The act or system of blending, combining or reconciling inharmonious elements.
I learned the word syncretism when I was reading about Kalpa, a village in the Indian Himalaya that I visited on October 19, 2022. In ancient times, Kalpa was at the crossroads of Tibet and India, and received constant influence from both cultures. What I found truly fascinating about Kalpa is that part of its population practices syncretism. Instead of choosing between Hinduism or Buddhism, they decided to practice both, merging its rituals and customs. Furthermore, the religions not just only coexist harmoniously in Kalpa: They share temples and festivals.
Syncretism between Hinduism and Buddhism is not only practiced in Kalpa; it is common in the rest of the Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh as well as other areas of India. As far as I am aware, in modern times there aren’t many places in the world where two major religions are blended together like Hinduism and Buddhism are in Kalpa. This got me thinking: Why doesn’t this happen more often in modern times?
I believe more syncretism between faiths does not happen because modern society would dismiss it: It would likely mock it and call it pseudo-faith. I believe this is a shame: to me it makes sense that if religious syncretism was practiced and accepted more in society, the world would be more harmonious. The Kinnauris were too isolated to be told that merging religious practices was wrong, and by the time their lands were well connected to the modern world, syncretism was very ingrained in their culture.
Syncretism does not only apply to theology: it also applies to ideology. In the past, people would blend schools of thought, mainly in the name of compromise. As political polarization continues to thrive in the world, my experience spending time in a place where religious syncretism got me thinking: How can we apply political syncretism in our communities so that we can live in more harmoniously?
If A's religion says "there are these gods, and they like us to do X", and B's religion says "there are those gods, and they like us to do Y", then there's a reasonable chance that you can combine them to say "there are these gods and those gods, and they all like us to do Z, and some of them also like X-Z and some like Y-Z".
But if A's religion says "there are these gods, and they like us to do X, and there are no others, and the will of the gods is a universal truth that applies to everyone" and B's religion says something similar, then unless one can credibly argue that these gods and those gods are the exact same gods and that X and Y are the same, there's not much prospect for syncretism.
The world's two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, are both very much of the latter type. There is One God, and he is The Only God, and his will is Absolute Moral Truth, and any other so-called god is necessarily a false god, meaning (in the most optimistic case) something people just made up in error, or (in the not so optimistic case) a supernatural being who ought to be subordinate to the One True God but is in rebellion against him and trying to sow confusion and error and evil.
If you have a religion of the second type, any sort of syncretism involving that religion pretty much has to have (at least) some sort of insincerity or sloppiness or something about it.
Political ideologies aren't necessarily more like the second sort of religion than the first, but often they are, especially when considering them in relation to other political ideologies competing for the same people. If A's ideology says that the most important thing is the distribution of wealth, and that rich people mostly get rich by taking wealth that ought to belong to poorer people, and the rich are holding the poor down for their own (the rich's) benefit, and B's ideology says that the most important thing is the distribution of wealth, and that rich people mostly get rich by providing the world with valuable things and capturing a small fraction of the value they create, and no one is holding the poor down but themselves, and if A and B are operating within a political system where one can gain only when the other loses, the prospects for a syncretic combination of the two are remote.
But ... actual real-world political parties are themselves kinda-sorta syncretic entities, at least some of the time. There isn't any very compelling reason why economic libertarianism and social conservatism and preference for Christianity over other religions or absences thereof and dislike of immigration should all go together, but there they all are in the Republican Party (and in its rough equivalents in some other countries besides the US), and you could say similar things about the coalitions that constitute other political parties. Unfortunately, when you have two equal but opposite syncretic piles of ideology, the fact that each of them is full of syncretism doesn't do anything to make them more willing to cooperate nicely with one another.
Muslims believe that it is the same god but that Christians have misinterpreted the words of Jesus.
Bahá'í religion claims that Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were prophets of the same God, and that Buddha and Krishna were manifestations of that God. The differences between their teachings are explained as either adaptations of the religion to given age and society, or as a human error. This sounds convincing enough for a few million people.
And misreported them, yes. But if you add that belief to Christianity you don't get a syncretic combination of Christianity and Islam, you just get Islam, in much the same way as the people who call themselves "messianic Jews" are generally regarded as Christians who find it convenient for strategic reasons to call themselves something else. The Wikipedia page for "Messianic Judaism" does call it a syncretic variety of Protestant Christianity, which is kinda reasonable, but empirically it doesn't seem as if this actually leads to less tension between actual Jews and "messianic Jews" than between actual Jews and Christians who call themselves Christians. I suspect something similar would be the case for any Muslims who tried calling themselves "submitting Christians" or whatever.
However, I concede that Baha'ism is a pretty successful syncretic combination of (among other things) Christianity and Islam. I expect other syncretic combinations of "Abrahamic" religions are possible too.
Syncretism between an "exclusive" religion and an "inclusive" one is definitely possible. I think there's been rather a lot of it in India. But I think in these cases followers of the "exclusive" religion would generally consider that the result is a caricature of the true faith, and would not feel any more positive about it than about followers of "inclusive" religion who don't mix any of their religion in.
There is a view that "syncretism" used to be the "default" religious response and natural human tendency (well, why not maximize your portfolio and hedge your bets?), but that a minority of religions that explicitly defined themselves in opposition to other religions had huge evolutionary success, and some of them have shaped modernity.