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"Eliade" redirects here. For other persons of the same name, see Eliade (surname).
|Born||(1907-03-09)March 9, 1907|
|Died||April 22, 1986(1986-04-22) (aged 79)|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Occupation||Historian, philosopher, short story writer, journalist, essayist, novelist|
|Genre||Fantasy, autobiography, travel literature|
|Subject||History of religion, philosophy of religion, cultural history, political history|
Mircea Eliade (Romanian: [ˈmirt͡ʃe̯a eliˈade]; March 9 [O.S. February 24] 1907 – April 22, 1986) was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. 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. One of his most influential contributions to religious studies was his theory of Eternal Return, which holds that myths and rituals do not simply commemorate hierophanies, but, at least to the minds of the religious, actually participate in them.
His literary works belong to the fantastic and autobiographical genres. The best known are the novels Maitreyi ("La Nuit Bengali" or "Bengal Nights"), Noaptea de Sânziene ("The Forbidden Forest"), Isabel și apele diavolului ("Isabel and the Devil's Waters") and Romanul Adolescentului Miop ("Novel of the Nearsighted Adolescent"), the novellasDomnișoara Christina ("Miss Christina") and Tinerețe fără tinerețe ("Youth Without Youth"), and the short stories Secretul doctorului Honigberger ("The Secret of Dr. Honigberger") and La Țigănci ("With the Gypsy Girls").
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. In the 1940s, he served as cultural attaché to the United Kingdom and Portugal.
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.
Born in Bucharest, he was the son of Romanian Land Forces officer Gheorghe Eliade (whose original surname was Ieremia) and Jeana née Vasilescu. An Orthodox believer, Gheorghe Eliade registered his son's birth four days before the actual date, to coincide with the liturgical calendar feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. Mircea Eliade had a sister, Corina, the mother of semiologistSorin Alexandrescu. His family moved between Tecuci and Bucharest, ultimately settling in the capital in 1914, and purchasing a house on Melodiei Street, near Piața Rosetti, where Mircea Eliade resided until late in his teens.
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 IRomanian Campaign, when Eliade was about ten years of age, he witnessed the bombing of Bucharest by Germanzeppelins 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. Recalling his entrance into a drawing room that an "eerie iridescent light" had turned into "a fairy-tale palace", he wrote,
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. During my last years of lycée, when I struggled with profound attacks of melancholy, I still succeeded at times in returning to the golden green light of that afternoon. [...] But even though the beatitude was the same, it was now impossible to bear because it aggravated my sadness too much. By this time I knew the world to which the drawing room belonged [...] was a world forever lost.
Robert Ellwood, a professor of religion who did his graduate studies under Mircea Eliade, saw this type of nostalgia as one of the most characteristic themes in Eliade's life and academic writings.
Adolescence and literary debut
After completing his primary education at the school on Mântuleasa Street, Eliade attended the Spiru Haret National College in the same class as Arșavir Acterian, Haig Acterian, and Petre Viforeanu (and several years the senior of Nicolae Steinhardt, who eventually became a close friend of Eliade's). Among his other colleagues was future philosopher Constantin Noica and Noica's friend, future art historian Barbu Brezianu.
As a child, Eliade was fascinated with the natural world, which formed the setting of his very first literary attempts, as well as with Romanian folklore and the Christian faith as expressed by peasants. Growing up, he aimed to find and record what he believed was the common source of all religious traditions. The young Eliade's interest in physical exercise and adventure led him to pursue mountaineering and sailing, and he also joined the Romanian Boy Scouts.
With a group of friends, he designed and sailed a boat on the Danube, from Tulcea to the Black Sea. In parallel, Eliade grew estranged from the educational environment, becoming disenchanted with the discipline required and obsessed with the idea that he was uglier and less virile than his colleagues. In order to cultivate his willpower, he would force himself to swallow insects and only slept four to five hours a night. At one point, Eliade was failing four subjects, among which was the study of the Romanian language.
Instead, he became interested in natural science and chemistry, as well as the occult, and wrote short pieces on entomological subjects. Despite his father's concern that he was in danger of losing his already weak eyesight, Eliade read passionately. One of his favorite authors was Honoré de Balzac, whose work he studied carefully. Eliade also became acquainted with the modernist short stories of Giovanni Papini and social anthropology studies by James George Frazer.
