I need to translate a sentence from Greek which literally sounds something like this:

At that time a syncretic/syncretistic spirit prevailed and the X (name of nation) were influenced by the beliefs of the peoples around them.

My concern is the bold part. The context of the sentence definitely requires a negative connotation and I wonder which between syncretic and syncretistic carry a more negative connotation, meaning too inclusive, and therefore diluting certain beliefs.

Syncretic is easy to find in dictionaries, but the definitions I get seem pretty neutral. Cambridge describes this term as specialized. When defining syncretistic the FreeDictionary speaks about reconciliation or fusion which have nothing negative about them. Other dictionaries simply say see syncretism.

My intuition says that syncretistic must be the more pejorative one, maybe influenced by the feel I have of the suffix -istic in comparison with what seems to me the more neutral -ic. It is only an intuition though, and it might be completely wrong since words like stylistic or patristic carry no negative connotations. I would be thrilled to find proof for my intuition being right or wrong.

  • Did you read this? Is There A Difference Between “Syncretic” and “Syncretistic”?: A Suggestion: polytheist.com/speaking-of-syncretism/2015/03/17/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 16:43
  • @user66974 No, I actually hadn't read that. But it does seem to me rather subjective... Also I am more interested in a word that would characterise a tendency or spirit rather than religions as in the well-known set phrase.
    – fev
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 16:52
  • in English, fascistic is fascist-like. syncretistic like syncretic-like. Of course, tic or ic is not always like. By the way, the only knowledge I have of this is the fusion of Afro-religious beliefs (like Candomblé) and Catholicism in Brazil. I don't see why you can't state the name of the nation in the question.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 16:52
  • ... 'My suggestion of 'syncretism' by the above author, one who has used and researched these words, shows that there cannot be a consensus even in the areas where they are used. Such stipulative definitions would be off-topic on a general English usage site in any case. // I know how I've always regarded 'syncretism' and thus 'syncretic'; 'syncretistic' I've never heard. Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 16:53
  • @Lambie It's from a book to be published. Just thought I should be vague :)
    – fev
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


My concern is the bold part. The context of the sentence definitely requires a negative connotation

The OED should dispel your concern - it is negative:

syncretic, adj. and n.

Etymology: < syncretism1 n., probably after docetic, docetism.

A. adj.

1. Characterized by syncretism; aiming at a union or reconciliation of diverse beliefs, practices, or systems.

1853 Fraser's Mag. 47 293 The philosophy which at the time Minucius was writing arrayed itself against Christianity, was..syncretic.

1884 A. H. Sayce Anc. Empires East 204 The syncretic spirit of Phœnician art.

1syncretism, n.

Etymology: < modern Latin syncrētismus (D. Pareus, 1615), < Greek συγκρητισμός , < συγκρητίζειν to syncretize v. Compare French syncrétisme, ‘the ioyning, or agreement, of two enemies against a third person’ (Cotgrave).

1. Attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy or religion; spec. the system or principles of a school founded in the 17th century by George Calixtus, who aimed at harmonizing the sects of Protestants and ultimately all Christian bodies: see Calixtin n. 2 (Almost always in derogatory sense.)

1778 E. Apthorp Lett. Prevalence Christianity 162 This divine light..was..obscured by the prevailing syncretism of true and false religion.

1852 W. Hamilton Discuss. Philos. & Lit. 409 Their particular dissensions were merged in a general syncretism to resist the novelty equally obnoxious to all.

1853 Fraser's Mag. 47 294 Syncretism, under every possible form—ethical, political, social, and theological, was the favourite policy of the Roman emperors. They would have all the varieties of mankind called in and restamped at the Cæsarean mint.

That said, the OED entry is noted:

This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1919; most recently modified version published online June 2018).

And there have been since the mid-20th century, ecumenical movements towards closer understanding (albeit short of fusion - syncretism.)

However, the basic meaning and use is still with some deprecatory effect.

Edit to add:

syncretistic, adj.

Belonging to, or having the character of, a syncretist or syncretists; relating to, or characterized by, syncretism. Also = syncretic adj.

1828 E. B. Pusey Hist. Enq. Rationalist Char. I. i. 57 The signal for the Syncretistic controversy given by Buscher in his work against Calixtus.

1926 M. Warden tr. J. Piaget Lang. & Thought of Child iv. 132 To this childish form of perception M. Claparède has given the name of syncretistic perceptions, using the name chosen by Renan to denote that first ‘wide and comprehensive but obscure and inaccurate’ activity of the spirit where ‘no distinction is made and things are heaped one upon the other’.

1976 S. Arieti Creativity ix. 195 The artist or viewer has a syncretistic grasp of the total object. He abandons precise visualization and experiences an unclear vision of the whole.


syncreˈtistical adj.

1764 A. Maclaine tr. J. L. von Mosheim Eccl. Hist. Cent. xvii. ii. i. §21 (margin) The rise of the Syncretistical or Calixtine controversies.

  • Good, that helps, I don't have access to the OED. Does the OED mention syncretistic at all?
    – fev
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 18:24
  • 1
    @fev It does. The issue is that syncretistic is also negative, certainly in examples like this: 1976 S. Arieti Creativity ix. 195 The artist or viewer has a syncretistic grasp of the total object. He abandons precise visualization and experiences an unclear vision of the whole. Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 18:26
  • @TaliesinMerlin Your quoted example helps me see how the term is used in a non-religious context. Appreciate your contribution.
    – fev
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 18:28
  • @fev Yes, I should have included it - I have done now + syncretical.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 18:35
  • If the 'also' isn't part of the quote, there needs to be a definition of 'syncretistical' to compare. // The words seem largely synonymous; OED doesn't examine the shades of meaning in the article 'Is There A Difference Between “Syncretic” and “Syncretistic”?: A Suggestion' mentioned above. I'm glad to see. Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 18:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.