In Praise of Mixed Religion: the Syncretism Solution in a Multi-faith world

William Harrison, McGill-Queens, 2014 reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Harrison believes religions should engage in syncretism, the blending of religion, incorporating wisdom from one religion into another. Syncretism can bend to creative transformation in many fields—religious, practical, ethical, ecological and political. He gives several examples where syncretism was a good phenomenon and when the opposite was evident. Eg, synchretism is a helpful description when religions grow, a strength that comes from the melding of viewpoints.

        Christianity has grown and developed by incorporating insights and rituals from traditions as diverse as Judaism, Greek and Roman thought and European folk religions’ (p 7). We all live in mixed religious contexts—no amount of historical digging will enable us to reach some sort of pure religious uninfluenced by other traditions’ (p 17).

        Syncretism is a good thing when particular statements are more consistent with the data, when the new statement is genuinely helpful in our world, when it sustains and even expands some important part of the religious convert. He points out that synchronicity of Buddhism and Taoism (p 97), of Islam and Greek thought (p l06), Christianity and the ancient Celtic forms (p 115-124). (Here he makes a sad mistake: it was Theodosius, not Constantine, who made Christianity the empire’s official religion (p 117). An example where syncretism has not been helpful is in the prosperity gospel, a syncretism that emphasizes self interest over communal interest (p 131).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.