Mircea Eliade's Methods in the Study of History of Religions
by Octavian Sarbatoare (BA USyd)
The Romanian-born author and scholar of religious studies Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) is credited with a substantial contribution to the advancement of the study of history of religions. As Eric J. Sharpe puts it, Eliade 'ranges far and wide over the world of religion.'1 It is our attempt in this paper, to analyse Eliade's methods in the study of history of religions by looking into the relevant textual material found in Eliade's works as well as uncovering some of their critique.
Although there are numerous contributions written about Eliade's hermeneutics, we intend to add more data to the subject by pointing out to other ideas, which suggest an influence upon Eliade's hermeneutics, particularly in relation to his Romanian spiritual roots we share in common. We briefly argue that Eliade's hermeneutics has been decisively influenced by the spiritual milieux of his native Romania, and that his history of religions evolved as scholarly construct of the empirical experience of the sacred he encountered first in his country of birth. Worth mentioning is that Eliade's major works were initially written in Romanian language, that was for him a way of being connected to his origins, a theme prevalent in his hermeneutics (vid. inf.). For the start in our paper, we attempt to analyse Eliade's methods in the study of history of religions by engaging with his major ideas, followed by the exposition of some Romanian influences, then the critique of Eliade's legacy (further down the track in our work).
By comparative methods Eliade attempts to separate elemental and timeless patterns of religious life, in order to arrive at what is constant and beyond the transitory aspects of time. For Eliade, religion is basically the experience of the sacred related to the ideas of "being", "meaning" and "truth" (French: d'être, de signification et de vérité; Romanian: a fi, semnificaţie/ înţeles şi realitate/ adevăr).2 Part of our argument is developed based on these three lines. According to Eliade, the importance of the sacred experience is paramount. The sacred as 'a universal dimension'3 plays a significant role in the history of humanity because 'the beginnings of culture are rooted in religious experiences and beliefs'.4 One idea in Eliade's view of meaning of religion is in relation to "being" (d'être), as notion of existence and key ontological element of his hermeneutics.
The basic archetypes are, according to Eliade, the meaning and value of existence for traditional humanity. Indicative of archetypes and repetition in the history of religions is Eliade's work Le mythe de l'éternal retour: Archétypes et répétition5 in which the idea of patterns of religious experience is prevalent. For Eliade, the evidence for the 'morphology of the sacred' is provided by archaic cultures. For the archaic man, reality is a function of imitating a celestial archetype (archétype céleste).6 Reality is accessed by participation into the 'symbolism of the Centre' (symbolisme du Centre7), in which constructions like temples become real for being assimilated into the 'Centre of the World' (Centre du Monde).8 The profane transmutes into sacred by imitating the ab origine actions of gods, heroes or ancestors.9 As Eliade puts it, 'the sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from "natural" realities.'10 In Eliade's view, the basic 'definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite of the profane,'11 its act of manifestation being designated by the term hierophany.12 Such hierophanies play a crucial role in the history of religions. Eliade writes that:
the history of religions – from the most primitive to the most highly developed – is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany – e.g., manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree – to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of G
od in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity. In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act – the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural "profane" world. 13
Thus, according to Eliade, there are two modes of being in the world: the sacred and the profane (German: das Heilige und das Profane French: le sacré et le profane).14 While the profane is just the negation of the sacred, it is the sacred in its qualitative aspects that are regarded to be of paramount importance. First, according to Eliade, a sacred space (l'espace sacré) has to be defined in relation to the making the world sacred. The sacred space is part of 'the only real'15 that can bring 'revelation of the absolute reality.'16 Then, there is the sacred time (le temps sacré) that is reversible for being 'a primordial mythical time made present.'17 The nature plays a key role because 'sacrality is revealed through the very structure of the world'18 (French: la sacralité se révèle à travers les structures même du Monde19). Finally, the aim of the religious experience is to live a sanctified life (vie sanctifiée) 'on a twofold plane; it takes its course as human existence and, at the same time, shares in a transhuman life, that of the cosmos or the gods.'20 Thus, living the experience of the sacred goes beyond the ordinary perception of life. The entire planet Earth is regarded as terra genetrix, the divine anthropocosmic being, who is the creator and nurturer of great proportions.21 But, whoever is engaged in the religious quest, and wants to go beyond the ordinary perception of life, has to learn the means by which the sacred manifests. Thus, we have the second aspect of religion, which according to Eliade is linked to the idea of "meaning".
In order to construct the sense of the "meaning" (signification) as relevant to the religious experience, Eliade starts from the time of Palaeolithic hunters after the Ice Age, about 8000 BCE, that was a time, he believes, when a religious symbolism emerged as a consequence of a radical change of the climate and landscape.22 According to Eliade, that was the time when archaic religious ideas developed in relation to the mythology of origins like 'origin of the world, of game, of man, of death23 – that is typical of hunting civilisations.'24 With the transition from hunting and gathering type of civilisation to the one based on cultivation of cereals (thus the practice of agriculture, and domestication of animals),25 Eliade continues, the religious symbolism26 became enriched by new magico-religious meanings; the alimentary theologies as new religious myths generated new kinds of behaviour.