His interest in the two writers led him to learn Italian and English in private, and he also began studying Persian and Hebrew. At the time, Eliade became acquainted with Saadi's poems and the ancient MesopotamianEpic of Gilgamesh. He was also interested in philosophy—studying, among others, Socrates, Vasile Conta, and the StoicsMarcus Aurelius and Epictetus, and read works of history—the two Romanian historians who influenced him from early on were Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu and Nicolae Iorga. His first published work was the 1921 Inamicul viermelui de mătase ("The Silkworm's Enemy"), followed by Cum am găsit piatra filosofală ("How I Found the Philosophers' Stone"). Four years later, Eliade completed work on his debut volume, the autobiographical "Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent" translated into English and published by Istros Books in 2016.
University studies and Indian sojourn
Between 1925 and 1928, he attended the University of Bucharest's Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in 1928, earning his diploma with a study on Early Modern Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella. In 1927, Eliade traveled to Italy, where he met Papini and collaborated with the scholar Giuseppe Tucci.
It was during his student years that Eliade met Nae Ionescu, who lectured in Logic, becoming one of his disciples and friends. He was especially attracted to Ionescu's radical ideas and his interest in religion, which signified a break with the rationalist tradition represented by senior academics such as Constantin Rădulescu-Motru, Dimitrie Gusti, and Tudor Vianu (all of whom owed inspiration to the defunct literary society Junimea, albeit in varying degrees).
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. In autumn 1928, he sailed for Calcutta to study Sanskrit and philosophy under Surendranath Dasgupta, a BengaliCambridge alumnus and professor at Calcutta University, the author of a five volume History of Indian Philosophy. Before reaching the Indian subcontinent, Eliade also made a brief visit to Egypt. Once there, he visited large areas of the region, and spent a short period at a Himalayanashram.
He studied the basics of Indian philosophy, and, in parallel, learned Sanskrit, Pali and Bengali under Dasgupta's direction. At the time, he also became interested in the actions of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he met personally, and the Satyagraha as a phenomenon; later, Eliade adapted Gandhian ideas in his discourse on spirituality and Romania.
In 1930, 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 1933, with a thesis on Yoga practices. The book, which was translated into French three years later, had significant impact in academia, both in Romania and abroad.
He later recalled that the book was an early step for understanding not just Indian religious practices, but also Romanian spirituality. During the same period, Eliade began a correspondence with the Ceylonese-born philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy. In 1936–1937, he functioned as honorary assistant for Ionescu's course, lecturing in Metaphysics.
In 1933, Mircea Eliade had a physical relationship with the actress Sorana Țopa, while falling in love with Nina Mareș, whom he ultimately married. The latter, introduced to him by his new friend Mihail Sebastian, already had a daughter, Giza, from a man who had divorced her. Eliade subsequently adopted Giza, and the three of them moved to an apartment at 141 Dacia Boulevard. He left his residence in 1936, during a trip he made to the United Kingdom and Germany, when he first visited London, Oxford and Berlin.
Criterion and Cuvântul
After contributing various and generally polemical pieces in university magazines, Eliade came to the attention of journalist Pamfil Șeicaru, who invited him to collaborate on the nationalist paper Cuvântul, which was noted for its harsh tones. By then, Cuvântul was also hosting articles by Ionescu.
As one of the figures in the Criterionliterary society (1933–1934), Eliade's initial encounter with the traditional far right was polemical: the group's conferences were stormed by members of A. C. Cuza's National-Christian Defense League, who objected to what they viewed as pacifism and addressed antisemitic insults to several speakers, including Sebastian; in 1933, he was among the signers of a manifesto opposing Nazi Germany's state-enforced racism.
In 1934, at a time when Sebastian was publicly insulted by Nae Ionescu, who prefaced his book (De două mii de ani...) with thoughts on the "eternal damnation" of Jews, Mircea Eliade spoke out against this perspective, and commented that Ionescu's references to the verdict "Outside the Church there is no salvation" contradicted the notion of God's omnipotence. However, he contended that Ionescu's text was not evidence of antisemitism.
