He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day. His theory that hierophanies form the basis of religion, splitting the human experience of reality into sacred and profane space and time, has proved influential. His literary works belong to the fantastic and autobiographical genres. Early in his life, Eliade was a journalist and essayist, a disciple of Romanian far-right philosopher and journalist Nae Ionescu , and a member of the literary society Criterion. Several times during the late s, Eliade publicly expressed his support for the Iron Guard , a fascist and antisemitic political organization.

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He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day. His theory that hierophanies form the basis of religion, splitting the human experience of reality into sacred and profane space and time, has proved influential.

His literary works belong to the fantastic and autobiographical genres. Early in his life, Eliade was a journalist and essayist, a disciple of Romanian far-right philosopher and journalist Nae Ionescu , and a member of the literary society Criterion.

Several times during the late s, Eliade publicly expressed his support for the Iron Guard , a fascist and antisemitic political organization. His political involvement at the time, as well as his other far right connections, were frequently criticised after World War II.

Noted for his vast erudition, Eliade had fluent command of five languages Romanian , French , German , Italian , and English and a reading knowledge of three others Hebrew , Persian , and Sanskrit. He was elected a posthumous member of the Romanian Academy. Eliade kept a particularly fond memory of his childhood and, later in life, wrote about the impact various unusual episodes and encounters had on his mind.

In one instance during the World War I Romanian Campaign , when Eliade was about ten years of age, he witnessed the bombing of Bucharest by German zeppelins and the patriotic fervor in the occupied capital at news that Romania was able to stop the Central Powers ' advance into Moldavia. He described this stage in his life as marked by an unrepeatable epiphany.

I practiced for many years [the] exercise of recapturing that epiphanic moment, and I would always find again the same plenitude. I would slip into it as into a fragment of time devoid of duration—without beginning, middle, or end. By this time I knew the world to which the drawing room belonged [ Robert Ellwood, a professor of religion who did his graduate studies under Mircea Eliade, [11] saw this type of nostalgia as one of the most characteristic themes in Eliade's life and academic writings.

As a child, Eliade was fascinated with the natural world, which formed the setting of his very first literary attempts, [3] as well as with Romanian folklore and the Christian faith as expressed by peasants.

With a group of friends, he designed and sailed a boat on the Danube , from Tulcea to the Black Sea. Instead, he became interested in natural science and chemistry , as well as the occult , [3] and wrote short pieces on entomological subjects.

His interest in the two writers led him to learn Italian and English in private, and he also began studying Persian and Hebrew. Between and , he attended the University of Bucharest 's Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in , earning his diploma with a study on Early Modern Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella.

It was during his student years that Eliade met Nae Ionescu , who lectured in Logic , becoming one of his disciples and friends. Eliade's scholarly works began after a long period of study in British India , at the University of Calcutta. Finding that the Maharaja of Kassimbazar sponsored European scholars to study in India, Eliade applied and was granted an allowance for four years, which was later doubled by a Romanian scholarship.

Before reaching the Indian subcontinent , Eliade also made a brief visit to Egypt. He studied the basics of Indian philosophy , and, in parallel, learned Sanskrit, Pali and Bengali under Dasgupta's direction. In , while living with Dasgupta, Eliade fell in love with his host's daughter, Maitreyi Devi , later writing a barely disguised autobiographical novel Maitreyi also known as "La Nuit Bengali" or "Bengal Nights" , in which he claimed that he carried on a physical relationship with her.

Eliade received his PhD in , with a thesis on Yoga practices. He later recalled that the book was an early step for understanding not just Indian religious practices, but also Romanian spirituality. As one of the figures in the Criterion literary society — , Eliade's initial encounter with the traditional far right was polemical: the group's conferences were stormed by members of A.

