Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 4, 2013

A Correction on Prof. Magliocco’s Comments

The other day, I posted about Prof. Magliocco’s comments on the rise of pagan fundamentalism, as this was a topic posted about recently on The Wild Hunt. I’m very happy with the conversation that was generated here in the comments on my post, so thanks everyone for chiming in there!

Since that time, Prof. Magliocco has posted some corrections and clarifications of her viewpoints, which she did not feel Patrick Wolff correctly or accurately portrayed in his post on The Wild Hunt. Among her further statements are these:

I think there may have been an unintentional misrepresentation of what I actually said. My argument was that constructing a shared identity around belief is problematic, because belief is based on experience. If the gods choose to reveal themselves differently to different people, and if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be, then shared identity needs to be based on something other than belief.

Let me also clarify that belief in and of itself is not “fundamentalist” ( a word I adopted polemically and with some reservations). It is the insistence that only one sort of belief is correct, and the demonization of those who disagree or whose experience is different, that can lead to a dogmatic rigidity that we might want to avoid.


Belief on its own can’t be fundamentalist, unless that belief is something like “Anyone who doesn’t believe like us is evil and trying to destroy us.” It’s *attitudes* around belief that can become rigid and dogmatic. To be very clear, my talk NEVER labeled particular historical or theological beliefs as “fundamentalist.”

So, there you have it. And–thank all the gods!–there is no indication in Prof. Magliocco’s clarified remarks of the easy assumption (which has been too common in a lot of pagan contexts in the aftermath of recent discussions) of assuming that “any belief = fundamentalism.”

I apologize for being too quick to assume the worst in my earlier post, along the lines of what I’ve been hearing for the past few weeks (including the accusation that I’m a “Nazi fundamentalist”)…it’s not uncommon for those who have been repeatedly hurt in certain ways to become hyper-vigilant, even when it is not necessary to be so.

Again, thank you everyone for commenting here–as always!–and for keeping the discussion at the present blog pretty respectful and non-abusive.


And, while I’m thinking of it: there’s another issue that I’ve heard come up around some of the fundamentalist accusations over the past few weeks, which could use some more nuance. While I can’t remember everywhere that I’ve seen this, nor who said it, I’ve heard it stated that syncretism and syncretists can’t be fundamentalists. Some have said this in my direction to indicate that they’d never consider me a fundamentalist since I am such an avowed, avid, and advocate of the syncretist theological position. I appreciate the effort of clearing me of such charges! 😉

But, I’d like to argue, conversely, that syncretists CAN be fundamentalists, and I’ve seen it happen on many occasions. I think this is a failure of what syncretism is, or could be under the best of circumstances, but it does occur. Let me give you a few examples.

There are many people who say that Thoth, Mercury, and Hermes are “the same,” and that’s the end of the story, because they’re all gods associated with words and magic. Rather than syncretism being used in a translational sense, it’s being used in an equative sense, and an absolutist one at that. One can never convince people of this viewpoint that there is actually a difference between these individual deities, despite their varying cultures, manifestations, characteristics, and associations–and, no matter how many of them are shared, there are still differences.

Rather than understanding the implied “is” in all statements of theological syncretism as metaphorical rather than literal–“Zeus-Ammon” thus being “Zeus is Ammon,” meaning that “Zeus is similar to Ammon” instead of “Zeus and Ammon are one being”–is taking syncretism literally, and thus it is a fundamentalist approach to the phenomenon. (And let’s ignore the cultic and theological reality for the moment that Zeus-Ammon was a specific cultic manifestation of syncretism, but that Zeus and Ammon individually were still worshipped and acknowledged as different elsewhere, and they only merged or were subsumed in one another at very particular sites and contexts…)

Those who push syncretism to reinforce a monistic viewpoint are often far more fundamentalist in their approach, with all the implications of being unwavering and utterly closed off and derisive of any other viewpoints going along with that term. I have encountered them before, and I suspect I will again.

So, in any case, just some further food for thought on these matters.


  1. I’m quite willing to let the issue drop, but I would just note that when Prof. Magliocco premises that if belief is changeable and emergent, as belief scholarship shows it to be […], this is only valid if one accepts that anthropology is the discipline that determines what is and how it is, in accord with a strong latent premise affirming the basic flux-nature of being. In this fashion, there is still an ontology being presented here, and so we are not free of the difficult and divisive business of speaking to what there is. One can say that “belief” here simply means the anthropological category of belief as part of religious studies, but one can’t then make the leap to some sort of ethico-ontological determination that one oughtn’t hold “rigid beliefs” about things.

