WHP Lesson 18: More on Portable Belief Systems

In today’s video, we’ll consider the idea of syncretism. Syncretism is the process by which belief systems meld with each other and change to suit new places, people, and traditions. 

Driving Question: Can we compare and contrast belief systems, and what would we learn if we did?

  • Talking about belief systems in history can be difficult, because we’re trying to study the ways people thought as historical trends, not as faiths people have. For historians, the focus is mostly on trying to understand how changing belief systems reflect, and cause, transformations in the way people behaved, built connections, and related to each other. So when you learn about and compare different belief systems, do so carefully. Try to listen to and learn from each one, and think about why each one made sense (and makes sense) to its community!

Word of the Day: Syncretism

  • Definition: The merging of different worldviews, religions, and belief systems.
  • One of the reasons that belief systems often share some ideas or elements is that their practitioners have met and exchanged ideas. In doing this, the religions sometimes merge and mix, and the practitioners of each belief system adopt ideas that make sense from other religions. 


  • Read: “Syncretism” on Khan Academy 
  • As you read, think about similarities and differences between religions, and how some of those similarities might be due to syncretism. And, if you’re up for a challenge, read about some of the other religions, perhaps one of the ones you haven't heard of before! You can compare it to one you already know a little about. 

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • Question: How have non-political leaders responded to COVID-19? The leaders may be entertainers, influencers, religious leaders, non-elected community leaders, non-elected government officials, or maybe someone you look up to.
  • In the diverse world in which we live, people have varying belief systems, and this permeates everything we do, not just religion. Create a comparison chart and pick three or four leaders and show how they have responded similarly or differently to COVID-19.