In 1936, reflecting on the early history of the Romanian Kingdom and its Jewish community, he deplored the expulsion of Jewish savants from Romanian soil, making specific references to Moses Gaster, Heimann Hariton Tiktin and Lazăr Șăineanu. Eliade's views at the time focused on innovation—in the summer of 1933, he replied to an anti-modernist critique written by George Călinescu:
All I wish for is a deep change, a complete transformation. But, for God's sake, in any direction other than spirituality.
He and friends Emil Cioran and Constantin Noica were by then under the influence of Trăirism, a school of thought that was formed around the ideals expressed by Ionescu. A form of existentialism, Trăirism was also the synthesis of traditional and newer right-wing beliefs. Early on, a public polemic was sparked between Eliade and Camil Petrescu: the two eventually reconciled and later became good friends.
Like Mihail Sebastian, who was himself becoming influenced by Ionescu, he maintained contacts with intellectuals from all sides of the political spectrum: their entourage included the right-wing Dan Botta and Mircea Vulcănescu, the non-political Petrescu and Ionel Jianu, and Belu Zilber, who was a member of the illegal Romanian Communist Party.
The group also included Haig Acterian, Mihail Polihroniade, Petru Comarnescu, Marietta Sadova and Floria Capsali.
He was also close to Marcel Avramescu, a former Surrealist writer whom he introduced to the works of René Guénon. A doctor in the Kabbalah and future Romanian Orthodox cleric, Avramescu joined Eliade in editing the short-lived esoteric magazine Memra (the only one of its kind in Romania).
Among the intellectuals who attended his lectures were Mihail Şora (whom he deemed his favorite student), Eugen Schileru and Miron Constantinescu—known later as, respectively, a philosopher, an art critic, and a sociologist and political figure of the communist regime.Mariana Klein, who became Șora's wife, was one of Eliade's female students, and later authored works on his scholarship.
Eliade later recounted that he had himself enlisted Zilber as a Cuvântul contributor, in order for him to provide a Marxist perspective on the issues discussed by the journal. Their relation soured in 1935, when the latter publicly accused Eliade of serving as an agent for the secret police, Siguranța Statului (Sebastian answered to the statement by alleging that Zilber was himself a secret agent, and the latter eventually retracted his claim).
1930s political transition
Eliade's articles before and after his adherence to the principles of the Iron Guard (or, as it was usually known at the time, the Legionary Movement), beginning with his Itinerar spiritual ("Spiritual Itinerary", serialized in Cuvântul in 1927), center on several political ideals advocated by the far right.
They displayed his rejection of liberalism and the modernizing goals of the 1848 Wallachian revolution (perceived as "an abstract apology of Mankind" and "ape-like imitation of [Western] Europe"), as well as for democracy itself (accusing it of "managing to crush all attempts at national renaissance", 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"). He approved of an ethnic nationalist state centered on the Orthodox Church (in 1927, despite his still-vivid interest in Theosophy, he recommended young intellectuals "the return to the Church"), which he opposed to, among others, the secular nationalism of Constantin Rădulescu-Motru; referring to this particular ideal as "Romanianism", Eliade was, in 1934, still viewing it as "neither fascism, nor chauvinism".
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.
In 1936, Eliade was the focus of a campaign in the far right press, being targeted for having authored "pornography" in his Domnișoara Christina and Isabel și apele diavolului; similar accusations were aimed at other cultural figures, including Tudor Arghezi and Geo Bogza. Assessments of Eliade's work were in sharp contrast to one another: also in 1936, Eliade accepted an award from the Romanian Writers' Society, of which he had been a member since 1934. In summer 1937, through an official decision which came as a result of the accusations, and despite student protests, he was stripped of his position at the University.
Eliade decided to sue the Ministry of Education, asking for a symbolic compensation of 1 leu. He won the trial, and regained his position as Nae Ionescu's assistant.
Nevertheless, by 1937, he gave his intellectual support to the Iron Guard, in which he saw "a Christian revolution aimed at creating a new Romania", and a group able "to reconcile Romania with God". His articles of the time, published in Iron Guard papers such as Sfarmă Piatră and Buna Vestire, contain ample praises of the movement's leaders (Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, Ion Moţa, Vasile Marin, and Gheorghe Cantacuzino-Grănicerul). The transition he went through was similar to that of his fellow generation members and close collaborators—among the notable exceptions to this rule were Petru Comarnescu, sociologist Henri H. Stahl and future dramatist Eugène Ionesco, as well as Sebastian.
