introduction: none of the authorsin a samplingof recentvolumeson globalization[Featherstone;King; Friedman; Hannerz,Transnational Connections]sees this occurring.People across the world may be linked by their commonaccess to similar goods and ideas, but they make very differentsense of them. They use them to build quite differentworlds. Parkin has suggested that wildly varying consumption practices, themselvesgroundedin "people'stheoriesof themselvesamongobjects," are the route by which the "exotic"returnsand reasserts differencein theface of the potential global homogenizationof culture[97].

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historicalexperiences, aesthetic tastes, and political orientations.Its plural, syncretic, polythetic form rests on no generalizedcommon culture,and in that respect furnishes an instructivemodel of what a nonessentializedsocial formationmight look like. On these groundshe termsthe blackAtlantic a "counterculture of modernity." A primeexample, perhapsthe locus classicus, for these and othersimilartheorizations would be the following quotationfrom SalmanRushdie'sIn Good Faith (1990), his first public statementafterAyatollahKhomeiniissued hisfatwa in 1989: the transforThe SatanicVersescelebrates hybridity, impurity,intermingling, mationthatcomes of new and unexpectedcombinationsof humanbeings, culandfears the tures,ideas, politics, movies,songs. It rejoices in mongrelization absolutismof the Pure. Melange, hotch-potch,a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives theworld,andI havetriedto embraceit. The SatanicVersesisfor changeIt is a love song to our mongrel selves. [4, by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. in emphasis original] The Satanic Versesproved to be more thanjust a theorizationof hybridity,but an expressionof a hybridized,diasporicviewpoint thatwas received as a directchallenge to Rushdie'sparodicandpollutedIslam,the Islamicauthority and scriptural immutability. threatenedan Islamic of dislocation and estrangement[cf. Yalmin-Heckmann], product of the "internalmemory" [Bloch] predicatedon the faithful, accurateinternalization the and "absolutism of Pure." To distort Koran-the scripture by lampooning misrepresentingpropernames, as Rushdiedid in TheSatanic Verses,amountedto blasphemyas an instanceof syncreticsin [Bhabha226; Asad 267].

Vocabulariesof Mixture The precedingintroduction sketchesthe placeof cultural mixturein contemporary theory, politicalcontests.Dissatisfactionhas been expressed,howglobalprocesses,andcurrent ever, over ourtermsfor conceptualizingmixture.Forexample,the arthistorianBarbara Abou-El-Haj,commenting on a paper by Ulf Hannerzpresentedat a symposium on globalization,remarked: Hannerzoffers Todescribeprocesses of culturalsynthesisand transformation down to describe now mainstreamed a top "creolization," "corrupt metaphor" a true cultural dialectic, its former racist baggage of debasementsubverted. For those of us outside anthropologicaland sociological discourse, the afterimage lingers uncomfortably. Beyond our primary categories, global/local, we have yet to find a language capable of describing unequal exchange in a worldof unequalexchanges.Is our vocabularyso impoverished because there is no such thingto be described,or because we have such difficultyenvisaging it? [Abou-El-Haj143-44] Hannerzhas borrowedthe term creolizationdirectly from the field of creole linIn particular, he uses it to allude to one particular guistics [Jourdan]. phenomenon:the continuum [Drummond]of "mesolects"that arises in situationsof prolongedcontact between two (or more) historicallydistinctlanguages. The spectrumof diverse, overlapping, sometimes mutuallyunintelligibledialects extendingfrom the speech of, say, Europeancolonists to the originallanguage(s)of the local people serves as a model for


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in overglobalizationwherecertainknowledges,tastes,andtechnologiesaredistributed lapping continuabetween world centers and peripheralsocieties. As Hannerzputs it, "[t]hereare now no distinct cultures,only intersystemicallyconnected creolizing culin Creolisation" 551]. This current ture"["World consequenceof creolizationseems far removedfrom the New Worldconditionsof forced migrationand slaverythatfirst gave rise to the term "creole" [Mintz 302]. Although Hannerzacknowledges the colonial Culture"11], the term's "formerracist history underlyingthe word creole ["American A not been brief has subverted. genealogy of the term creole might baggage" clearly some new bearingsfor futureanalyses. us to understand its while suggesting help past The word creole, from the Portuguesecrioulo, meantliterally,"bred,broughtup," but in usage referredto a slave raised in a master'shouse.3It denoted African slaves dislocatedfrom theirnativeland.In Spanish,the meaningof creole (criollo) was generalized over time to refer to anythingof Old Worldorigin that reproduceditself in the New World-plants and animalsas well as humans [Palmi6,"AgainstSyncretism" 94; Mintz 301]. The offspringof Africans and Europeanswere equally creoles. The (mestizo) PeruvianwriterIncaGracilasode la Vega,writingin the early seventeenthcentury, defined creole as "los que ya no eran espafioles,ni tampocoindigenas [those who had ceased to be Spanish,but were not Indians,either]"[ Perl 169]. Creolizationthus indicateda connection between New Worldbirthand deculturation. Closely linked to this deculturingwas a denaturing.In 1612 a Spanish Dominican theologian theorized thatlife in the New Worldbroughtdecadence:"[t]heheavens of Americainduce inconof the Indiansand which the constancy,lasciviousness, and lies: vices characteristic of the Spaniardswho are born and bred there"[qtd. in stellations make characteristic Anderson,"Exodus"316]. The concept of creolizationfitted within the overalllogic of a colonial Lamarckism that placed creoles undersuspicion and subordination [Anderson, ImaginedCommunities 57-60].4 This outlinerevealsthe sortof imperialhistorystampedinto the wordcreole before it becamethe descriptor of a branchof linguistics;withoutcreole people therewould be no creole linguistics.The historyof the word itself develops as partof a majorevent in the chronicleof globalization,but the early senses of creole suggest a differentmodel for this process than does the continuumtheory of creole linguistics. Creole draws attentionto the inequitiesof power thatallowed Europeancolonizers to discursivelylegislate the importanceof "race,"culture,and environmentin determiningwhere one fit along a chain of being thatplaced the Old Worldhomelandand its subjectsat the pinnacle. When Hannerzcriticizes the unfortunate biological overtonesof termssuch as hywhile and creolization ["American" 11], he reveals a bridity mongrelization, extolling
3. Crioulo comesfrom the past participle of Portuguesecriar, "to give birth to, to raise." Criarderivesfrom Latin creare,thefirst sense of which was reproductive:"toprocreate,to give birth to."The "create"in creole is thus both biological and cultural.A tension betweencultural context and physical nature has been present in the wordfrom its inception [Arrom172; Perl; Mintz; Palmie', "Outof Place"]. The Oxford English Dictionary [1933 ed., rpt. 1970] defines creolizationas "[t]heproductionof a Creole race; racial modificationin the case of creoleplants and animals."StephanPalmid first alerted me to the interestof this word's history. 4. Segal and Handler draw attentionto racial distinctionswithin the British colonies [1l]. See Chaplin on colonial British naturalphilosophical views about the effects of climate on the bodies of New Worldinhabitants.In time, the term creole came to refer to anyone in the New Worldof even partial Old Worldancestry. Thus creole and mestizo became synonymous,although there was still some suggestion that a criollo was purely of Old Worldparentage. In Mexico the mestizo was considered the product of mixture between "racial" stocks [Arrom; Knight 73], and criollos, in Mexico and otherparts of SpanishAmerica, were often considered more elite than mestizos [Helg 37].