    • Thank you for that–it’s an important point.

      (I don’t know if you saw the edit I just made to the post above on syncretism as well…just as an FYI.)

    • Thank you, I also keyed in on that particular remark by Prof. Magliocco.

  2. I assumed the fault laid with the reporter and not Magliocco. Maybe I am just too cynical or hyper-vigilant concerning the press, but this piece reminded me of those short summaries on recent scientific studies one finds in the newspapers, in which the results are usually portrayed in a completely different light than the researcher had imagined.

    Being familiar with Magliocco’s work, it just didn’t sound like her at all.
    I am please that she has rectified the situation.

  3. I can allow for headology’s comment uptopic, but I’m with Soliwo in that the presented argument you originally noted didn’t sound like Magliocco at all, from what I had seen of her.

  4. I don’t know, even with her clarifications it seems a bit off to me. There always seems to be a hint of “for the sake of the community” and everything for all mentality, and while I of course would never turn away someone with an interest in attending a ritual with me I may be honestly perplexed about why someone would attend if they have zero interest in said god or the religion and are coming more out of a sense of community support. It also seems like this can too easily lead into condemning situations in which people with like beliefs tend to flock together as it were, not being exclusionary by practice but where one *might* feeling excluded because they don’t fit in. Or that people should be willing to change their beliefs to be more inclusive of other ideas. Truth be told I have more often faced commentary given to me of how I should be more flexible for non-traditional interpretations of the gods, or even more so that all gods are one god type of thing which also lends to the idea of going to each others invents for community support because regardless of what ritual it is or what god it is for that we should acknowledge that all gods are really one god…and thus to disagree opens a doorway to being called a fundamentalist. I am not say that these are things that she thinks or is endorsing but these are problematic things I can see from that position.

    As for syncretism, I have two different kinds of syncretism that I use and because I have different views of these I give them different names. One is what I call revelation or applied syncretism in which we may develop a syncretic view of gods based on a couple of general commonalities which help us in understanding said god better or getting more focus on a particular function of a god in his or her domain. I see that is rather like how you were talking of Zeus-Ammon, Zeus is not literally Ammon, and in fact myths which claim the gods fled to Egypt except Zeus from that list as he stayed to fight Typhon. Likewise in Kyrene Apollon was identified with Ammon. In such instance I would say that the Libyan Ammon is being tapped into to address specific functions of these gods. This may be true too with Hermanubis and syncretism between Hermes and Thoth as both of these different syncretisms are based on a very specific part of Hermes functions. These would be cases where multiple deities in another pantheon are viewed as being syncretic to one god. The second is what I consider descendant syncretism in which syncretism can be made in cases where a god is believed to have originated elsewhere and is thus addressed *as* said god. This happens a lot even within the mythos of one culture such as in the case where Samothrakian Demeter is considered Rhea. But it is also rather apparent in cross cultural syncretism especially within a related cultural family group.

    urgh and now since I have take up way too much space on your blog I will end my reply there hehe.

  5. But, in the first place, Magliocco has yet to “clarify” who these “fundamentalists” are. This leaves her in the position of making sweeping and vague insinuations, which her “clarifications” have only made more vague and only slightly less sweeping.

    Moreover, she has also publicly attacked those who criticized her talk, or, more precisely, who criticized what they thought of her talk based on the only information they had. And that really doesn’t add up. If she didn’t say, and doesn’t believe, what people were criticizing her for, then its all just a case of mistaken attribution. But Magliocco clearly thinks that something more is going on, and that she is the victim of a campaign to malign her. But in her “clarifications” she appears to concede that if she had said what was attributed to her, then the criticisms would have had some validity. What gives?

    • Yes, very good points…

      I don’t think we’ll know until she actually published a copy of her talk for certain–and, even then, who knows how much of it will have been edited or revised based on the subsequent discussions…?

      As Prof. Magliocco is an anthropologist, I think more specific examples, and careful usages of language that acknowledge insider/outsider definitions of certain terms, would have been much more useful.

  6. […] response to Prof. Sabina Magliocco’s keynote presentation on this recently. I also posted a clarification on certain points that Prof. Magliocco did in the comments from the original post at The Wild Hunt on her […]

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