He eventually enrolled in the Totul pentru Țară ("Everything for the Fatherland" Party), the political expression of the Iron Guard, and contributed to its 1937 electoral campaign in Prahova County—as indicated by his inclusion on a list of party members with county-level responsibilities (published in Buna Vestire).
Internment and diplomatic service
The stance taken by Eliade resulted in his arrest on July 14, 1938 after a crackdown on the Iron Guard authorized by KingCarol II. At the time of his arrest, he had just interrupted a column on Provincia și legionarismul ("The Province and Legionary Ideology") in Vremea, having been singled out by Prime MinisterArmand Călinescu as an author of Iron Guard propaganda.
Eliade was kept for three weeks in a cell at the Siguranţa Statului Headquarters, in an attempt to have him sign a "declaration of dissociation" with the Iron Guard, but he refused to do so. In the first week of August he was transferred to a makeshift camp at Miercurea-Ciuc. When Eliade began coughing blood in October 1938, he was taken to a clinic in Moroeni. Eliade was simply released on November 12, and subsequently spent his time writing his play Iphigenia (also known as Ifigenia). In April 1940, with the help of Alexandru Rosetti, became the Cultural Attaché to the United Kingdom, a posting cut short when Romanian-British foreign relations were broken.
After leaving London he was assigned the office of Counsel and Press Officer (later Cultural Attaché) to the Romanian Embassy in Portugal, where he was kept on as diplomat by the National Legionary State (the Iron Guard government) and, ultimately, by Ion Antonescu's regime. His office involved disseminating propaganda in favor of the Romanian state. In February 1941, weeks after the bloody Legionary Rebellion was crushed by Antonescu, Iphigenia was staged by the National Theater Bucharest—the play soon raised doubts that it owed inspiration to the Iron Guard's ideology, and even that its inclusion in the program was a Legionary attempt at subversion.
In 1942, Eliade authored a volume in praise of the Estado Novo, established in Portugal by António de Oliveira Salazar, claiming that "The Salazarian state, a Christian and totalitarian one, is first and foremost based on love". On July 7 of the same year, he was received by Salazar himself, who assigned Eliade the task of warning Antonescu to withdraw the Romanian Army from the Eastern Front ("[In his place], I would not be grinding it in Russia"). Eliade also claimed that such contacts with the leader of a neutral country had made him the target for Gestapo surveillance, but that he had managed to communicate Salazar's advice to Mihai Antonescu, Romania's Foreign Minister.
In autumn 1943, he traveled to occupied France, where he rejoined Emil Cioran, also meeting with scholar Georges Dumézil and the collaborationist writer Paul Morand. At the same time, he applied for a position of lecturer at the University of Bucharest, but withdrew from the race, leaving Constantin Noica and Ion Zamfirescu to dispute the position, in front of a panel of academics comprising Lucian Blaga and Dimitrie Gusti (Zamfirescu's eventual selection, going against Blaga's recommendation, was to be the topic of a controversy). In his private notes, Eliade wrote that he took no further interest in the office, because his visits abroad had convinced him that he had "something great to say", and that he could not function within the confines of "a minor culture". Also during the war, Eliade traveled to Berlin, where he met and conversed with controversial political theorist Carl Schmitt, and frequently visited Francoist Spain, where he notably attended the 1944 Lusitano-Spanish scientific congress in Córdoba. It was during his trips to Spain that Eliade met philosophers José Ortega y Gasset and Eugeni d'Ors. 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 1944. As the widower later wrote, the disease was probably caused by an abortion procedure she had undergone at an early stage of their relationship. He came to suffer from clinical depression, which increased as Romania and her Axis allies suffered major defeats on the Eastern Front. Contemplating a return to Romania as a soldier or a monk, he was on a continuous search for effective antidepressants, medicating himself with passion flower extract, and, eventually, with methamphetamine. This was probably not his first experience with drugs: vague mentions in his notebooks have been read as indication that Mircea Eliade was taking opium during his travels to Calcutta. Later, discussing the works of Aldous Huxley, Eliade wrote that the British author's use of mescaline as a source of inspiration had something in common with his own experience, indicating 1945 as a date of reference and adding that it was "needless to explain why that is".