For instance, Eliade assumes that the pre-Neolithic people believed that 'edible tubers and fruits (coconut, banana, etc.) were born from an immolated divinity.'27 Expounding further, Eliade describes 'that all responsible activities (puberty ceremonies, animal or human sacrifices, cannibalism, funeral ceremonies, etc.) properly speaking constitute a recalling, a "remembrance," of the primordial murder.'28 'This primordial murder radically changed the human condition, for it introduced sexuality and death29 and first established the religious and social institutions that are still in force.'30 A significant feature of the religious life became 'the mystical solidarity between man and vegetation,'31 but 'religious creativity was stimulated, not by the empirical phenomenon of agriculture, but by the mystery of birth, death, and rebirth identified in the rhythm of vegetation.32 Thus:
The agrarian cultures develop what might be called a cosmic religion, since religious activity is concentrated around the central mystery: the periodical renewal of the world. Like human existence, the cosmic rhythms are expressed in terms drawn from vegetable life. The mystery of cosmic sacrality is symbolised in the World Tree. The universe is conceived as an organism that must be renewed periodically – in other words, each year'.33
Furthermore, Eliade asserts that the human can access the "absolute reality" thus:
"Absolute reality," rejuvenation, immortality are accessible to certain privileged persons through the power residing in a certain fruit or in a spring near a tree. The Cosmic Tree is held to be at the centre of the world, and it unites the three cosmic regions, for it sends roots down into the underworld, and its top touches the sky.34
Full of hermeneutical ideas of the sacred is Eliade's work Patterns in Comparative Religions, perhaps the most complete scholarly construct concerning the structure and morphology of the sacred in Eliade's view.
Here we have the significant ideas of the emergence of the sacred as experience within human communities, and the gradual conscious progression from the profane to the sacred. The hierophanies of multiple aspects emerged in so-called "primitive" religion35 in which the sky and sky gods play an important role for the sacred religious experience. Eliade writes about the sky symbolism thus:
The sacred as manifested by the sky lives on in men's religious experience, after the actual sky god has faded into the background, in the symbolism of "height", "ascension", "centre", and so on.36
Furthermore, Eliade asserts, the mountains as the nearest thing to the sky are endowed with holiness, sharing in the spatial symbolism of transcendence as places of the dwelling of the gods.37 There are, according to Eliade, hierophanies of the Sun in which a "solarisation" of Supreme Beings occurred.38 There is a mystique of the Moon in a symbolism related to waters, vegetation, fertility, and initiation as cosmo-biology and mystical physiology.39 The water symbolism is related to the links between the earth, woman and fertility.40 The vegetation plays a central role for the rites and symbols of regeneration,41 which is regarded as sacred time and part of an eternal renewal. Eliade writes that:
what we may call the "history" of primitive societies consists solely of the mythical events, which took place in illo tempore and have been unceasingly repeated from that day to this.42
In such terms, Eliade takes up the issue of phenomenological structure and historical contingency and poses a solution. Thus, in his hostility to history Eliade asserts that the truly "historic" events are those that present importance as having mythico-historic precedent, for the various symbolic forms related to the sacred are not products of historical circumstances, although they might influence them, but major factors in religious life.43 As Eliade argues, the renewal of the world by repetition of the cosmogony is part of the structure of the myths (la structure des myths). The rites of renewal (rites de renouvellement) aim at a renaissance mystique of the world.44 Such rites, Eliade argues, are to be found among the Australians and a number of North American tribes.45 In Eliade's view, the religious symbolism as a vast hermeneutical theme, he supports by examples, particularly by looking for meanings of various customs of people of today who still belong culturally to archaic cultures. Thus Eliade relies decisively on valorisation of the archaic.
One example is the symbolic meaning of burials among the Kogi Indians, a tribe of natives in Colombia. Eliade writes that:
the Kogi identify the world – womb of the Universal Mother – with each village, each cult house, each habitation, and each grave. When the shaman lifts the corpse nine times, he indicated the return of the body to the foetal state by going through the nine months of gestation in reverse order. And since the grave is assimilated to the world, the funerary offerings acquire a cosmic meaning.46
As a conclusion to the link of religion to the interpretation of "meaning" it can be said that by understanding the symbol a religious person can attain to the highest spirituality, thus living the universal. The sacred as "meaning" (signification) is thus paramount for the understanding of the "truth" as experience of the sacred.