general state of confusion in social science terminology.How is it that the influential Canclini [11], as well as numerousothersocial sciMexican sociologist/anthropologist entists [Nederveen Pieterse], can embrace the term hybridity,when it demonstrably developed as part of the vocabulary of scientific racism in the nineteenth century?5 Nowadays hybridmay be understoodto meanjust "mixture,cross between two things" in everydayEnglish. It is not restrictedto biology and genetics, but its racistpast is even easier to reconstructthanthat of "creole." Wordsdo changemeaningovertime, and hybridhas embeddedwithin it bothnegaracial thinking the tive and positive attitudestoward mixture. In nineteenth-century hybrid was deemed to be weak and sterile-proof that human "races"were different species that could not mix-while in the twentieth century the new field of genetics showed how plant hybrids, for example, could be especially fruitful and resilient. Nederveen Pieterse gives a broad overview of the acceptationof hybridityin recent where it is increasinglyemployed as a model for globalsociology and anthropology, ization. Virtuallythe only negative theoreticalassessment comes from SmadarLavie, who registers the concern that in some formulationshybridity indicates weakness, model of hybridity.It lacks homelessness, and alienation."Thisis a response-oriented agency, by not empowering the hybrid. The result is a fragmentedOtherness in the hybrid" [qtd. in Nederveen Pieterse 172]. This obviously echoes, if only implicitly, nineteenthcenturynotions of the weak hybrid [Young]and this convergenceis surely worth some reflection. Otherwise the notion of hybridity in contemporarytheory is completely removedfrom nineteenthcenturyracialnotions of sterility. The dubiousnessof ourmainstreamwords for mixturehas promptedsome anthropologists to avoid them altogetherand opt for terms such as bricolage, which have no overtonesoutside of anthropological 215]. In my view, this response theory [Werbner avoids important issues. "Etymologyis not destiny," as Cliffordhas emphasizedin relation to the endeavorto recastthe termdiaspora in social theory [Routes367]. But if we a termlike creolizationand extend it into presentusage, are effectively to reappropriate then we must confrontits previoushistory.In this case the coordinatesof power,race/ culture,andenvironment-strikingly presentin the semantichistoryof creole-are virtually absentfromcontemporary anthropological applicationsof the term.What,if anydoes creolization have to do with these thing, things in the present?Historicalawareness raises these questions; it challenges the credibility of our currenttheoreticalvocabulary,and some response is necessary.Syncretismis anothertermwith a controversial past andan uncertain present,andthe following genealogicalconsideration attempts to use an awarenessof past conflicts and prejudicesto generatea creative theoretical response in the present.

The Meanings of Syncretism The term syncretism,originally coined with a positive sense by Plutarchin the first centuryAD [Moralia2.490b], acquiredoverridingnegative connotationsin the seventeenthcentury.In the wake of the Reformation,the Lutheran theologianGeorgCalixtus denominationsand ul(1586-1656) advocatedthe unificationof the variousProtestant timate reunion with the Catholic Church[McNeill 273]. His irenic vision of an ecu5. The word hybridis derivedfrom Latin, where it meant the offspringof a tame sow and a wild boar. This union across animal categories provided a modelfor talkingabout procreative relations across human categories whether social (master/slave) or biological ("races"). The wordremainslittle-attesteduntilnineteenth-century racial theorizingtakes it up. The debateover the viabilityof hybridswas central to the debate over monogenyand polygeny [Young6].

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menical Christianity met with some favor among Calvinistsbut was rejectedby orthodox Lutheransand disdainedby the upperechelons of the Catholic hierarchy.In the view of his opponents,Calixtus'sproposedreunionthreatened a hereticaland inconsistentjumble of theologies-a syncretism-and the ensuingdebates,which carriedon for the rest of the century,came to be known as the "syncretisticcontroversies"[Schmid]. A negative assessmentof religiousmixturewas perhapsto be expected,especially from the CatholicChurch,which was concernedto safeguardthe integrityof its doctrineand the world. practicethroughout This negative view of syncretism would remain very much in place during the ensuing period of missionaryexpansionlasting well into the presentcentury.Syncretism became a term of abuse often appliedto castigatecolonial local churchesthathad burstout of the sphereof mission controlandbegunto "illegitimately" indigenizeChristhe European formof Christianity tianityinsteadof properlyreproducing they had origiof synnally been offered. Protestantmissionarieswere no less awareof the "danger" cretism than their Catholic counterparts,and a prime example may be found in the writing of the Churchof Sweden (Lutheran)missionaryBengt Sundlker,who served his Churchin SouthAfrica over a five-yearperiod beginningin 1937. Sundklerdistinguished two types of IndependentChurch.The EthiopianChurcheshad seceded from parentmission churchesfor racialor ethnic(political)reasonsbut nonethelessstill stuck closely to the missionaries' form of Christianpractice. Zionist Churcheshad further separatedfrom the Ethiopians through theological innovations such as speaking in rites, andthe observanceof taboosandclaims tongues,resortto healingandpurification Zulu diviners' arsenalof sorcery to possess the power (or medicine) to fight traditional In Sundkler's Zionism amounted to a "nativistic-syncretistic" [Sundkler55]. eyes, of in and this Church the Zulus were borne, as if interpretation Christianity, following over a bridge,back to "theAfrican animismfrom where they once started"[297]. Withthe case of Sundkler we can see how the negativeattitude of European Churches fromthe theological debatesof the seventeenthcentowardsyncretismwas transferred tury,throughmissionarypolicy and ideology, and finally, throughthe field researchof an individual deliveredat theverydoorstepof academicanthropology. British missionary, of this periodwere quite awareof the differencesbetween themsocial anthropologists selves andmissionaries.In a famouspassage at the very end of his NuerReligion [322], Evans-Pritchard expressed the opinion that when it came to analysis anthropologists occupied a position distinct from theologians.Anthropologistscould describe the socioculturalformof religiousbeliefs, but they were not in a position to judge the validity of these beliefs. Apparently,anthropologistsimplicitly acceptedthat syncretismwas a to theologians and missionaries, theological concern. The term was thus surrendered who preservedits negativeconnotations.And these could neverbe kept entirely out of anthropologicaldiscourse. The anthropological community'snegativeassessmentof syncretismwas undoubtedly reinforcedwhen African scholars as well as the leaders of various SouthAfrican Churchesbecame familiarwith the concept of syncretismand,predictably Independent enough, reactedstronglyagainstit [Pato;Shaw and Stewart15]. Africanistanthropolowith the s-word. Some have gists have subsequentlygrown increasinglyuncomfortable AfricanChurcheshave arguedagainstits applicabilityon the groundsthatindependent to local culturalcontexts [Kiemrnan] andshouldnot, therefaithfullyadaptedChristianity have largelybypassedthe word fore, be consideredsyncretic.Still otheranthropologists or developedalternatives such as "selectiveconservatism"[Wilson548] or "bricolage" [Comaroff,Body ofPower 12].6
6. In earlier works Comaroffmakes greater use of the concept of syncretism[for example, (1981)], and the term does appear in Body of Power, "Healingand CulturalTransformation" Spiritof Resistance(1985).


