Digressions on Polytropy: An Exploration of Religious Eclecticism in Eurasia
The anthropologist Michael Carrithers introduced the notion of polytropy in the field of the study of religion, proposing that this notion (deriving from the Greek poly, ‘many’, and tropos, ‘turning’) may account for the eclecticism and fluidity of South Asian religious life. The exploration effectuated in the article suggests that the notion of polytropy could offer a promising tool for capturing some important features of religiosity in other Asiatic contexts, too, as well as in the Mediterranean. Polytropic trends appear in different religious contexts, from the fuzzy Chinese situation, where religious affiliations are very limited in their scope and relevance, to the South Asian contexts, in which religious orientations coalesce around the multivocal concept of dharma, to the tightly structured Abrahamic religions in the Mediterranean with their strong confessionalism. Polytropy is associated with a practical mode of religiosity and is linked to a particular conception of believing in which the believer tends to multiply the transactions with different supra-mundane partners. This orientation is distinct from religious styles that are based on a discursive and scriptural approach and/or on the cultivation of oneself, which often display a tendency towards unity, coherence and continuity. This permits identifying an opposite pole with respect to polytropy, which I define as monotropy.