chapter
syncretism
Pages 6

Syncretism refers to the hybridization or amalgamation of two or more cultural traditions. However, all cultures comprise a variety of diffused and borrowed elements-a point †Ralph Linton made in his ironic piece ‘One Hundred Per-Cent American’ (1937). Given this, ‘syncretism’ loses much of its descriptive precision and many have deprecated the utility of the term. It makes best sense in the context of *functionalist theories of integrated social systems, or doctrines of cultural holism, that presuppose unified and bounded social or cultural units that, under certain conditions, can be conceived as merging to produce some novel syncretic formation. Syncretistic analysis, however, unavoidably raises problems of history and social change and thus sits uneasily alongside classic functionalist theory (see for example, *Malinowski’s uncomfortable attempt to alloy functional coherence and social change in Southern Africa [1945]).