In the New Worlda much more positive attitudetowardthe concept of syncretism has long prevailed among social scientists. The simultaneousexistence of two such betweenAmerito the relativelack of interchange differentpositionsmay be attributable can and British anthropologyin the 1940s and 1950s. This mutualisolation was reinsocial anthroforced by a regional division of laborwherebyBritish or British-trained in Africa research while American-trained anthropolopologists largely monopolized gists carriedout the majorityof studies in the New World.The two opposed discourses of syncretismthus amountedto different"localizing strategies"[Fardon]-regionally which in this case addressedthe very same concept generatedtheoreticalcontributions and term [Shaw and Stewart 13]. These differing theoreticaldiscourses on syncretism of the BritishandAmeridid not resultsolely fromthe differingintellectualorientations Africanand New Worldsocieties presentedquitediffercan "schools"of anthropology. ent politicalsituations,andthis madefor differentfieldworkexperiencesfor mid-century anthropologists. Africansocietieswere stillundercolonialruleup through Whereasmost sub-Saharan the 1950s, most New Worldsocieties had alreadygained independencein the preceding centuryand had long been engaged in attemptsto consolidate nationalculturalidentities. Many North and SouthAmericancountriespublicly espoused versions of a "meltThe melting pot is the analogue of ing pot" ideology as a strategyof nation-building.7 syncretismin the ethnopoliticaldomain,and it would have been difficultto criticize the one without simultaneouslyunderminingthe other. If we consider the links between social policy, it could andgovernmental earlytwentiethcenturysociology/anthropology be arguedthatAmerican(in the broadsense of Northand SouthAmerican)anthropologists were disposed to develop a positive attitudetowardculturalmixture. Melville Herskovits,for example,consideredsyncretisma valuThe anthropologist able conceptfor specifying the degreeto which diversecultureshad integrated[see also Apter]. It was not a bridge leading to religious relapse, but rathera stage (for African Americans and other minorities) on the road towardthe ideal of culturalassimilation The Braziliansociologist GilbertoFreyre,who, like Herskovits,trained andintegration. in anthropologyunderFranzBoas at ColumbiaUniversity,expressed broadly similar views. FreyreconsideredBraziliansociety to be fundamentallya synthesis of different "races"and cultures[xiii; Skidmore,"RacialIdeas"22]. This synthesis was facilitated by the fact that the Portuguesecolonizers were themselves the mixed outcome of a contact with a more advancedand darkerpeople-the Moors-and hence amenableto culturalborrowingandracialmixture.The views of Freyreon the originalmixednessof Franciscanism" the Portuguesecolonizers-a featurehe called "Lusitanian [xiii]-incultures. not need that cultural mixture dicate presupposeoriginally"pure" Public acknowledgmentand discussion of racial mixture was much more developed in LatinAmericathanin the United States,wheremany states still had miscegenation laws on their books in the middle of this century.Boasian anthropologymade a clear distinctionbetween "race"and culture,and Freyreinsisted upon this differentiation [xxvii; da Matta6]. Nevertheless, in popularand political usage the Spanishterm mestizaje, for example, embracedboth racial and culturalsyntheses, and its political valorizationwas a necessary nation-building strategythroughoutLatinAmerica.8
7. As Andersonpoints out [Imagined Communities47-65], "creolepioneers" fought for independentnationhood in the New World.The acknowledgmentof their own mixedness, or did notpromptthe immediateenfranchisement deculturation,relativeto the British "homeland," of slaves and Indians.But it did mean thattheirnationalismscould embracemixturein a way that Europeannationalismscould not and generally have not since. Black into White; and Harris "Outof Place" ; Skidmore, 8. See Stutzman; Graham;Palmied, [110] for examinationsof mestizaje in Latin American countries such as Ecuador,Argentina,