Cuza 's National-Christian Defense League , who objected to what they viewed as pacifism and addressed antisemitic insults to several speakers, including Sebastian; [28] in , he was among the signers of a manifesto opposing Nazi Germany 's state-enforced racism. All I wish for is a deep change, a complete transformation. But, for God's sake, in any direction other than spirituality. They displayed his rejection of liberalism and the modernizing goals of the Wallachian revolution perceived as "an abstract apology of Mankind" [39] and "ape-like imitation of [Western] Europe" , [40] as well as for democracy itself accusing it of "managing to crush all attempts at national renaissance", [41] and later praising Benito Mussolini 's Fascist Italy on the grounds that, according to Eliade, "[in Italy,] he who thinks for himself is promoted to the highest office in the shortest of times".

Eliade was especially dissatisfied with the incidence of unemployment among intellectuals, whose careers in state-financed institutions had been rendered uncertain by the Great Depression. Eliade decided to sue the Ministry of Education , asking for a symbolic compensation of 1 leu. Nevertheless, by , he gave his intellectual support to the Iron Guard, in which he saw "a Christian revolution aimed at creating a new Romania", [50] and a group able "to reconcile Romania with God".

When Eliade began coughing blood in October , he was taken to a clinic in Moroeni. His office involved disseminating propaganda in favor of the Romanian state. He maintained a friendship with d'Ors, and met him again on several occasions after the war. Nina Eliade fell ill with uterine cancer and died during their stay in Lisbon , in late As the widower later wrote, the disease was probably caused by an abortion procedure she had undergone at an early stage of their relationship.

At signs that the Romanian communist regime was about to take hold, Eliade opted not to return to the country.

On September 16, , he moved to France with his adopted daughter Giza. Together with Emil Cioran and other Romanian expatriates, Eliade rallied with the former diplomat Alexandru Busuioceanu , helping him publicize anti-communist opinion to the Western European public.

Beginning in , he wrote for the journal Critique , edited by French philosopher Georges Bataille. In October , he moved to the United States, settling in Chicago the following year.

He was slowly rehabilitated at home beginning in the early s, under the rule of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. During his later years, Eliade's fascist past was progressively exposed publicly, the stress of which probably contributed to the decline of his health. Eight days previously, he suffered a stroke while reading Emil Cioran 's Exercises of Admiration , and had subsequently lost his speech function.

In his work on the history of religion, Eliade is most highly regarded for his writings on Alchemy , [81] Shamanism , Yoga and what he called the eternal return —the implicit belief, supposedly present in religious thought in general, that religious behavior is not only an imitation of, but also a participation in, sacred events, and thus restores the mythical time of origins. Eliade is known for his attempt to find broad, cross-cultural parallels and unities in religion, particularly in myths.

Wendy Doniger , Eliade's colleague from until his death, has observed that "Eliade argued boldly for universals where he might more safely have argued for widely prevalent patterns". Robert Ellwood describes Eliade's approach to religion as follows. Eliade approaches religion by imagining an ideally "religious" person, whom he calls homo religiosus in his writings. Eliade's theories basically describe how this homo religiosus would view the world. Instead, it means that religious behavior "says through its own language" that the world is as homo religiosus would see it, whether or not the real-life participants in religious behavior are aware of it.

Eliade argues that "Yahweh is both kind and wrathful; the God of the Christian mystics and theologians is terrible and gentle at once". Eliade's understanding of religion centers on his concept of hierophany manifestation of the Sacred —a concept that includes, but is not limited to, the older and more restrictive concept of theophany manifestation of a god.

The "profane" space of nonreligious experience can only be divided up geometrically: it has no "qualitative differentiation and, hence, no orientation [is] given by virtue of its inherent structure". In contrast to profane space, the site of a hierophany has a sacred structure to which religious man conforms himself. A hierophany amounts to a "revelation of an absolute reality, opposed to the non-reality of the vast surrounding expanse".

Eliade notes that, in traditional societies, myth represents the absolute truth about primordial time. Eliade argues that all myths are, in that sense, origin myths: "myth, then, is always an account of a creation ".