At signs that the Romanian communist regime was about to take hold, Eliade opted not to return to the country. On September 16, 1945, he moved to France with his adopted daughter Giza. Once there, he resumed contacts with Dumézil, who helped him recover his position in academia. On Dumézil's recommendation, he taught at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. It was estimated that, at the time, it was not uncommon for him to work 15 hours a day. Eliade married a second time, to the Romanian exile Christinel Cotescu. His second wife, the descendant of boyars, was the sister-in-law of the conductor Ionel Perlea.
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. He was also briefly involved in publishing a Romanian-language magazine, titled Luceafărul ("The Morning Star"), and was again in contact with Mihail Șora, who had been granted a scholarship to study in France, and with Șora's wife Mariana. In 1947, he was facing material constraints, and Ananda Coomaraswamy found him a job as a French-language teacher in the United States, at a school in Arizona; the arrangement ended upon Coomaraswamy's death in September.
Beginning in 1948, he wrote for the journal Critique, edited by French philosopher Georges Bataille. The following year, he went on a visit to Italy, where he wrote the first 300 pages of his novel Noaptea de Sânziene (he visited the country a third time in 1952). He collaborated with Carl Jung and the Eranos circle after Henry Corbin recommended him in 1949, and wrote for the Antaios magazine (edited by Ernst Jünger). In 1950, Eliade began attending Eranos conferences, meeting Jung, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, Gershom Scholem and Paul Radin. He described Eranos as "one of the most creative cultural experiences of the modern Western world."
In October 1956, he moved to the United States, settling in Chicago the following year. He had been invited by Joachim Wach to give a series of lectures at Wach's home institution, the University of Chicago. Eliade and Wach are generally admitted to be the founders of the "Chicago school" that basically defined the study of religions for the second half of the 20th century. Upon Wach's death before the lectures were delivered, Eliade was appointed as his replacement, becoming, in 1964, the Sewell Avery Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions. Beginning in 1954, with the first edition of his volume on Eternal Return, Eliade also enjoyed commercial success: the book went through several editions under different titles, which sold over 100,000 copies.
In 1966, Mircea Eliade became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also worked as editor-in-chief of Macmillan Publishers' Encyclopedia of Religion, and, in 1968, lectured in religious history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was also during that period that Mircea Eliade completed his voluminous and influential History of Religious Ideas, which grouped together the overviews of his main original interpretations of religious history. He occasionally traveled out of the United States, such as attending the Congress for the History of Religions in Marburg (1960) and visits to Sweden and Norway in 1970.
Final years and death
Initially, Eliade was attacked with virulence by the Romanian Communist Party press, chiefly by România Liberă—which described him as "the Iron Guard's ideologue, enemy of the working class, apologist of Salazar's dictatorship". However, the regime also made secretive attempts to enlist his and Cioran's support: Haig Acterian's widow, theater director Marietta Sadova, was sent to Paris in order to re-establish contacts with the two. Although the move was planned by Romanian officials, her encounters were to be used as evidence incriminating her at a February 1960 trial for treason (where Constantin Noica and Dinu Pillat were the main defendants). Romania's secret police, the Securitate, also portrayed Eliade as a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service and a former agent of the Gestapo.
He was slowly rehabilitated at home beginning in the early 1960s, under the rule of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. In the 1970s, Eliade was approached by the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime in several ways, in order to have him return. The move was prompted by the officially sanctioned nationalism and Romania's claim to independence from the Eastern Bloc, as both phenomena came to see Eliade's prestige as an asset. An unprecedented event occurred with the interview that was granted by Mircea Eliade to poet Adrian Păunescu, during the latter's 1970 visit to Chicago; Eliade complimented both Păunescu's activism and his support for official tenets, expressing a belief that
the youth of Eastern Europe is clearly superior to that of Western Europe. [...] I am convinced that, within ten years, the young revolutionary generation shan't be behaving as does today the noisy minority of Western contesters. [...] Eastern youth have seen the abolition of traditional institutions, have accepted it [...] and are not yet content with the structures enforced, but rather seek to improve them.
