Course date

30 July - 10 August, 2001
Application deadline
15 February, 2001
Course Director(s): 

Gyorgy Gereby

Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Istvan Perczel

Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Course Faculty: 

Garnik Asatrian

Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University, Armenia

Geza Bethlenfalvy

Linguistics, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary

Johann Burgel

Islam studies, University of Bern, Switzerland

Ivan Christov

Philosophy and History, Chair of Sociology, Plovdiv University, Bulgaria

Hanna Kassis

Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Andrew Palmer

Munster University, Germany

Yosef Schwartz

The Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Safak Ural

Philosophy, University of Istanbul, Turkey

This course wants to concentrate on a fundamental structural trait common to many religious traditions. It will examine the combination of, and the relationship between, as well as the tension between, two complementary tendencies that have shaped the structure of greater and smaller religions throughout the ages. The first is to be found mainly among the great religions of the Mediterraneum, a tendency to form a strong identity, with the help of an exclusive self-image that attempts to define one’s own religion as a unique phenomenon, absolutely different from all others. Usually this happens by the means of clearly defined, unique doctrines, rituals, and customs, and clearly established criteria for drawing the borderlines that separate the given religious community from all others. The other is a tendency to accommodate and adapt, or even mix, the forms, the beliefs, and the thought-patterns of different and rival traditions. In some cases it can go as far as to understanding one’s own religious forms as but one part and one specific crystallisation of an intricate framework of traditions, doctrines, beliefs, and rituals. One might call the first tendency a striving towards exclusive identity, while the second, a leaning towards syncretism. Clearly, this use of the word "syncretism" is different from the common use of the term. Instead of its usual, negative connotation, we use it in a structural and thus, neutral sense.

Representatives of a given religion may more or less consciously adopt, or emphasise, one or the other perspective, in order either to protect the borderlines of their own community, or to ease the passage from the other religion to one’s own – while only very rarely vice versa – or for any other reason. However, the fact remains that most religious forms display both tendencies. Different religious traditions – local or universal – can be characterised by the equilibrium they strike between the two extremes. And although it is tempting to establish a typology which would distinguish between "exclusivist" and "syncretist" religions, this would tend to obscure the manifest fact that exclusivism tends to work only with a considerable amount of syncretism – be it religious, philosophical, or cultural – and that syncretism can not fail to emphasise its unique and exclusive identity. The present course aims to examine some concrete religious phenomena within this – very broad – framework.

Teaching methods

The course will not proceed a priori from universal concepts towards concrete examples, but vice versa. Leading specialists in different religious traditions will present the concrete phenomena of exclusivism and syncretism within their own field, so that the understanding of the concrete, particular developments may inspire debate on the more general level.