Thus, we have the third aspect of religion according to Eliade as being linked to the idea of "truth" (vérité) in which the homo religiosus has to rest upon. Among all symbols and mysteries the homo religiosus has to find their meaning because 'becoming aware of his own mode of being and assuming his presence in the world together constitute a "religious" experience.'47 The homo religiosus, as model of the human motivated by an irreducible religious intentionality, has to rest upon the idea of the existence of a final truth. Eliade writes:
The homo religiosus represents the "total man"; hence, the science of religions must become a total discipline in the sense that it must use, integrate, and articulate the results obtained by the various methods of approaching a religious phenomenon.48
By practices and behaviour, the religious man attempts to remain as long as possible in a sacred universe thus having a different experience of life 'in comparison with the experience of the man without religious feelings, of the man who lives, or wishes to live, in a desacralized world.'49 For the religious man, in his mode of living the experience of the sacred, consecrates own life to 'the sacrality with which man's vital functions (food, sex, work and so on) can be charged.'50 For example, once being a participant to a festival as sacred time event, the religious man:
experiences intervals of time that are "sacred," that have no part in the temporal duration that precedes and follows them, that have a wholly different structure and origin, for they are of a primordial time, sanctified by the gods and capable of being made present by the festival.'51
Thus for the homo religiosus the liturgical time has a transhuman quality.52 The nature entirely 'is always fraught with a religious value.'53 for structures of the sacrality of nature represent cosmic hierophanies.54 But, there is more to the existential situation of the homo religiosus, as Eliade writes:
All his behaviour, his understanding of the world, the values he accords to life and to his own existence, arise and become articulated in a "system" on the basis of this belief that his house or his village is situated near the axis mundi.'55
Eliade asserts, in the case of such beliefs, that 'demystification does not serve hermeneutics,'56 as he calls for 'a creative hermeneutics in the perspective of the history of religions.'57 For in the last instance, Eliade's journey into the history of religions is about self-discovery and self-understanding, according to Taylor.58
Olson sees Eliade's creative hermeneutics as an anthropological view upon the history of religions that leads to a change in human beings, and a source for new cultural values.59 It appears to be a farsighted concept, for it has a vision for humanity, although so far there are no signs of happening. For Eliade, the modern societies, the virtual destruction of the sense of the sacred, the attenuation of rituals and the relegation of myth to the subconscious amounts to a new Fall,60 a vision looking almost prophetic that has generated scholarly debates (vid. inf.). As Eliade puts it, this phenomenon of a desacralized world is quite new, for 'the completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit.'61 By changes in 'spiritual attitudes and behaviour modern man has desacralized his world and assumed a profane existence.'62 As Eliade writes,:
it is enough to observe that desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and that, in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.63
But, 'the nostalgia for a lost mystical solidarity with nature still haunts Western man'.64 Eliade regards life as mythological in structure, thus his new humanism is spiritual in nature. As David Cave, one of the defenders of Eliade, puts it, Eliade's new humanism has 'a spiritual, humanistic orientation toward totality capable of modifying the quality of human existence itself,'65 for his transhistorical humanism aims at 'escaping profane time, the time of decay and of dualism, and of entering into sacred time.'66 Furthermore Cave argues, 'for Eliade, the principal way in which the profane time acquires meaning as sacred time is when it repeats a cosmogony.'67 that is the reliving of a primordial creative moment. We now attempt to unveil some ideas in relation to Eliade's Romanian spiritual roots, i.e. the Romanian folklore and popular culture, which are regarded as sources of inspiration for his scholarly construct of the history of religions.
A comparative study on Zalmoxis, an ancient god prevalent in the areas of historical Dacia (about the present day Romania), is subject to Eliade's work Zalmoxis the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe.68 Mac Linscott Ricketts, one of the scholars of history of religions who has learned Romanian language and travelled to Romania in order to create a biography of Mircea Eliade, makes a good assessment of Eliade's influence from symbols found in Romanian folklore. The legend of Meşterul Manole (Master Manole) is relevant as an archaic myth of creation through sacrifice.69 The ritualistic use of certain healing plants like mandrake (Romanian: mandragora) for example, is indicative of the power of the gods manifested as essence of a plant. The cult of the mandragora is described as prevalent in Romania70 as part of the practices of so-called Romanian "Shamanism".71 Thus, such concrete elements provided the row material for the construct of a theory on the history of religions in which symbolism appears to play a key role. The formative years of Eliade as the future scholar in the study of history of religions were marked by Romanian folklore inspiration. For the construct of his hermeneutics Eliade used the examples of certain remnant practices of archaic societies still found in Romania today, in a 'very old rural civilization, with its roots in the Neolithic but enriched by later cultural influences.'72 Thus Eliade's cultural roots in native Romania proved to be primary material which inspired him to create a composite scholarly interpretation of the experience of the sacred in relation to the understanding of the religious phenomena. Although Eliade admits that the Indian spirituality helped him 'to understand the structures of Romanian culture,'73 it did not add anything substantial to the basic ideas about the history of religions Eliade formed already while being in Romania. Eliade writes:
The common elements of Indian, Balkan, and Mediterranean folk culture proved to me that it is here that organic universalism exists, that it is the result of a common history (the history of peasant cultures) and not an abstract construct.74
Thus, the major point Eliade wants to make in relation to an organic universalism is that 'the Romanian folk creations were articulated in a much broader perspective'75 pertaining to universalism as vision for history of religions. Basically, Eliade's famous theme of the 'mythe de l'éternal retour' (Romanian: mitul eternei întoarceri) applies not only to the ideas of human societies re-enacting the sacred in one form or another, but also at personal level for an individual. This is precisely what Eliade wants to communicate: societies and individuals again and again re-enact a theme born or acquired at the time and place of their origin.76 For 'la nostalgie des origines' (Romanian: nostalgia originilor) is seen by Eliade as one of the universals for both communities and individuals.