Păunescu's visit to Chicago was followed by those of the nationalist official writer Eugen Barbu and by Eliade's friend Constantin Noica (who had since been released from jail). At the time, Eliade contemplated returning to Romania, but was eventually persuaded by fellow Romanian intellectuals in exile (including Radio Free Europe's Virgil Ierunca and Monica Lovinescu) to reject Communist proposals. In 1977, he joined other exiled Romanian intellectuals in signing a telegram protesting the repressive measures newly enforced by the Ceauşescu regime. Writing in 2007, Romanian anthropologist Andrei Oișteanu recounted how, around 1984, the Securitate unsuccessfully pressured to become an agent of influence in Eliade's Chicago circle.
During his later years, Eliade's fascist past was progressively exposed publicly, the stress of which probably contributed to the decline of his health. By then, his writing career was hampered by severe arthritis. The last academic honors bestowed upon him were the French Academy's Bordin Prize (1977) and the title of Doctor Honoris Causa, granted by the University of Washington (1985).
Mircea Eliade died at the Bernard Mitchell Hospital in April 1986. Eight days previously, he suffered a stroke while reading Emil Cioran's Exercises of Admiration, and had subsequently lost his speech function. Four months before, a fire had destroyed part of his office at the Meadville Lombard Theological School (an event which he had interpreted as an omen). Eliade's Romanian disciple Ioan Petru Culianu, who recalled the scientific community's reaction to the news, described Eliade's death as "a mahaparanirvana", thus comparing it to the passing of Gautama Buddha. His body was cremated in Chicago, and the funeral ceremony was held on University grounds, at the Rockefeller Chapel. It was attended by 1,200 people, and included a public reading of Eliade's text in which he recalled the epiphany of his childhood—the lecture was given by novelist Saul Bellow, Eliade's colleague at the University. His grave is located in Oak Woods Cemetery.
The general nature of religion
In his work on the history of religion, Eliade is most highly regarded for his writings on Alchemy,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's thinking was in part influenced by Rudolf Otto, Gerardus van der Leeuw, Nae Ionescu and the writings of the Traditionalist School (René Guénon and Julius Evola). For instance, Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane partially builds on Otto's The Idea of the Holy to show how religion emerges from the experience of the sacred, and myths of time and nature.
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 1978 until his death, has observed that "Eliade argued boldly for universals where he might more safely have argued for widely prevalent patterns". His Treatise on the History of Religions was praised by French philologist Georges Dumézil for its coherence and ability to synthesize diverse and distinct mythologies.
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. This does not mean that all religious practitioners actually think and act like homo religiosus. 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. However, Ellwood writes that Eliade "tends to slide over that last qualification", implying that traditional societies actually thought like homo religiosus.
Sacred and profane
Eliade argues that religious thought in general rests on a sharp distinction between the Sacred and the profane; whether it takes the form of God, gods, or mythical Ancestors, the Sacred contains all "reality", or value, and other things acquire "reality" only to the extent that they participate in the sacred.
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). From the perspective of religious thought, Eliade argues, hierophanies give structure and orientation to the world, establishing a sacred order. 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". Thus, profane space gives man no pattern for his behavior. 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". As an example of "sacred space" demanding a certain response from man, Eliade gives the story of Moses halting before Yahweh's manifestation as a burning bush (Exodus 3:5) and taking off his shoes.
Origin myths and sacred time
Eliade notes that, in traditional societies, myth represents the absolute truth about primordial time. According to the myths, this was the time when the Sacred first appeared, establishing the world's structure—myths claim to describe the primordial events that made society and the natural world be that which they are. 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. If origin is equivalent to power, then "it is the first manifestation of a thing that is significant and valid" (a thing's reality and value therefore lies only in its first appearance).
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, the only time of value: "primitive man was interested only in the beginnings [...] to him it mattered little what had happened to himself, or to others like him, in more or less distant times". Eliade postulated this as the reason for the "nostalgia for origins" that appears in many religions, the desire to return to a primordial Paradise.
Eternal return and "Terror of history"