Writer explores syncretism
Religion is part of everybody’s life whether they acknowledge it or not.
In Praise of Mixed Religion, The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World, a new book by The Reverend Dr. William Harrison of Vernon, explains why religion matters in the lives of individuals, societies and the world.
“Even people who think they are non-religious are touched by religion. Understanding our own and other people’s religions opens up the world of classic and contemporary art, literature, music, history and current politics. Think of the present situations in Russia/Ukraine and Israel. These and many others have aspects of religion.”
After his first book, Frequently Asked Questions in Christian Theology, Harrison, an Anglican priest and principal of Kootenay School of Theology, expands his scope to consider how people can learn about and from other religions to build a better world.
“We think of ourselves as living in our own religions but in fact we’re always learning from other people. I’ve learned a lot from people who are not Christians, one thing I can name is learning how to read and understand books and literature that are not written from a Christian perspective.
“The basic idea of the book is syncretism, meaning mixing religions together. Scholars are neutral about it but it happens.”
Harrison said there are a number of approaches to syncretism: one that it is a good thing that helps people learn and grow; the traditional or subjective that it is not good; and the scholarly, objective approach that syncretism happens. He proposes what he calls the advocacy approach, with examples from various studies of different religions and where, when and how syncretism happened and still happens.
“Information flows in and out of the intersections of religions. Syncretism can be a good thing when it helps us to learn and grow and not so good when it causes societies to act against the good of its citizens and others. An example of when syncretism should have happened is when Christianity and First Nations met, but there are many others,” he said.
“We need to have, individually and collectively, what I call critical openness, to understand and accept the insights from others who may be very different from us, but not to accept everything. It is necessary to make informed judgments. This is a complex mind set, always accepting that you might be wrong.”
One section of In Praise of Mixed Religion is titled, The Last Taboo — Education and Religion.
“Religion plays a big part in our intellectual heritage and if you don’t have an education about religion, you are dangerously ignorant. One way this shows up in our contemporary world is in our relationships with other religions, particularly with the many strands of Islam. We often default to false stereotypes which have the potential for tragic misunderstanding,” said Harrison.
“We have taken religion out of formal education and we are raising children who have more access to information but without the knowledge of how to understand and judge what they hear and read, not only about religions but other aspects of education and life. This puts them at a disadvantage in the world in many ways.
“An intellectual transformation (of society) may take a long time. We must recognize that religions are solutions to questions and problems. The challenge is to recognize that we all bring resources and wisdom through our different points of view. We can start at a personal level with inter-religious listening and conversation. The Interfaith Bridging Project is an excellent local example of this.”
Harrison presents a seminar, Thinking About World Religions, Saturday at All Saints Anglican Church, Vernon.
“I will be speaking about ways, including various theories, in which we can relate helpfully to people of different religions, with lots of time for questions, discussion and conversation. I prefer to be interrupted, if nobody’s interrupting, they’re not as engaged as I hope they would be.
“People want to talk about this. There is a universal interest in other religions. People of other religions are our neighbours in ways we haven’t noticed before, whether it’s next door or half-way around the world.”
In Praise of Mixed Religion, The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World was published by McGill-Queens University Press in May 2014 and is available at Amazon.com.
The Thinking About World Religions seminar takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $30, lunch included. For more information or pre-registration, please e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.