Although Eliade's scholarly construct of hermeneutics was influenced by other authors of similar approaches (particularly the phenomenological) to the study of history of religions, his personal experience of the sacred acquired from his native spiritual roots, from what he calls Romanian folk spirituality (Romanian: spiritualitatea populară românească), played a major role. Eliade asserts for example that his 'efforts to understand the structures of archaic and Oriental thought contributed more genuinely to the decipherment of the values of Romanian folk spirituality' than other sociological interpretations.77 Other authors who studied the Romanian folklore and popular culture show indeed elements that are recognised in Eliade's hermeneutics. There is for instance in Ana Cartianu's Romanian Folk Tales work, there is a tale called "Youth Everlasting and Life without End" (Romanian: Tinereţe fără bătrâneţe şi viaţă fără de moarte).78 Here the hero of Romanian folk tales known as Făt-Frumos, who had a miraculous birth by the use of special herbs by his mother, is endowed with magical powers. Făt-Frumos starts a journey in search for a place where there is everlasting youth, thus immortality, a kind of Shambhala (the mythical kingdom of happiness and immortality), which he discovers eventually. In the Tinereţe fără bătrâneţe şi viaţă fără de moarte tale we identify the use of magical herbs and the quest for immortality, as ideas that Eliade integrated into his hermeneutics (vid. sup.). Another example we find relevant to our inquiry is in the scholarly research done by Gail Kligman in Romania, and made available to the public in her book The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania. Kligman discovered in Romania the strange idea of the wedding of the dead (Romanian: Nunta mortului) in which the funerals of an unmarried young person are mixed with marriage ceremonies. The deceased bride or groom, who are dressed in wedding attire,79 are married to a divine being as ideal marriage.80 The divine is symbolically represented by a virgin bride for a dead young man, or by a crown for a deceased girl.81 As Kligman writes, the symbolic marriage ceremony, 'the death-wedding becomes a cosmic marriage.'82 Such elements were later integrated by Eliade in his notion of hierogamy, the sacred marriage, which is basically a form of heaven-earth interaction and union. As Eliade asserts, the findings from the study of comparative folklore and ethnology in Romania were of historico-religious values and much relevant to his hermeneutics.83 We give one more example from the Romanian folk tradition we find relevant for the peasant culture, in which we have personal experience.
There is for instance a folk custom known as paparuda (Pl. paparudele) that hardly could be translated as word, but described as practice only. It is a ritualistic dance performed by one or more virgin girls during a time of drought. Many people assembly at such a ceremony in which chanting is performed to propitiate the coming of rain to save the crop that is in danger of being destroyed. During the chanting, the virgin girl (Romanian: fata virgină) is thoroughly washed with buckets of water as ritualistic mode of sacrifice to the Divine. In other words by the connection between a virgin girl and water, those performing paparuda custom are offering the purity that comes with the involvement of a virgin girl in exchange for water as rain they are asking the Divine to send. This is a relevant example of a surviving archaic custom denoting the practice of the sacred in the Romanian culture that we find to be in tune with Eliade's hermeneutics of the history of religions. On the other hand, Eliade's hermeneutics of history of religions has generated both founded and unfounded criticism.