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The Cubanhistoricalexperienceprovidesyet anotherilluminatingexampleto contrastwith the NorthAmericanmelting pot. Cubanculturedeveloped as variousexogenous cultures(primarily SpanishandAfrican)met andmingled.Therewere only creoles. The indigenasdisappeared entirelyearly on. This situationpromptedFernandoOrtiz,a Cubanlawyer,folklorist,and historian,to develop the idea of transculturation to depict the Cubanexperienceof mixture[97-103; Coronil].Transculturation differedfrom acculturationin stressing that all cultureschange in a situationof contact; it involves a simultaneousloss and acquisitionof cultureand, in the case of Cuba, it is a matterof a continuing,creativeflux, never a finished synthesis. The Cubanexample thus did not indicateassimilationto a culturalor ethnicdominantstandard as was the case in the US, nor did it have a teleology of whiteness as did otherpartsof LatinAmerica. In less well-known essays broughtto light by Stephan Palmi6 ["Outof Place"] Ortiz explicitly dismissed the applicabilityof the "meltingpot" concept for Cuba and likened it ratherto an ajiaco, a stew of meats and vegetables seasoned with hot pepper (ajif. "The characteristicthing about Cuba,"Ortiz contended, " is that since it is an ajiaco, its people arenot a finishedstew,but a constant[processof] cooking. ... Hence the change of its composition, and [the fact] that cubanidadhas a differentflavor and consistency dependingon whetherone tastes what is at the middle [of the pot], or at its surface,where the foods (viandas)are still raw,andthe bubblingliquid still clear"[qtd. in Palmi6,"Outof Place" 35].9 Ortiz was a public intellectualfigure who, towardsthe end of his life, briefly held political office under Castro [Coronil]. Like Freyre, Herskovits, and Vasconcelos in Mexico [Knight85], Ortizcould have had an effect on state policy. Differentviews of mixturein theAmericasthusemerge-transculturation, the meltingpot, andmestizajebut all of them make positive associationswith mixture.I would contendthatthe larger political context supportedan optimisticview of syncretismand this was embracedby the succeeding generationof American anthropologists. An example would be Hugo Nutini, who startedhis researchin Mexico in the late 1950s. As Nutini autobiographically writes, "[s]ince I began anthropologicalresearch in Mesoamerica,I have conceived of syncretismas a special kind of acculturation," and he cites the researchof Herskovitsin Haiti which aided him in formulatinghis views ["OnSyncretism"]. Nutini's account of his entry into the study of syncretismevidences no suspicion that the term might have pejorativeovertones. He has gone on to publish numerous studies mappingout the variousforms and modes of syncretism[e.g., TodosSantos in
Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, and Bolivia. As Stutzmanpoints out, for Ecuador, lurking beneath the embrace of mestizaje was an invitation to whiteness. As in Brazil (especially before Freyre [Skidmore,Black into White 37]) any admixtureof white blood could be taken as decisivefor producing whiteness. The 1940 Brazil census [Skidmore,Black into White 208] and post-1950 Ecuadoriancensuses [Stutzman 49] show the numberof "whites"to be growing,and this may be taken to indicate the appeal, and the perceived appropriateness,of the category "white"to a broadlymixedpopulation. The category of mestizo also increased in Ecuador at the expense of other categoriesof mixednesssuch as cholo, zambo,and mulato.LatinAmericancountriesdiffer from the United States in their recognition of one or more intermediatecategories of mixture between black and white. In the US people are mainly identifiedas either black or white. The category of mulattoexists in name but is little resorted to in practice, indeed it is perceived as pejorative.WilliamscomparesNorth and SouthAmericanracial thinkingin the contextof nation building. 9. Theperformanceartist GuillermoG6mez-Pe~ia rediscovers,alters and updatesthe ajiaco notion of the meltingpot has been replacedby a model metaphor for the 1990s: "[t]he bankrupt that is moregermaneto the times, that of the menudochowder.Accordingto this model, most of the ingredients do melt,butsome stubbornchunksare condemned merelytofloat" [qtd. in Bhabha 218-19].


Rural Tlaxcala], thereby introducinga neutralanalyticalconception of syncretismto the currentgenerationof anthropologists. OtherAmericanMesoamericanists have also as a of valid, unproblematic syncretism approached object analysis [Edmonsonet al.]. It has becomes apparent, that received then, syncretism positive or negative connotations on the tradition within which one encountersit. regional scholarly depending

Churchand State Discourses If Africanists'conceptionsof syncretismhave differedfrom those of Americanists,this to the pervasiveinfluence of differentlargerinstitutionaldiscourses may be attributed on the two anthropological traditions.In Africa, the EuropeanChurches'negativeview of syncretism swayed anthropologicalusage, while in the New World sociologically groundedstatevisions of ethnic synthesisand integrationimbuedsyncretismwith positive overtones. On closer examination the discourses of these two institutions-the Churchand the state-were actually quite similar.Both envisioned a teleological proor assimilation,whereby initial differenceswould be eliminated cess of acculturation, on the way to adopting a dominant standard.To be sure, different Church and state social theoristsoften allowed that some degree of original particularity might remain even at the stage of final acculturation.Nonetheless, one may discern an overriding conviction in both institutionaldiscoursesthata stable,final phase of culturalhomogewould ideally neity could be reached.For the Church,the main phase of acculturation to which time the in of the catechistic at the short space period prior baptism, happen convertsbecame full, bonafide Christians.State sociology recognized a longer period differencewas that of a generationor more for full assimilationto occur.One important this dominantstandard was, in the case of Africa, externallyimposed underconditions of colonialism, while in the Americas it was internallygeneratedin a context of independentnationbuilding. view of We have seen how missionariessuch as Sundklermediatedthe institutional A case be for mecan made the the Churchto the anthropological community. parallel In in with of such as Herskovits the New World. role social scientists 1947, diatory he foundedthe firstAfricanStudiesprogramin supportfromthe CarnegieCorporation, the United States at NorthwesternUniversity and he continuedas an influentialfigure in this field until his death in 1963 [Jackson,"Melville Herskovits"123]. At the same of large foundationsand government time, he was no strangerto the administrators for the Boasian As a position, he stressedthe adaptabilspokesman grantingauthorities. andthis led new and environmental cultural surroundings, ity of Americanminoritiesto African Americanculture to a strong integrationistviewpoint. In 1925 he arguedthat had alreadyassumedthe same patternas white culture.Later,duringthe 1930s--especially afterhis first field researchin Africa-he developedthe idea thatAfricanAmericans unconsciouslypreserveda numberof Africanisms,mainly in the areasof religion, folklore, and music. He thus representeda sometimes unpopularposition between assimilationism (which he had earlier tended toward) and the insistence on African American particularityadvocatedby a numberof African American sociologists and commentators. Herskovits's post-1930s viewpoint offered one example of how a conviction in Africanisms a degreeof lingeringethnicparticularity. couldaccommodate "acculturation" could survive among AfricanAmericans,but they were often mattersof unconscious, embodiedculturalbehaviorsuch as rhythm,or forms of greetingandetiquettewhich he termed"cultural imponderables" [Apter241]. These culturaltraitswere "focal"for AfricanAmericansbutnot for the dominantculture,thusthey did not negatethe sharingof