Many traditional societies believe that the power of a thing lies in its origin. According to Eliade's theory, only the Sacred has value, only a thing's first appearance has value and, therefore, only the Sacred's first appearance has value. Myth describes the Sacred's first appearance; therefore, the mythical age is sacred time, [91] the only time of value: "primitive man was interested only in the beginnings [ Eliade argues that traditional man attributes no value to the linear march of historical events: only the events of the mythical age have value.

To give his own life value, traditional man performs myths and rituals. Because the Sacred's essence lies only in the mythical age, only in the Sacred's first appearance, any later appearance is actually the first appearance; by recounting or re-enacting mythical events, myths and rituals "re-actualize" those events.

Thus, argues Eliade, religious behavior does not only commemorate, but also participates in, sacred events:. In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythical hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time. Eliade called this concept the " eternal return " distinguished from the philosophical concept of "eternal return". Wendy Doniger noted that Eliade's theory of the eternal return "has become a truism in the study of religions".

Eliade attributes the well-known "cyclic" vision of time in ancient thought to belief in the eternal return. For instance, the New Year ceremonies among the Mesopotamians , the Egyptians , and other Near Eastern peoples re-enacted their cosmogonic myths.

Therefore, by the logic of the eternal return, each New Year ceremony was the beginning of the world for these peoples. According to Eliade, these peoples felt a need to return to the Beginning at regular intervals, turning time into a circle. Eliade argues that yearning to remain in the mythical age causes a "terror of history": traditional man desires to escape the linear succession of events which, Eliade indicated, he viewed as empty of any inherent value or sacrality.

Eliade suggests that the abandonment of mythical thought and the full acceptance of linear, historical time, with its "terror", is one of the reasons for modern man's anxieties. Eliade claims that many myths, rituals, and mystical experiences involve a "coincidence of opposites", or coincidentia oppositorum.

In fact, he calls the coincidentia oppositorum "the mythical pattern". Also, traditional man's dissatisfaction with the post-mythical age expresses itself as a feeling of being "torn and separate". On the level of pre-systematic thought, the mystery of totality embodies man's endeavor to reach a perspective in which the contraries are abolished, the Spirit of Evil reveals itself as a stimulant of Good, and Demons appear as the night aspect of the Gods.

Eliade acknowledges that not all religious behavior has all the attributes described in his theory of sacred time and the eternal return. The Zoroastrian , Jewish , Christian , and Muslim traditions embrace linear, historical time as sacred or capable of sanctification, while some Eastern traditions largely reject the notion of sacred time, seeking escape from the cycles of time.

Because they contain rituals, Judaism and Christianity necessarily—Eliade argues—retain a sense of cyclic time:. However, Judaism and Christianity do not see time as a circle endlessly turning on itself; nor do they see such a cycle as desirable, as a way to participate in the Sacred. Instead, these religions embrace the concept of linear history progressing toward the Messianic Age or the Last Judgment , thus initiating the idea of "progress" humans are to work for a Paradise in the future.

The pre- Islamic Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, which made a notable "contribution to the religious formation of the West", [] also has a linear sense of time. According to Eliade, the Hebrews had a linear sense of time before being influenced by Zoroastrianism. The Indian religions of the East generally retain a cyclic view of time—for instance, the Hindu doctrine of kalpas. According to Eliade, most religions that accept the cyclic view of time also embrace it: they see it as a way to return to the sacred time.

However, in Buddhism , Jainism , and some forms of Hinduism, the Sacred lies outside the flux of the material world called maya , or "illusion" , and one can only reach it by escaping from the cycles of time. According to Eliade, Yoga techniques aim at escaping the limitations of the body, allowing the soul atman to rise above maya and reach the Sacred nirvana , moksha. Imagery of "freedom", and of death to one's old body and rebirth with a new body, occur frequently in Yogic texts, representing escape from the bondage of the temporal human condition.

A recurrent theme in Eliade's myth analysis is the axis mundi , the Center of the World. According to Eliade, the Cosmic Center is a necessary corollary to the division of reality into the Sacred and the profane. The Sacred contains all value, and the world gains purpose and meaning only through hierophanies:. In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation is established, the hierophany reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.


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