As far as the modern interpretations of myth are concerned, Eliade places himself within the group of scholars from Max Müller to Claude Lévi-Strauss who advanced the history on the subject.84 Like the case of any other scholar in the study of religion, Eliade's ideas on the history of religions have been criticised from various view angles. Cunningham gives credit of inspiration to Carl Jung (1875-1961) and Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) for Eliade's hermeneutics85 although not taking into account Eliade's spiritual roots and background (vid. sup.). But Eliade did not intend to construct an entirely new vision on the history of religions, but to build upon other similar ideas, thus enlarging the picture. Eliade admits that 'Otto's analyses have not lost their value,'86 but he (Eliade) adopts a different perspective,87 when he writes:
We propose to present the phenomenon of the sacred in all its complexity, and not only in so far as it is irrational. What will concern us is not the relation between the rational and the nonrational elements of religion but the sacred in its entirety.88
Carl Jung appears to be of inspiration to Eliade. In relation to Eliade's views to express human realities and spiritual values in a cultural language and his originality of ideas, Eric J. Sharpe writes:
Perhaps it would not be too far-fetched to suggest that Jung gave Eliade at least part of the grammar of that language; the comparative study of religion provides the vocabulary; the syntax, however, is Eliade's own.89
On the other hand, Eliade's understanding of hermeneutics has 'been criticised for its antihistorical bias and eclectic use of data drawn from the religions of non-literate peoples,'90 but the evidence of Eliade's hermeneutical enquiry is that it leads from the data of history to the search for their trans-historical meaning and value.91 The trans-cultural validity of hermeneutics of history of religions is part of an ongoing debate.92 Later criticism, after Eliade's death, became more virulent, and connected to the alleged involvement of Eliade into anti-Semitism and the nationalistic movements in Romania before the Second World War, although 'no genuinely damning evidence has been forthcoming.'93 In a rush to denigrate Eliadean legacy, the recent most relevant case of unfounded criticism of Eliade is that of McCutcheon's. As we shall see, McCutcheon's virulent criticism for rejecting Eliade's hermeneutics is mistaken.
In his Chap. 9 "Methods, theories, and the terror of history: Closing the Eliadean era with dignity", McCutcheon considers the "Eliade affair" 'similar to other cases of notable European intellectuals of the inter-war generation whose youthful, political past emerged long after they had established themselves as influential figures in their respective scholarly fields.'94 Furthermore, McCutcheon associates Eliade with the literary critic Paul de Man and the philosopher Martin Heidegger, two scholars suspected of anti-Semitic remarks and association with Nazism.95 Basing himself on the criticism of Eliade by Adriana Berger,96 whose allegations against Eliade were never proven, McCutcheon's assertion of Eliade being a card-carrying Romanian fascist is also unfounded.97 But, McCutcheon's attempt to assess Eliade's scholarly contribution is also a failure. It is utterly nonsense to describe 'Eliade's life and works as political,'98 and his scholarship having a 'politics embedded within it.'99 Labelling Eliade's terminology of his hermeneutics as 'troublesome categories and abstractions,'100 McCutcheon criticises other relevant scholars of religious studies who found meaning in Eliade's works. In McCutcheon views, Cave's sympathetic exegesis of Eliade is 'routine talk',101 Rennie is an apologist of Eliade's concoction of subjectivity,102 while Olson' ideas for defending Eliade pertain to obscurantism.103 At the end of his chapter, McCutcheon calls to 'close the Eliadean era in the study of religion'104 for radical change and reshaping in order to:
make room for a newly invigorated field of study, then it means that we must retool the field from top to bottom – from our curricula, to our public presence, the structures of our scholarly meetings, and our research agendas and publications.105
But, McCutcheon rhetoric does not give any suggestion of how all the above ideas are to be implemented. For, the discovery of history of religions is a work, which is incrementally built upon by various scholars in a greater and more encompassing vision. There are no such things as retooling 'the field from top to bottom' (vid. sup.) in the study of the history of religions. As Eliade created a hermeneutics by taking into account his predecessors in the field (like van der Leeuw, Otto, Jung, Wach, and so on), so also we expect another scholar to create an even larger scholarship view. Thus, McCutcheon's call for 'redescribing how we define, classify, compose, and explain behaviours and institutions in the public university,'106 is simply lacking insight into how things work in social sciences. From the history of religious ideas we know that ideas and concepts are simply reshaped, thus nothing is made new from 'top to bottom' (vid sup.) as McCutcheon suggests in relation to closing the Eliadean era. On the other hand, McCutcheon fails to make an objective scholarly critique of Eliade, for no solid scholarship is built upon allegations and defamatory positions of others (see Adriana Berger). Then, McCutcheon's style of describing Eliade's case makes no sense by considering such comparison as to substitute "the historical Eliade" for "the historical Jesus"107 in an attempt to discredit Eliade in the social formation of history of religions. The entire debate upon Eliade as scholar has indeed generated a crisis in the study of religions.
As Rennie remarks all scholars of religion have a stake in the Eliade affair especially in relation to resolving the identity crisis in the study of religion.108 Worthy to mention is the fact that three of Eliade's main critics lack consensus why Eliade's scholarship has been successful. Ivan Strenski for example, believes that the catastrophic political upheavals in Europe have a dramatic impact on Eliade's theory of religion, thus in less catastrophic times like today a theorist like Eliade would not be successful.109 Russell T. McCutcheon attributes Eliade's success to a new kind of religious studies at U.S. collages, the 'teaching about religions in classes with believers from various religious traditions.'110 We should remind here that Eliade was already successful before coming to the United States by publishing relevant works in the field of religions and other literature in Romanian and French while teaching at the University of Bucharest and at the Sorbonne in Paris. The other critic of Eliade, Steven M. Wasserstrom, in his work Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade and Henry Corbin at Erasmos, explains why Eliade and the others, who are mentioned in his work title, had a tremendous impact beyond their academic reputation: it is because 'the three scholars expected a knowledge from religious history that humankind in the modern age urgently needed.'111 According to Wasserstrom, Eliade's sacred/ profane contradiction 'has to do with living in a world torn by rival claims of truth.'112 The above three critiques add nothing new, for Eliade's success like that of his predecessors in the field, is simply attributed to a social need at a certain historical period. It is natural that the Eliadean era in the study of religions be closed eventually, but this call is still premature, for no such era is closed without opening another era. Regrettably some scholars listen to such calls as McCutcheon's, who simply lacks vision calling for demolition without real plans, means and workers to build a better construction.