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a common culture[Herskovitsxxvi; Jackson,"Melville Herskovits"112]. In making his case for Africanisms,he appealedto the concept of syncretismto New Worldrealitiesin a distincdepicthow Africancustoms were used to "reinterpret" An tive processof acculturation of 240]. [Apter example syncreticculturalreinterpretation was Africanpolygamy,which he identifiedas transformed in the New Worldenvironment into a recognizable social phenomenonwhich he labeled "progressivemofrom nogamy"[Herskovits168;Apter240]. Syncretismsnot only contained"survivals" an Africanpast but offered a mode of unitingthe past and the present.In Herskovits's words, "[t]he conclusion that we reach is that in Africa, as in the New World,the culturalprocesses that will be operativewill be those of additionand synthesis to achieve and substitution,with their recongruencewith older forms, ratherthanof subtraction [xxvii]. sulting fragmentation" It is perhapsless well known that The Myth of the Negro Past was writtenin the as part of a large-scale space of one year, commissioned by the CarnegieCorporation of the "American The Swedish economist GunnarMyrdalwas invitedto study Negro." directthis projectand, with substantialfunds at his disposal, he commissionedtwenty differentspecialists to prepare"memoranda" which he would then have the advantage of reading before submittinghis final report [Myrdalliv; Jackson, GunnarMyrdal]. HerskovitscomposedTheMythof the NegroPast in accordancewith this brief. It was a in 1944 and buildingblock for Myrdal'sclassic AnAmericanDilemma,which appeared would have enormousinfluence in the US for the next two decades at least. Myrdal'scentralargumentwas thatracial segregationand discriminationstood as in a nationespousing democracy,freedomand equality large,disturbingcontradictions for all-in short, the treatmentand predicamentof the African American population contradicted the "American Creed."WritingduringWorldWarII, Myrdalstressedthe analogy between American attitudestowardAfrican Americans and Nazism, and he used this parallelto goad Americanmoralisminto rethinkingand rationalizing popular At the same time, he pointedout thatonce AfricanAmericansreceivedequalattitudes. relationswould ity of rightsandemploymenta greatmanyof the problemsin interracial resolved and the society would inevitablymove towardgreaterintegrabe structurally tion and socialjustice. On the issue of culture,Myrdaltook a strongassimilationistline: "[w]e assume thatit is to the advantageof the AmericanNegroes as individualsand as a groupto become assimilatedintoAmericanculture,to acquirethe traitsheld in esteem by dominantwhite Americans.This will be the value premise here"[929]. The high water mark in the reception of An AmericanDilemma came in the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision where Chief Justice Earl Warren cited Myrdal'sbook in passing the decision outlawingschool segregation[Jackson, "Making" 264; GunnarMyrdal293]. Echoes of Myrdal'sideas arealso discernible in MartinLutherKing's famous "I Have a Dream"speech where he exhortedAmerica "to live out the true meaning of its creed" [Jackson,"Making"265]. These examples illustratethe degreeto which the CarnegieCorporation-sponsored studyof the "American Negro"affectednationalpolicy and perceptions. The involvementof Melville Herskovitsin this projectmay thus be pointedto as a prime example of the close relationshipand mutual influence that social science and Americanpublic sector social policy exertedon each other.Herskovitsdid not entirely agreewith Myrdal'sfindings,or vice versa.Myrdalwas skepticalof Herskovits'sthesis aboutAfricanisms [930], and Herskovitswas much less optimistic than Myrdalabout the actualprogressof assimilationand the real prospectsfor interracial As harmony."
10. It should also be noted that Herskovitswas not entirelypleased to be engaged in a project that, in retrospect,possessed characteristicsof "social engineering."It has been amply demonstratedthat Herskovitsdogmaticallyeschewedapplied social science and even refusedto


we have seen, HerskovitsincreasinglyemphasizedtheAfricanpastof New Worldblacks and the influences that this history continuedto exercise over present culturalforms. His ideas on these mattersset him apartfrom the majorityof contemporary liberal social scientists such as E. FranklinFrazier [Szwed], who, like Myrdal, placed greater confidence in the process of assimilation. From today's perspectivewe might view his conceptions of syncretismand culturalreinterpretation as indicativeof resistancesto dominationor as pointingto sites of for cultural survival [Apter].If so, Herskovits'snotion of syncretismanticistruggle more recent studies of syncretismthat have elaboratedthis frameworkof resispated tance and the politics of culture[Shaw and Stewart19-22]. Althoughout of fashion in the 1940s and 1950s, Herskovits's workon AfricanAmericanhistorydramatically gained in popularityin the 1960s, especially with the rise of the Black Power movementin the United States [Jackson,"Melville Herskovits"123].

InstitutionalChanges The year 1963 representsa watershedin the historicaldevelopmentof Churchand state perspectives on key issues involving the concept of syncretism.This was the second Council(1962-65) andalso theyearthatGlazerandMoynihan yearof the SecondVatican publishedBeyond the MeltingPot. VaticanII revised Catholicpracticeon many points so as to renderit morecompatiblewith contemporary realities.It statedthatscience and culturewere domains separatefrom religion and legislated greaterpursuitand expression in these areas [Abbott 165]. Furthermore, it promulgatedthe translationof Latin liturgicaltexts into the vernacularlanguagesof each particular congregation[150]. In the driveto increasepublic comprehension of the Christian message, the Churchdid not but also offered the following justificationof how its message could stop at translation be accommodatedto the culturalconventionsof various societies: Living in various circumstancesduring the course of time, the Church,too, has used in her preaching the discoveries of differentculturesto spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, to probe it and more deeply understandit, and to give it betterexpressionin liturgicalcelebrationsand in the life of the diversifiedcommunity of thefaithful. But at the same time, the Church,sent to all peoples of every time and place, is not bound exclusivelyand indissolublyto any race or nation, nor to any particular way of life or any customarypattern of living, ancient or recent. Faithful to her own traditionand at the same time conscious of her universal mission, she can enter into communionwith various culturalmodes, to her own enrichmentand theirs too. [264] Since ancient times the Churchhas necessarily worked throughculturaltranslation to communicatethe gospel message, first of all to people living aroundthe Mediterranean. The reiterationof this idea in the VaticanII decrees was a significantresponse to the
join the NAACPat first (although he agreed with its main goals and did laterjoin) because he thoughtthis would compromisehis scientific objectivity[Jackson, "MelvilleHerskovits"115ff.; Fernandez151]. He believed that it was sufficient for social scientists to produceknowledgeand that this would itself lead to the ameliorationof unfortunate social situations.If AfricanAmericans were to read his The Myth of the Negro Past,for example,or simply learn of itsfindings, it would enable them to discover that they have a past, and provide assurance that they have a future as well [xxvix].

