Yesterday, I wrote about the difference between inculturation and syncretism, about a passionate and a dispassionate analysis of how a new religion interacts with the old existing culture.
But, today I am going to mention that sometimes the adoption of cultural practices is purely accidental. The photograph above is of a Native American kiva. Notice that the shape is circular and that the floor is sunken. I mentioned yesterday that I traveled many times in the High Andes in the Colca Canyon area. In Tuti, there is a fundamentalist Protestant church begun by fundamentalist missionaries. I am not judging them, the missionaries called themselves “fundamentalist Christians.” If you were to go into that church, you would notice that there are pews up to about half-way of the length of the church. About another third of the church is a sunken rectangular pit about knee-high. The seating pattern is that the elders (meaning older) and the leaders of the church sit along three sides with the fourth side being the stage upon which the pulpit stands. Youngsters, children, young married couples, visitors, etc. are the ones who sit in the pews.
If you were to go to the village of Choco, you would see that in the central square (built in the Old Spanish style) there is a ledge that runs along the building walls that is knee high. On one side of the square there are what look like a set of stone bleachers. And, yes, when there are town meetings, the elders and city officials sit along two of the sides, the rest of the citizens sit in the bleachers, or stand on the open side of the square. Look at the photograph of the kiva and you will see the same ledge that I have just been describing.
As you may have guessed by now, the idea of important spaces being sunken and of the elders sitting along a particular side(s) on the ledge is common to both cultures. A dispassionate analysis notes the sameness, notes ancient migration patterns and concludes that this sunken arrangement is something brought by the tribes that slowly wandered south from North America through Central America to South America thousands of years ago. There is a cultural connection between them. In South America these circular spaces changed to rectangular because of the centuries under Spanish occupation and control. Thus, indigenous people of this area of Perú inculturated the European rectangular patterns into their meeting habits, producing rectangular spaces with sunken areas. It is doubtful that this had any type of religious meaning, it is simply a purely accidental shift due to the influence of the conquering culture.
Roman Catholic churches do not have a sunken area. It is quite probable that the incoming Spanish priests would have refused to allow such a thing because that is not how churches are built. But, when fundamentalist Protestants finally arrived, they had no commitment to a particular type of church architecture. Thus, they were more willing to allow the indigenous people to express ancient worship architecture in a modern Protestant church. This is deliberate inculturation, but not syncretism. The sunken floor does not carry any theological meaning. Nor, would any fundamentalist missionary have allowed the presence of a sunken area if it carried even the least hint of syncretism. This is another example of inculturation.
There are many things that are examples of inculturation, but carry no deeper meaning whatsoever. They are simply the result of two cultures rubbing against each other. Each is going to adopt some of the practices of the other. However, more of the practices of the dominant culture will be adopted by the other culture than practices of the other culture will be adopted by the dominant culture. In theological terms, this type of cultural interchange is harmless. Note that this is very different from a deliberate destruction of a culture by an invader, such as happened in North America during the Indian Wars, the Indian schools, etc. That type of deliberate imposition is called cultural genocide by many.
So, what then is syncretism?
===MORE TO COME===