Micrea Eliade: The Reality of the Sacred
Micrea Eliade (Bucharest March 9, 1907 – Chicago April 22, 1986) is a Romanian, although truly international, prolific writer and scholar, influencing the world of the study of religious studies in the twentieth century. His career and life is truly international, having studied and taught in Romania, France, Italy, and in general Western Europe, India, and finishing his career in the United States. He celebrated his 100th published article at the age of 18, proving that even as a young man he showed his talent in writing, and he chose academic writing in what he calls history of religion and in comparative religion over fictional writing, thus defining the field in a tremendous way.
The two axioms defining Eliade’s theory are:
1- A strong stance against reductionism. Eliade proclaims that religion must always be explained “on its own terms”, as religion is a cause of social dynamics (social, economics, art, music) and some of the most beautiful traces of history are evidence of the influence religion had on the world development. Religion is not a mere by-product of another reality as the other theorists we studied proclaim, he believes in an independence (autonomy) of religion.
2- In terms of method, religion is in fact something independent that needs to be explained through phenomenology and the historical study of religion. Eliade’s prolific writing does not make a specific point on his own personal views, yet three themes that can be explored are:
a. The concept of religion as described in The Sacred and the Profane (1957) where he explores “archetypes” and the authority of the sacred controls all. He explores the concept of “axis mundi”. The intense desire of the people to imitate Gods stems from a desire that archaic people have not only to mirror the realm of the sacred, but to actually be in it.
b. The understanding of symbolism and myth in Comparative Religions (1949). For Eliade symbols, that are material, give a clue to the supernatural. And in the same way myhs are symbols in a narrative form. As he explores the symbolism of the sky, the sun and the moon, water and stones, or other symbols as the Earth and fertility, vegetation and agriculture, in order to create a framework, a world that is a complete, connected system rather than chaotic.
c. The exploration of time and history in The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949), one of his most significant books. He explores the events of archaic profane life claiming that people would be out of history and in the perfect realm of the sacred, to escape the “terror of history”. There is a longing for an eternal return to the beginning of time because they wish “to live in the world as it came from the Creator’s hands, fresh, pure and strong.”
“Historical events have a value in themselves, insofar as they are determined by the will of God. The God of the Jewish people is no longer an Oriental divinity, creator of archetypical gestures, but a personality who ceaselessly intervenes in history, who reveals his will through events (invasions, sieges, battles, and so on). Historical facts thus become situations of man in respect to God, and as such they acquire a religious value that nothing had previously been able to confer upon them.”
Eliade is for me the theorist that speaks closer to my own beliefs so I was quite excited to look at his views and even more so I am looking forward to reading his own writing. I understand that his critics would attack him as a theologian even though he never expressed his own personal opinion, for a scientist maybe there seems to be much too much respect towards the concept of the sacred itself. For myself there is no conflict in that view. He may or may have not succeeded in making the study of religion a phenomenological and historical enterprise, yet in my view using comparison in hugely varied time and space events and theories. And last I do like the linkage point of view that he takes about symbols as a linkage between the sacred and the profane, this concept of the “axis mundi” that he professes. And as much as I understand that the symbol itself might have a value and that for many the symbol itself holds the sacred itself, my view is that the symbol is indeed is only a symbol.