diacritics I fall 1999



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actual predicamentof Catholic churchesin areas of the recently missionized and now decolonizedworld.VaticanII expresslyallowed, for example,thatwhere initiationrites are found in mission lands,"elementsof these, when capableof being adaptedto Christradition" tianritual,may be admittedalong with those alreadyfoundin Christian [159]. Likewise, a 1563 decree from the Council of Trentwas cited approvingly:"[i]f certain locales traditionallyuse otherpraiseworthycustoms and ceremonies when celebrating this sacredSynod earnestlydesires thatthese by all means the sacramentof matrimony, be retained"[161]. The institutionof the CatholicChurchwas, in effect, redrawingthe boundariesaroundsyncretismby recognizing that a certainamountof culturaladaptation might not affect the content of the Christianmessage. Note the similaritybetween this position and Herskovits'sviews on "focalisms." Wideningthe rangeof allowableculturalexpressionsmade syncretismsmoredifficult to identify,butit certainlydid not lead to an abolitionof the concept.Therewas still dithe possibility that some adaptationsof Christianitycould distortor misapprehend of cultureson the partof the Churchwould vine revelation.A deepened understanding not only help in finding suitablelocal forms throughwhich to expressthe trueChristian message, but would also be necessary in rulingcertainsyntheses out of bounds: A better view will be gained of how their customs,outlook on life, and social ordercan be reconciledwith the mannerof living taughtby divine revelation. As a result, avenues will be openedfor a more profound adaptation in the whole area of Christianlife. Thanksto such a procedure,everyappearanceof syncretismand offalse particularismcan be excluded,and Christianlife can be accommodatedto the genius and the dispositionsof each culture.[612] Clearly "syncretism"still receives a negative meaning in VaticanII usage, but many practicesthatmight have been disparagedas syncretismin the decades previouswould henceforthbe allowed as valid, culturally specific expressions of the one faith. This is a matterto which I shall return. shift of "frame" Glazer and Moynihan'sBeyond the Melting Pot is nowhere near as importanta documentas the decrees of VaticanII. I call attentionto it because its well-known title capturesthe new Zeitgeistthatbeganto takehold in mid-1960s Americaand soon flourethnic pride.Beyondthe MeltingPot was one ished in a host of movementsarticulating of the first nails in the coffin of the optimistic assimilationismof the Myrdalera. As Glazer and Moynihanwrite in their preface:"[t]henotion that the intense and unprecedentedmixtureof ethnic and religious groupsin Americanlife was soon to blend into a homogeneousend producthas outlived its usefulness, and also its credibility.... The point aboutthe melting pot... is thatit did not happen"[xcvii]. They go on to elaborate that all immigrantshave acculturatedin the United States; it is not the case that they of those remainfully Irishor Italianin a fashion consistentwith the currentinhabitants countries.But neitherdo they become fully homogenizedAmericans.Insteadthey create a new identity and recognize themselves and are recognized by others as members of distinctive groups [13]. A full accountof the post-1960s politics of ethnicityin the United Statesis beyond the scope of this study. It is sufficientfor my purposessimply to note that subsequent have generallyfought debatesover ethnic politics, andmore recently,multiculturalism, over the boundariesbetween the demandsof a nationalcultureand the rights of ethnic and have these expressions acknowledgedand regroups to express their particularity the debate can be viewed as a contest over cultural To it spected. put simplistically, and at what sociopoliticallevel? Under mixture:how much shouldbe allowed/required, the guidanceof social science, ethnicpolitics beganto takea new course after 1963, one

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thatelaboratedand celebratedethnic differencesand soughtpublicrecognitionand toleranceratherthan acceptingthe blanketassimilationismof the previousperiod.In this respect the discourse of social science apparentlycame to diverge from the Church discourseit earlierparalleled.While the Churchwas promotinga religious melting pot Americansocial science andethnicpoliwith its post-Vatican II notion of inculturation, tics were rejectingthe melting pot idea and moving to a proto-multiculturalism. Since 1963 the CatholicChurch(Protestant Churchesadopt similarstances, especially regardingmissionization [Pickering])has expandedits acceptanceof culturally mixed religious expression where once it would have scorned many of these as syncretic.TheAmericanstate,on the otherhand,underthe pressureof popularmovements, has been forcedto concede thatsome of what it once thoughtit had forgedin the way of a common culturemust now be unraveled.But such a contrastmay be superficial:the two discoursesmight actually still be on a parallelcourse towardincreasedpromotion of syncretism.It is possible that,in the long run,multiculturalism may lead to a greater and more profoundlyintegratedcommon culture.Underthe melting pot ideology, citizens were mainly formed accordingto a Eurocentric,indeed a heavily Anglocentric, model. This teleological element in the masternarrativeof America has, I think, now been left behind. Grantedthe stimulus of improved,more comprehensiverepresentations of other cultures in schools and in other public spheres, there is a chance that American society will now take a more profoundly syncretic course. Instead of just rolling back previous assimilationistprogress, the currentphase of multiculturalism for furthersyncretization. This syncretismwill may actuallybe laying the groundwork in from of a historical a situation where differentcultural below, part proceed process in live close and continual with interaction each other. Baumann's groups proximity account of a local council's deliberations over for ethnographic options representing differentreligions at schools in the London suburbof Southall is highly suggestive in this respect [182]. The multipleoptions consideredspannedfrom separatedaily assemblies for each faithto joint assemblieswhereall participated fully in each others'prayers.

SyncretismToday The genealogy of syncretismdirects attentionto largerinstitutions,governmentsand Churches,that can shape the evaluation,indeed the very perception,of religious mixture. These institutionsare themselves capable of reversingthemselves and changing the rules, as the CatholicChurchdid with VaticanII, in orderto maintaincontrol.Likewise, New Worldnationalismsdid not form their positive views of mixture solely on aesthetic grounds,but in subversiveresistanceto the colonial metropolitanarrogation of purity and out of practicalneed to assemble numbers.The history of syncretism alerts us to the political agendas that motivateclaims to syncretism-or to purity.We also witness how putativelycompleted syntheses may be disassembled.That contingencies of power inflect syncreticand antisyncretic processes can be seen in the former Yugoslavia.In Bosnia, Muslims once consideredgood neighborsand fellow Yugoslavs became enemies [Bringa].In some views the Bosnian Muslims were "really"Serbs or Croatswho had foolishly and weakly convertedto Islamduringthe Ottomanperiodand now needed to be forcibly dehybridizedand returned to theirtrueethnic fold. Violence in Bosnia was thus antisyncretic;aimed at reducingpeople to unalloyedethnic identities. Anothercase in point would be India,where some Hindunationalistshave insisted that their religion syncreticallyencompasses the Islam of their Indiancocitizens, thus relievingthemselvesof any compunctionoverdestroyingthe BabarMosquein Ayodhya in 1993 [van der Veer 204].


