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Symbolism vs. Symbology: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities; symbology is the study or use of symbols.

Key Differences

Symbolism involves the use of symbols, objects, or actions to convey complex ideas or emotions, while symbology is the study or interpretation of these symbols.
In literature, symbolism is used to imbue narrative elements with meaning that is different from their literal sense, whereas symbology would involve analyzing these symbols to understand their significance and origins.
Symbolism is a device in art and literature for representing a complex idea symbolically, while symbology can be seen as a field of study that encompasses cultural, historical, and philosophical perspectives on symbols.
The application of symbolism is widespread, from religious iconography to political emblems, serving to communicate deeper levels of meaning, while symbology could involve the classification and decoding of such symbols across different contexts.
Symbolism is a key component in the creation of allegories and metaphors, enriching the interpretive depth of a work, whereas symbology might be used to dissect and explain these metaphoric uses across various works or cultures.

Comparison Chart


Use of symbols to imply meanings
Study or use of symbolic systems


Artistic and literary device
Academic and analytical discipline


To convey complex ideas
To understand and interpret symbols


Specific to context
Broad and comparative


Creative and interpretive
Descriptive and classificatory

Symbolism and Symbology Definitions


Employed to convey hidden meanings through symbolic figures or actions.
Symbolism in her artwork added layers of meaning to the simple scenes.


A system of symbols and their meanings.
The book on symbology explained the significance of national flags.


A system of symbols used artistically or creatively.
In his novel, the author’s symbolism connected characters to seasons.


The classification of symbolic representations.
Symbology categorizes the cross as a symbol common in many religions.


The use of symbols to express or represent ideas or qualities.
The dove is used for symbolism of peace in many cultures.


The study or interpretation of symbols.
His expertise in symbology helped decipher the ancient script.


A figurative representation that transcends literal interpretation.
The symbolism of the journey in the story represented life itself.


The analysis of the use of symbols in various contexts.
She studied the symbology of political movements to understand their ideologies.


A technique for imbuing ordinary objects with symbolic meaning.
The symbolism of light and dark was prevalent throughout the film.


An academic field focused on the significance of symbols.
The conference on symbology discussed the evolution of corporate logos.


The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.


The study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.


A system of symbols or representations.


How is symbolism used in literature?

In literature, symbolism is used to imbue characters, objects, or events with meanings that extend beyond their literal sense.

What does a symbologist do?

A symbologist studies symbols, their meanings, origins, and how they are used in different cultures.

Can symbolism and symbology be used interchangeably?

No, they refer to different concepts: one is the use of symbols, and the other is the study of symbols.

What is symbology?

Symbology is the study or use of symbols and the analysis of their meaning in various contexts.

Can symbology have practical applications?

Yes, symbology can be applied in fields like semiotics, brand marketing, and interpreting cultural symbols.

Is symbolism only found in the arts?

No, symbolism can be found in everyday life, religion, and cultural practices.

Why is symbolism important in art?

Symbolism in art allows artists to convey complex messages and emotions indirectly and powerfully.

Is symbolism always intentional?

Symbolism can be both intentional and unintentional, depending on the creator's conscious use of symbols.

Can anyone study symbology?

Yes, anyone with an interest in the meaning and significance of symbols can study symbology.

What is symbolism?

Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal sense.

Does symbology relate to any specific symbols?

Symbology can relate to any symbols, from ancient runes to modern logos.

Can the meaning of symbols in symbolism change over time?

Yes, the meanings of symbols can evolve with cultural shifts and contexts.

How does one become proficient in symbology?

Proficiency in symbology typically comes from academic study in fields such as anthropology, semiotics, or art history.

How is symbolism conveyed in film?

In film, symbolism is conveyed through visuals, dialogue, and thematic elements that signify deeper meanings.

Are symbols in symbolism universal?

Some symbols have universal meanings, but many are culturally specific.

Is there a limit to what can be a symbol in symbolism?

There is no limit; virtually anything can be used symbolically if it conveys a meaning beyond its literal existence.

Are there any famous works of symbolism?

Yes, many works by artists and writers like Salvador Dalí and Edgar Allan Poe are famous for their use of symbolism.

Is symbolism subjective?

Yes, the interpretation of symbolism can be highly subjective and personal.

Can symbology help in understanding historical contexts?

Yes, symbology is often used to understand the beliefs and cultures of historical societies.

Can the study of symbology aid in decoding religious texts?

Yes, symbology can be instrumental in interpreting the symbolic language used in religious texts.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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