In our view Eliade's phenomenological approach still holds as one 'd'examples illustres de la tendance à fournir des interprétations uniformisantes, applicables et appliquées à des manifestations religieuses de type et de significations fortement hétérogènes.'113 The community of scholars, although stunned by the allegations against Eliade that came after his death, should consider the rehabilitation of Eliade's reputation and acknowledge the value of his scholarly contributions to the advancement of studies in religions.114 Those callings for nullifying the Eliadean legacy are simply non-realistic. It is hardly unlikely that will ever happen. For Eliade is already part of the history of religions and one of those responsible for its social formation in the fifties and sixties decades of the twentieth century. On the other hand, other critiques like that of Seth D. Kunin is genuine and constructive, thus giving a more realistic view upon Eliade's phenomenology of religion.
Kunin argues that Eliade's focus 'on the structures of religion rather that specific elements, is much narrower than that of many other phenomenologists.'115 Eliade's work is essentially ahistorical, 'although he pays lip service to the historical context of the herophanies that he analyses, his primary focus is on the universal qualities of these structures.'116 But, in spite of this ahistorical emphasis in much of his work 'the hierophanies suggest an underlying historical or evolutionary schema.'117 Eliade's essentialist definition of religion 'underlies his rejection of the use of other methodologies in relation to religion.'118 In relation to eating and sexuality, as acts of expressing the ultimate reality for the "primitive people", Kunin identifies Jung's views as inspiration for Eliade believing that 'individuals in primal religions experience the world in a very different way to modern people,'119 when through the enactment of various rites, 'including eating and sex, "primitive" people put themselves out of time and connect to eternity,'120 as 'ritual repetition is a feature of most of Eliade's analyses.'121 In a feminist critique of Eliade's phenomenology of religion, Rosalind Shaw finds Eliade's views partial in spite of its claim of universality, suggesting that the object of empathy was still specifically male.122 In Show's terms, Eliade's views 'reflect the androcentric orientation of power and are essentially views from an entrenched power position'.123 These are some of the critiques of Eliade's hermeneutics of history of religions. As Eliade's scholarly construct is just one view upon the history or religions, particularly one of phenomenological orientation, we are waiting to see the emergence of other views even more encompassing, and from various other angles like the sociological, psychological, feminist, anthropological or functionalist, taken either standalone or as syntheses.
In our view Eliade lost ground in religion academia not only because of false allegations in relation to his past, but also because the trend of desacralization of the world still continues in now the post-modernist era, and academia is no exception to it. The conflict Eliade had with modernity is valid for post-modernity as well, for the post-modern man like the modern man finds increasingly difficult to relate to the sacred experience. Lets also make clear that our defence of Eliade's ideas is not because we came from the same cultural climate thus being of similar vein, but because we find value in Eliade's concept of living the sacred experience. The contribution by Romanians to the defence of Eliade is minimal; those relevant scholars who find value in Eliade's hermeneutics are all westerners (vid. sup. Cave, Rennie, Olson). Thus expounding on various critiques of Eliade's phenomenology of religion, we are now ready to draw a final conclusion.
Basically, Eliade constructs the experience of the sacred in connection to the ideas of "being", "meaning" and "truth" (French: d'être, de signification et de vérité; Romanian: a fi, semnificaţie/ înţeles şi realitate/ adevăr). In establishing his theory upon the history of religions, Mircea Eliade drew inspiration from archaic cultures, which he believes provide the proof of living the sacred life experience in its natural forms. The constant and profound reference to the archetypes is the backbone idea of Eliade's methods in the study of history of religions. The homo religiosus aspiration for the sacred experience allowed him to immerse into the sacred by learning to decipher the meaning of hierophanies relevant to a mythico-historic precedent. As the sacred unfolds, the homo religiosus participates into the experience of the truth that was once at the origin of those hierophanies. Thus, the homo religious has a continuous 'nostalgie des origines' as part of the sacred experience.
