What Is Cultural Syncretism? - Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What is Human Nature? - Definition, Theories & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 What Is Syncretism?
  • 0:42 Syncretism in Europe
  • 1:39 Syncretism in Asia
  • 2:13 Syncretism in America
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Explore the anthropological concept of cultural syncretism and test your understanding about various world cultures, the history of human interaction, and basic principles of anthropology.

What is Syncretism?

Chances are, you have experienced cultural syncretism. Have you ever eaten deep-dish pizza, opened a fortune cookie, or worn a 'Kiss Me I'm Irish' shirt on St. Patty's Day? Ever celebrated Christmas in December?

Syncretism is a combination of separate concepts into one new, unique idea. Cultural syncretism is when an aspect of two or more distinct cultures blend together to create a new custom, idea, practice, or philosophy. Cultural syncretism can occur for many reasons, from immigration to military conquest to the marriages between groups, and results in a culture finding ways to blend new customs into their own.

Syncretism in Europe

Cultural syncretism occurs all over the world, but we'll start with a few examples from Europe. Let's look at Rome, one of the greatest powers of the ancient world. In the Roman religion, one of the major gods was Jupiter, who had a big beard and threw lightning bolts. Sounds a bit like the Greek god Zeus, right? However, Roman gods had very different personalities, rituals, and relationships than Greek gods. Roman gods behaved more like Etruscan deities, but were really a mixture of several different religions in the northern Mediterranean. The Romans incorporated aspects of these other religions, but made them into something completely unique from the originals.

Additionally, the Roman language, Latin, combined Etruscan letters, the Greek alphabet, and Phoenician writing. Their architecture featured Greek columns and Etruscan arches along with Roman inventions like concrete. Rome was very syncretic, but everything they made was distinctly Roman.

Syncretism in Asia

Across Asian history, a prominent example of cultural syncretism comes from the spread of Buddhism. Buddhism, by its nature, is compatible with other religions and spiritual cosmologies. It originated around India, and when it spread to China it mixed with Confucianism and Taoism around the 6th century. This formed a new philosophy called the Three Teachings. Buddhism has syncretized with local customs across Asia including Daoism, Shinto, and Korean shamanism to create distinct local practices.

Syncretism in America

Due to the dramatic mixing of very different cultures and often violent nature of that mixing, the Americas have a great tradition of cultural syncretism. Consider the Rastafari movement from Jamaica. Rastafarianism is Christian practice that blends Ethiopian-Hebrew spirituality, 19th-century Pan African identity, Caribbean slave religions, and yes, the spiritual use of marijuana. Despite having so many influences, Rastafarianism is completely unique and cannot be labeled as truly part of any of the original sources.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Prompts About Cultural Syncretism:

Essay Prompt 1:

In one paragraph, define cultural syncretism in your own words.

Tip: Be sure to note that this is a term frequently used in the field of anthropology.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of at least three to four paragraphs that explains one of the examples of cultural syncretism provided in the lesson.

Example: You could write about how Buddhism originated in India, but became enmeshed with Chinese religions like Confucianism and Taoism.

Essay Prompt 3:

In an essay of approximately three to four paragraphs, explain the role of religion in cultural syncretism. Be sure to provide examples.

Example: You could discuss the Native American Ghost Dance's connection to Christianity.

List Prompt 1:

Make a list of at least ten ways that cultural syncretism comes about. Feel free to use the examples from the lesson, but also be sure to think outside of the box and come up with your own examples.

Example: Trade and commerce.

List Prompt 2:

Create a detailed list of three examples of cultural syncretism. Provide examples from history or ones that you have witnessed or participated in. Below each example, provide a description of at least five to six sentences that explains how this is an example of cultural syncretism.

Example: The American adoption of the Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account