Eliade’s Background Eliade was born in Bucharest, Romania (1907) In 1925, enrolled at the University of Bucharest where he studied philosophy In 1928 he sailed for Calcutta to study Sanskrit and philosophy under Surendranath Dasgupta (1885-1952) He returned to Bucharest in 1932 and successfully submitted his analysis of Yoga as his doctoral thesis
Eliade’s Background In 1945 he moved to Paris where his acquaintance with George Dumézil, an important scholar of comparative mythology, secured a part-time post for him at the École des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne teaching comparative religion. In 1958 he was invited to assume the chair of the History of Religions department in Chicago. There he stayed until his death in 1986
Thoughts In Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954), Eliade distinguishes between Religious humanity, who perceives time as heterogeneous [sacred and profane] Non-religious humanity, who perceives time as homogenous [all the same time]
Religious Humanity Profane time experienced as linear Sacred time experienced as cyclical and re-actualizable By means of myths and rituals which give access to this sacred time, religious humanity protects itself against the “terror of history”, that human existence is a pointless exercise ending in oblivion.
Religious Humanity In other words, Sacred time always involves a return to a paradigmatic mythic time in the past, the time of the creation, the Exodus, the Last Supper, etc Yet Eliade contended that non-religious humanity in any pure sense is a very rare phenomenon. Sacred time usually concealed in the world, hidden in myth and ritual
Religious Humanity In the Sacred and Profane (1957), Eliade examines the Archaic Man, the tribal human who dwells continually in the two planes (the sacred and profane) Archaic Man believed in the supernatural realm This belief reflected through its actions in society
What is the Sacred? A Transcendental deity? (Hegal) A “wholly other”? (Rudolf Otto) A social construction (Durkheim)? Eliade himself repeatedly identifies the sacred as the real, yet he states clearly that "the sacred is a structure of human consciousness" This would argue more for the third interpretation: a social construction of both the sacred and of reality
What is the Sacred? Yet he also defined the sacred as the source of significance, meaning, power and being, manifesting in three distinct forms: Hierophanies (physical representation of the holy) Cratophanies (physical representation of power) Ontophanies (physical representation of Being)
What is the Sacred? This idea sounds more like Rudolf Otto The Idea of the Holy (1916) The subject experiences the mysterious, awesome and beautiful Mysterium tremendum (a mystery that both frightens and fascinates Leaves the individual feeling insignificant This feeling the basis of all religions
What is the Sacred? Eliade claimed that one of the most important senses of a hierophany, an appearance of the holy, was as an ontophany, an appearance of Being. The location of the hierophany becomes the axis mundi. Villagers then builds toward the axis mundi, giving order and form to the village
Sacred Space "Religious man sought to live as near as possible to the Center of the World." (p. 43) "To settle in a territory, to build a dwelling, demands a vital decision for both the whole community and the individual. For what is involved is undertaking the creation of the world that one has chosen to inhabit. Hence it is necessary to imitate the work of the gods, the cosmogony.“ (p. 51)
Imago Mundi "The habitation always undergoes a process of sanctification, because it constitutes an imago mundi [microcosm of the world] and the world is a divine creation.” (p. 52) In this way the original appearance of the holy [hierophany] yields a order of social existence [ontophany]
Dwelling with the Holy Why do human cultures engage in this behavior? Eliade thought because Archaic Humanity wanted to dwell within the holy—to become the holy itself. Yet this behavior only made the separation between the holy and humans more profound.
Sacred and Profane Eliade assumed that Archaic Humanity wished to return to the beginning of time and space “to live in the world as it came for the Creator’s hands, fresh, pure, and strong.” (Sacred and Profane, p. 91) Key purpose of ritual: to reenact the return to the primordial—when all was sacred. Mythic return rejected with the emergence of Judaism and Christianity, claims Eliade.
What is the Sacred? So maybe the sacred is more than mere social construction? Eliade never clarifies this conflict Instead, suggests that some persons will encounter the sacred dimension of a phenomenon while others will not based on preparation for apprehension (trained to see an object as sacred)
From the Sacred to Religion So, if one must be trained to apprehend the sacred, this must be the role of religion. Religion is the apprehension of relative worth conferred through non-historical realities (including all abstract and imaginary entities) Religion is the cause of human behaviors, not the effect.
From the Sacred to Religion But religion must be revealed and confirmed through historical phenomena This dual nature of religion, thought Eliade, was a universal dimension of humankind. Myth becomes a paradigmatic model for all human activities. From myth, Humans symbolically transform the world into a cosmos. Humans desire to live in the sacred to transcend subjective experience
The Study of Religion Eliade believed that while religions were historically bound phenomenon (like Zeus to Ancient Greece), all religions operate on general forms or archetypes (such as sky god) Scholars can learn a great deal by looking for the archetypes or forms and how they change from one culture to the next.
What of Symbols? Patterns of Comparative Religion (1949) Almost anything can become a symbol when infused with the supernatural “Dialectic of the sacred” Symbols appeal to religious imagination, not reason Hence an object can sacred and profane simultaneously.
Convergence Theory and Symbols Different gods originated as symbolizations of different aspects of nature. This resulted in the formation of departmental gods sky gods storm gods moon gods. These gods subsequently acquired characteristics from other spheres of nature symbolism, so that all sorts of blends between the various aspects of nature were formed.
Convergence Theory and Symbols As tribal communities become agrarian, sky gods (distant, aloof, removed, mysterious) transformed into storm gods (entities responsible for rain, clouds, thunder, fertility, sexuality) Sky gods also could transform to son gods, whose actions reflected the cyclic dynamics of life and death
Convergence Theory and Symbols Water becomes the archetypical movement from chaos to order, from pollution to purity, from barrenness to renewal Stone serves as the archetypical expression of the non-changing, impermeable nature of the sacred
Symbolic Thinking Symbolic thinking must display two dimensions or features: Structural: how a symbol organizes elements of reality into a system Valuation: how symbols are grant worth within reality [not all symbols are equal]
Structural Dimension of Symbols No symbol exists in isolation Symbol connect with other images to fashion and extend the idea of the sacred Sun god yields symbol of solar disk Symbol carved on walls, worn around neck, paraded on a certain day In this manner, the sacred is extended from its initial appearance.
Valuation Dimension of Symbols Eliade does believe some symbol systems (images, myths, structures) superior to others Bigger is better: the more complex the symbol system the more universal it must be. For instance, Christian mythology incorporates numerous symbol systems: cosmic tree, son god, water, wine, stone, etc. The tendency of myth is to move toward complexity through associations with other symbol systems. These acquisitions occur in a universalizing manner.
The Future of Religion Archaic Religion possessed the desire of mythic return [going back to the beginning of creation] Judaism and Christianity move archaic religion from a de-evolutionary to an evolutionary view of history. Sacred now in history, not nature. This idea of history yields Modern Historicism - philosophy replacing religion. In other words, the sacred does not exist in either nature nor history. The sacred does not exist [remember Marx?]
The Future of Religion But can such non-religious philosophies ultimately be satisfying, asked Eliade. Athletics, television, movies, plays, games all reflect the concept of the Mythic Return. It never left after all! Modern Historicism replaced with a return to Archaic Religion.