Our selection of Eliade's contextual references aimed to construct a broad view of his methods in the study of a history of religions. We provided some significant elements of Eliade's hermeneutics from his major works. Eliade's construct is a vision upon the sacred experience of humanity that in his views was prevalent in archaic communities and is still reflected in those contemporary surviving archaic cultures. Eliade sees the experience of the sacred to be the "real" history of humanity, for in his views it is only the living of the sacred that is real history. We also uncovered some ideas in relation to Eliade's spiritual milieux, the Romanian folk spirituality (Romanian: spiritualitatea populară românească) in his native Romania, which as a popular culture inspired Eliade's hermeneutics in relation to the development of his study of history of religions. It is our hope this paper to be useful as succinct reference to Eliade's phenomenological ideas in the study of history of religions and its critique.
On the other hand, Eliade's phenomenology of religion is far sighted; it has a vision for the future of humanity. It aims at finding a place for the human within the larger context of the celestial realm to which the archaic homo religiosus aspired. Most important, Eliade's vision aims at understanding the connectivity between the earthly and celestial realms. In his view, the disappearance of the earth-sky sacred link raises the question of survival of humanity. Eliade's vision of a new Fall, as result of a desacralized world, appears almost prophetic.
Critique to discredit Eliade has been written especially after his death in 1986. We have shown that some critiques are unfounded allegations, but others are genuine and constructive. It is perhaps the time for scholars in studies in religions to recover from the impact of those false claims of anti-Semitic and fascist past of Eliade, and acknowledge his contribution to the social formation of the modern discipline of history of religions and a particular scholarship in the history of religions.
1 Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History (London: Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd., 1975), p. 214.
2 Mircea Eliade, La nostalgie des origines: Méthodologie et histoire des religions (Éditions Gallimard, 1971), p. 7.
3 Mircea Eliade, The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969b), p. 9.
5 Mircea Eliade, Le mythe de l'éternal retour: Archétypes et répétition (Éditions Gallimard, 1969a).
6 Ibid., p. 16.
7 See Mircea Eliade, Images et symboles: Essais sur le symbolisme magico-religieux (Éditions Gallimard, 1952), Chap. 1, pp. 33-72 for symbolisme du Centre ideas in relation to psychology and history of religion (psychologie et histoire des religions), archetypes (archétypes), image of the world (l'image du monde), symbolism of ascension (symbolisme de l'ascension), and construction of a Centre (construction d'un Centre).
8 Mircea Eliade, (1969a), op. cit., p. 16. For more on symbolisme architectonique see Eliade's work in the French edition Briser le toit de la maison: la créativité et ses symboles (Éditions Gallimard, 1986).
9 Eliade, (1969a), op. cit., p. 16.
10 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959), p. 10.
12 Ibid., p. 11.
14 See the German and French editions of Mircea Eliade's book The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion published as Das Heilige und das Profane (Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuchverlag GmbH, 1957a), and Le sacré et le profane (Éditions Gallimard, 1965), respectively.
15 Mircea Eliade (1959), op. cit., p. 20.
16 Ibid., p. 21.
17 Ibid., p. 68.
18 Ibid., p. 117.
19 Mircea Eliade (1965), op. cit., p. 100.
20 Eliade (1959), op. cit., p. 167.
21 See Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Reality (London: Collins, 1972a), especially in Chap. 7 "Mother Earth and Cosmic Hierogamies". French readers should consult Mircea Eliade, Mythes, rêves et mystères (Éditions Gallimard, 1957b). The Italian readers should see, Mircea Eliade, Miti sogni e misteri (Milano: Rusconi, 1976a).
22 Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries Vol. 1 (London: Collins, 1979). p. 29.
23 For mythologies of death, cosmological symbolism of funerary rites and the "creative" aspects of the act of dying see Mircea Eliade, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions: Essays in Comparative Religions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976b), Chap. 3, "Mythologies of Death: An Introduction".
24 Mircea Eliade (1979), op. cit., p. 32.
25 Ibid., pp. 32f.
26 For more on religious symbolism see Mircea Eliade, "Methodological Remarks on the Study of Religious Symbolism," in The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology, edited by Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1959), passim.
27 Mircea Eliade (1979), op. cit., p. 38.
29 Ibid. For various myths of the origin of death (Melanesian, Indonesian, Australian, Polynesian) see Mircea Eliade, From primitives to Zen: A Thematic sourcebook of the History of Religions (London: Collins, 1967), Chap 2, Section D "Myths of the Origin of Death". See Kunin's critique (vid. inf.) about Jung's influence upon Eliade's ideas of sexuality as act of ultimate reality for the primal religion.