An anthropologyof syncretismmust comprehendhow zones of purityand hybridas Williams [429] aptly ity come into being:"theclassificatorymomentof purification," it. This can be achieved of a combination historical and ethnographic phrases through case studieswhere syncretismor antisyncretism areat issue. If it is acceptedthatculture is not a stable structuresuccessfully transmitted across generations,but ratherthe result, at any particular moment, of historicaland social processes that both deform and confirm "structure" [Bourdieu;Ortner],then syncretismcan be used within this theoretical frameworkto focus attentionprecisely on accommodation,contest, appropriaand intracultural transaction, indigenization,and a host of otherdynamicintercultural tions. If we grantthe premise thatthere are no pure cultures,then we are led to suppose that there are no pure religious traditionseither.Historiansof religions have, indeed, long expressed this view [van der Leeuw 609; Droogers9]. This should lay to rest the frequentlyheard criticism that syncretismnecessarily assumes the existence of ideal All thatneed be acceptedis thatsyncretisminvolves the combinationof puretraditions. elements from two or more differenttraditions.But if we consider all religions syncretic, how useful can this term be? As the historianof religions RobertBaird has objected: "[t]o say that 'Christianity'or the 'mysteryreligions' or 'Hinduism'are syncretistic is not to say anythingthat distinguishesthem from anythingelse and is merely equivalentto admittingthateach has a history and can be studiedhistorically"[146]. This observationdoes not changethe fact thatall religionsarecompositesatpresent and will continueto innovateand forge new hybridforms in the future.In a world that valorizes purityandauthenticity it is crucialto attendto the ways in which syncretismis negotiatedat the local level. Syncretism,perhapsreferencedby a synonymor circumlocution, can form partof folk theories of culture [Stewartand Shaw; Palmie, "Against Syncretism"].As such, it plays a role in directing the invention of traditionsor the aggressivedismissal of neighboringtraditions.The study of how a people contest, negotiate, and act on attributionsof syncretism,if, that is, they do act at all, requiresa switch from theology to the ethnographyof theology (in both its official and popular denialsof syncretism,whetherby academicanalystsor the people forms). Furthermore, under study,are every bit as interestingas cases where the compositeness of religious traditionsis recognized and accepted. The syncreticnessof all religions may be an unexceptionalfact, but pointing this out socially often amountsto an expressionof power,differentiation, and social control. It is a term thathas historicallybeen appliedto someone else's body of religious practice. The bearersof a given traditionrarelyacknowledgethat it might be syncretic(although I think they can and should). When at the beginning of this century certain itself was syncretic,they were met with broad theologianspointedout thatChristianity on the of Western Christians disapproval part [Baird 143]. Similarclashes of perspective are apparentwhen avant-gardeculturalstudies and literarytheoristscelebratethe fundamentalculturalhybridityof postcolonialcommunitiesat the very moment when these communitiesare engaging in strategic,essentialistclaims of culturalauthenticity [Thomas 188;Asad 264].

The Ethnographyof Syncretism Lionel Caplanpresentsus with a timely ethnographicstudy of contestedhybriditythat illustratesthis last issue. He reportson the Anglo-Indiansof Madrasand theirfortunes over the last two centuries.Under the British, because of their mixed parentage,they enjoyed increasinglyprivileged positions in colonial governmentemployment, espe-

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and cially afterthe IndianMutinyin the mid-nineteenth century.Historicalethnography oral histories indicate thatAnglo-Indianculturecomprised a mixture of forms, many distributedaccordingto class position, on a spectrumbetween Britishand local South Indianculturalpractice.Middle-classAnglo-Indianmen would weartrousers and shirts, and suits for parties,while the women wore frocks,althoughthese usuallyfailed to pass for British style because of their garishness.In cuisine, the more elite membersof the Anglo-Indiancommunitydistinguishedthemselves from the local Hindupopulationby eating beef while less prosperousfamilies ate largely South Indian foods with their hands.As Caplanpoints out, their practices, which chiefly varied internallyby class, Yet for sociopolitical reasons amountedto a creole continuumsituation[Drummond]. the Anglo-Indiansoften represented themselvesas wholly Britishin the decades before as one may easily imagine,those Indianindependence[Caplan755]. Postindependence, who have remainedin Indiaareinclinedto stresstheirIndianness.In this case, then, we see a group--a vocal partof which has always rejectedhybridityas a concept represenmixed. tativeof theirsituation-that an outsideobserver mighteasily assumeis culturally Caplan'sethnographyof the Anglo-Indiansof Madrashighlights one of the key issues in the ethnographyof syncretism:the need to distinguishactors' expressed acknowledgmentsof mixture from the opinions and perceptions of anthropologistsor other outside observers. I refer to this as a problem of "frame."Grantedthat we can recognize two differentculturalor religious traditionsin a given social field, how can we ascertainthat they have indeed mixed ratherthan simply standjuxtaposed to one another?In brief, how can we differentiatesyncretismfrom religious pluralism? If we go to a hospital,for example,and see thatChineseacupuncture (or acu-moxa) in one room whereaslaser surgeryis being performedin the next is being administered room, we would not seriouslyconsiderthis a syncretismof ChineseandWesternmedicine. To offer anotherexample, in Trinidadone may encounterShouterBaptists, followers of the Hindu deity Kali Mai, and adherentsof Shango (itself a syncretismof African religion and Catholicism) all subscribingto similar beliefs and practices regardingpossession [Vertovec].At first one might be temptedto considerthis the result of mutualborrowing,or syncretism,but closer inspection reveals that the possession phenomenain questioncan be accountedfor as internalfeaturesof each of the separate these similarinone of the actors involved attributed religious traditions.Furthermore, ties to borrowing,but ratherjust to "convergence"[Vertovec].In this case, we must once again rule out syncretism on the grounds that no "mixture"may be discerned either from our own or from the actors' points of view. We might, however, want to furtheranalyze the local politics of this discourseof convergence. for our purposes,in the very definiThe issue of frameemerges most importantly, tion of religion itself, especially as regardsthe boundariesthatare set between religion and culture.As we have seen, the Catholic Church'sopening toward"inculturation" beginning with VaticanII posed one example of how religious specialists may themselves redrawthe boundariesbetween religion and culture.Is the symbol of the lamb, for example,essentialto the Christian message, or might it be replaceableby an equivalent symbol in regions where sheep and goats are not herded?Likewise, as Schreiter asks, can we allow the breadand wine of the Eucharistto be replacedby otherfoods in regions where they are not known [Constructing8]?3"
in Chad 11. For the time being, the answer to this questionappears to be no. Communities and Cameroontriedsubstituting milletbreadand milletbeerfor the waferand wine of the Eucharist, but thispractice was halted by a VaticanInstructionin 1980. As Schreitercomments,"[t]he Eucharistcannot be reducedto the culturalcircumstancesof an everydaymeal" [Towarda The-