30 Eliade (1979), op. cit., p. 38.
31 Ibid., p. 40.
32 Ibid., p. 41.
34 Ibid., pp. 41f.
35 See Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions (London: Sheed and Ward Ltd., 1976c), Chap. 1.
36 Ibid., p. 99.
38 Ibid., Chap. 3.
39 Ibid., Chap. 4.
40 Ibid., Chaps. 5 and 7.
41 Ibid., Chap. 8.
42 Ibid., p. 397.
43 Ibid. See more about the ahistorical position of Eliade in Kunin's critique (vid. inf.).
44 See Mircea Eliade, Aspects du mythe (Éditions Gallimard, 1963), Chap. 3 "Mythes et rites de renouvellement".
45 Eliade (1979), op. cit., p. 42.
46 Eliade (1979), op. cit., p. 12.
47 Mircea Eliade (1969b), op. cit., p. 9.
48 Ibid., p. 8.
49 Eliade (1959), op. cit., p. 13.
50 Ibid., p. 14.
51 Ibid., p. 71.
53 Ibid., p. 116.
54 Ibid., p. 155.
55 Eliade (1969b), op. cit., p. 69.
57 Ibid., p. 70.
58 Rodney L. Taylor, "Mircea Eliade: The Self and the Journey," in Waiting for the Dawn: Mircea Eliade in Perspective, edited by David Carrasco and Jane Marie Swanberg. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1985), p. 134.
59 Carl Olson, The Theology and Philosophy of Mircea Eliade: A Search for the Centre (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), p. 38.
60 John Bowker, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 308.
61 Eliade (1959), op. cit., p. 13.
64 Mircea. Eliade, "Cultural Fashions and the History of Religions," in The History of Religions: Essays on the Problem of Understanding, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 34.
65 David Cave, Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 27.
66 David Cave, op. cit., p. 75.
68 Mircea Eliade, Zalmoxis the Vanishing God: Comparative Studies in the Religions and Folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972b). The work was initially published in French under the title De Zalmoxis à Gengis-Khan: Études camparatives sur les religions et le folklore de la Dacie et de l'Europe Orientale (Paris: Payot, 1970).
69 See Mac Linscott Ricketts, Mircea Eliade: The Romanian Roots, 1907-1945 Vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), in Chap. 28 "Symbols in Folklore, Religion, and Literature".
70 See Mircea Eliade (1972b), Chap. 7 "The Cult of the Mandragora in Romania".
71 Ibid., Chap. 6 "Romanian Shamanism?".
72 Mircea Eliade, "Marthe Bibesco and the Meeting of the Eastern and Western Literature," in Mircea Eliade: Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts, edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1986), p. 157.
73 Mircea Eliade, Autobiography: Volume I 1907-1937 Journey East, Journey West (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1981), p, 203.
74 Ibid., p, 204.
75 Ibid., p, 203.
76 Mircea Eliade, La nostalgie des origines: Méthodologie et histoire des religions (Éditions Gallimard, 1971), passim.
77 Mircea Eliade, Autobiography: Volume II 1937-1960 Exile's Odyssey (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 8, in footnote 2.
78 See Ana Cartianu, Romanian Folk Tales (Bucharest: Minerva Publishing House, 1979), pp. 17-30.
79 Gail Kligman, The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988), p. 220.
80 Ibid., p. 223.
82 Ibid., p. 244.
83 Mircea Eliade (1988), op. cit., p. 9.
84 Mircea Eliade, "The dragon and the shaman," in Man and his salvation: Studies in the memory of S. G. F. Brandon, edited by Eric J. Sharpe and John R. Hinnells (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1973), p. 99.
85 Graham Cunningham, Religion and Magic: Approaches and Theories (New York: New York University Press, 1999), pp. 37f.
86 Eliade (1959), op. cit., p. 10.
89 Eric J. Sharpe, Comparative Religion: A History (London: Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd., 1975), p. 217.
90 Ursula King, "Historical and Phenomenological Approaches," in Theory and Method in Religious Studies: Comparative Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Frank Whaling. (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1995), p. 123.
91 Ibid., p. 124.
92 Ibid., p. 127.
93 Bryan Rennie, "The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade," in Changing Religious Worlds: The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade, edited by Bryan Rennie. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001), p. 264.
94 Russell T. McCutcheon, The Discipline of Religion: Structure, Meaning, Rhetoric (New York: Routledge, 2003), 191.
95 Ibid., p. 192.
96 Ibid., p. 193.
100 Ibid. p. 192.
101 Ibid. p. 195.
102 Ibid. p. 200.
103 Ibid. p. 202.
104 Ibid. p. 209.
107 Ibid. p. 57.
108 Ibid.; see critical articles by Roger Corless, Russell T. McCutcheon, and Robert A. Segal.
109 Hans G. Kippenberg, Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. ix.
111 Ibid., p. xi.
112 Ibid. See Steven M. Wasserstrom, Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade and Henry Cobin at Eranos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), passim.
113 Vittorio Lanternari, "Sciences religieuses et mouvements religieux nouveaux dans l'Occident: Questions de méthode," in Current Progress in the Methodology of the Science of Religions, edited by Witold Tyloch. (Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1984), p. 130.
114 See Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H., Long, eds. Myths and Symbols: Studies in the Honour of Mircea Eliade (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), as studies honouring Mircea Eliade. Eliade is also the editor in chief of the monumental work The Encyclopedia of Religions (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987).
115 Seth D. Kunin, Religion: The Modern Theories (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), p. 127.
119 Ibid., p. 128.
122 Ibid. p. 139.
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