In his study of Sinhalese Catholics, Stirrathas shown how the Catholic Church ritualsandthe wearingof white as a color initiallyforbadethe use of drumsin Christian of mourning.The Churchidentifiedthese practices as "Buddhist" and thereforeas ina elements different that should be mixed from not with Catholireligion compatible cism. After independence,however,when Buddhismbegan to set the tone of Sinhalese culture,it became importantfor Sri LankanCatholics to participatemore fully in this nationalcultureratherthanto be seen preservingsubcultural practicesthatlinked them with Westerncolonialism. Furtherencouragedby the VaticanII pronouncements,the use of drums and the wearing of white for mourningwere reclassified as acceptable elements of Sinhaleseculturethatdid not threatenthe integrityof Catholicism.Numerous other examples, such as Mende (SierraLeone) debates over whetherparticipation in women's initiationrites is consistent with Islam [Ferme],can be cited to show how in local (or national)culwidespreadis this problematicdivision between participation and commitment to a standardized world ture religion. Ultimately these frames are not stable, as clearly emerges in the case of Catholicism. Even the separateframesmaintainedon Trinidadmay one day be altered,or colWhatis important to see and study,I think,is thatthe implementation lapsed altogether. of these frames is socially, politically, and historicallycontingent.This is truewhether the framein questionis dictatedby an indigenoussocial or theological pronouncement or posed as an academic observationfrom outside the society in question. As an example, we may refer to RichardGombrich'sstudy of Sri LankanBuddhism,Precept and Practice. He discounts the possibility of a Hindu-Buddhist syncretismhere on the groundsthat Hinduelements were time-honoredcomponentsof Buddhism.Gombrich offersthatBuddhismis fundamentally further soteriological,andonly practicesdirected at salvationproperlyqualify as elementsof Buddhistreligion.The Hindudeities drafted ends into the Buddhistpantheonareprimarilyappealedto for mundane,"this-worldly" such as gaining prosperityor curing illness. Given the narrow frame he sets up for Buddhism,then, Hindu gods are excluded; they are not aspects of Buddhistreligion, hence one more reason why Sri LankanBuddhismis not syncretic [Gombrich49]. This positioncontrastswith my own studyof GreekOrthodoxy[Demons11], where and"salvation idiom" I consideredthattherewas a certaincore of cosmologicalstructure would be groundsfor rulingan basic to Christianity which, if significantlycontradicted, innovative cult non-Christian.The panoply of demons that I studied, like the Hindu deities within Buddhism,do not perhapsconformto the letterof Christiandoctrine,but I consideredthem tolerthey do not contradictthe basic kernelof ChristianOrthodoxy. able variations,the stuff of local religion, butnot elements thatfall outside the frameof Christianity.Thus I deem the coexistence of non-Christiandemons within the basic structure (or frame)of Orthodoxyto be a clear example of syncretism.Gombrichconcedes somethingsimilar when he describes Buddhismas "accretive"[49], but he then seems to draw a tighterframe aroundBuddhismsuch that accretedHindu deities and the this-worldlyconcernsexpressedaroundthem fall outside of Buddhismproper.That of Buddhismhave disputedthe descriptionof Buddhist"religion" otheranthropologists as limited strictlyto eschatology [cf. Gellner 103], and even explicitly label Sri Lankan Buddhism "syncretic"[Bechert 24, 218], only furtherindicates the subjectivity and of frames. variabilitybesetting the demarcation Conclusion Most previousdefinitionsof syncretismstipulatethata syncretismmust fuse disparate, disharmonious elements, or that it necessarilycontravenesthe tenets of one or more of

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the initial religious systems, thatit involves ambiguity,or any numberof othercriteria. Historians of religion such as Colpe present us with staggering sets of analytical distinctions-synthesis, evolution, harmonization,disintegration,absorption,equivalence, amalgamation,and so on-for distinguishingand understandingthe phenomenon of syncretism.One might almost contemplateadoptingthe vocabularyof chemistry, where compounds,mixtures, and colloids are all objectively distinguishable.The studyof syncretismcould then be set on a parwith the perceptionof color or sound,for which we also have an objective set of measurementsto set againstculturallyrelative discriminations.Obviously religions and culturesare far too complex and fundamentally subjectivephenomenato be tamed by objective analyticalvocabularies,however subtle. Fromthe perspectivethatI have outlined above, these sorts of analyticdistinctions aboutsyncretismneed to be examinedas partof the strategicsocial negotiationof religious synthesis, ratherthan as definitiveof syncretismaltogether. Ultimately the anthropology of syncretism is not concerned with pronouncing whetherBuddhism,or any otherreligion, is or is not syncretic,but ratherwith studying the various argumentsmade for or againstthe notion of religious mixing. It should be concernedwith competingdiscoursesover mixture,whethersyncreticor antisyncretic [Stewartand Shaw]. Whereversyncretismoccurs or has occurred,it is usually accomthe commentary, and paniedby a paralleldiscoursethatmight be termedmetasyncretic: of actors as to whether has occurred and whether registeredperceptions amalgamation this is good or bad. A strictlyobjectivistview could never be sufficient. In agreementwith Droogers [20] I considerthe social science study of syncretism to be cruciallyaboutthe variousdiscoursesthatseek to controlthe definitionof syncretism in a given social field, whetherpromulgatedby insiders or outsiders.In orderto implementthis anthropologyof syncretism,we need to proceed with the broadestand most generaldefinition of syncretism:the combinationof elements from two or more differentreligious traditionswithin a specified frame. This much founds a consistent startingpoint. We can establish that two or more differenttraditionsare involved, and what the relevantframeis, eitheron the basis of what the actorsinvolved say, or on the basis of ourown analyticalreasoning,as long as we clearly indicatewhen we aretaking which perspective. Of course the differencesof perspectivebetween insiders and outsidersintroduce anotherdifferencein frame.It mightbe the case thatwe will often end up studyinghow a given social groupnegotiates the claims of such outsidersas the Catholic Churchor such influentialindividualsas the OxfordProfessorof Sanskrit.Grantedthe long-running conflict betweenthe majoritySinhaleseBuddhistsandTamilHindusin Sri Lanka, one could easily see how claims of Buddhistpurity-or even more ominous, Buddhist of Hinduism-could be drawnuponto legitimategovernmentpolicies. encompassment Indeed, Kapferer has argued that a religious scenario involving demonization and exorcistic re-encompassmentof the the Tamil Hindus runs parallel to the actual violence. Some of Gombrich'sown more recent work documentshow Buddhistborroware accompaniedby a denial of their ings of Hinduelements of practiceat Kataragama Hindu origins [Gombrichand Obeyesekere163-99; van der Veer 204]. Of course, nationalistor otherpolitical leadersdo not need to wait for authoritative pronouncements by scholarsto legitimatetheirpolitical agendas,but they can certainlyuse them if they are advantageous.Anthropologicalassessments of syncretismdo, thus, frequentlyaffect the social contexts they attemptonly to study.In partthis is because an opinion on syncretism-a view on the purityor mixedness of social groups and cultures-is not interest;it formspartof indigenoustheoriesof culture just an extrinsicanthropological all over the world.A community'sevaluationof its own culturalpurityor mixturemay govern opinion as to the group'sdefinitiveculturalform and political destiny.


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