Times change and worlds change with them. As many of the contributions to this volume acknowledge, worlds are constituted by us and are manifold, varied, and changeable.1 Eliade, for example, bemoaned his own inability to inhabit simultaneously the two "universes" of literature and scholarship.2 The world from which Eliade wrote his fiction3 was not the same as that from which he wrote his history of religions scholarship. It is increasingly evident that the world from which he wrote his scholarship was not the same as the world into which it was received, especially here in the United States. Nor was the world into which it was originally received the world that we currently inhabit. The question before us now, then, is what is the relevance of the writings of Mircea Eliade for the contemporary world. What is the meaning of Eliade’s work and to what end can it be put? Indeed, does his work have any meaningful application or is it time to end the Eliadean era as Corless and McCutcheon insist? Has the changing world left Eliade behind or is it finally catching up with him? A related question, all-important for scholars of religion, concerns the incommensurability of worlds. Are the different religious worlds accessible to those who do not inhabit them? Or, as Thomas Kuhn claimed to be the case for those possessed of differing scientific paradigms,4 is it impossible for us to voluntarily "change worlds" and see the world of other from the inside?
This collection of essays grew out of a session at the 1996 Conference of the American Academy of Religion.5 The success of this session persuaded me to collect together this group of articles with an eye to assessing the significance and effect of Eliade and his thought on the scholarly understanding in the United States of religious phenomena.6 When they were invited to contribute to the present collection, the authors were told that subjective, personal observations were appropriate and indeed sought. I hoped to learn something of the personal and historical effect and influence that Eliade had exercised. This grows out of my assertion that from a certain point of view the observation of one’s fellow scholars constitutes fieldwork in the history of religion (Reconstructing Eliade 62, n.1). Russell McCutcheon has similarly said that, "[b]ecause I study the way scholars construct religion, I do field work in publications and at national and international conferences on religion."7 Thus I feel that we are privileged to read such personal observations and they provide valuable insights into empirical experience. This is in part a historical study and personal observations are historical documents. Whether written from a personal perspective or not, all the papers in this volume seek, each in its own way, to address the same question: what, if anything, is the benefit of studying the thought of Mircea Eliade to our ongoing attempt to understand religious phenomena?8
The beginnings of my own answer to this question were given in Reconstructing Eliade. There an attempt was made to reveal a coherence in Eliade’s writings that would explain how he could believe what he had written despite the self-contradiction and deep-rooted inconsistency that critics perceived there. This was undertaken as an application of Eliade’s own methodology for understanding the religious worlds of others. The phenomenal fact is that there is a plurality of "religious worlds" that the scholar does not inhabit, whose the inhabitants hold as true things that the scholar cannot. If privileging the analyst’s position is to be avoided, it must be assumed that alternative positions are perceived by their occupants to be as coherent as the analyst’s. Thus I took it upon myself to find how Eliade might perceive his work as coherent, rather than to show how it might be perceived as incoherent. I explicitly accepted "that what I will describe in this book will never be anything other than my own (creative, I hope) interpretation of the thought of Mircea Eliade." Of course, I also recognize that any reasoning and language-using intelligence will fall prey to some inconsistency and self-contradiction. Our worlds are complex and our intelligence fallible. Yet because of that very fact we are obliged to give one another the benefit of the doubt and attempt to reconstruct the world from which a text has issued. If not, our criticisms will be restricted to constant restatements of our own positions, descriptions of our own world.
Using this method I found that certain themes were axiomatic in Eliade’s thought. Central to his understanding is the identity of the sacred and the real. This does not mean that all scholars of religion must accept the absolute and independent ontology of God or gods. Rather "it is this experience of the sacred, that generates the idea of something which really exists and, in consequence the notion that there are absolute intangible values which confer a meaning upon human existence" ("Structure and Changes in the History of Religion" 366). Eliade explicitly states that the "sacred" does not "imply belief in God or gods or spirits . . . it is the experience of a reality and the source of an awareness of existing in the world" (Ordeal by Labyrinth 154).
Eliade repeats this definition of the sacred as the real consistently from "Cosmical Homology and Yoga" in 1937 onwards. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the real that we tend to take it as always and everywhere the same. Thus readers tend to read their own real into Eliade’s interpretative category. However, thus identified with the sacred, the real is an intentional object, the object of belief. Scholars have tended either to disregard this equation (taking it for an unwarranted a priori assumption whose truth is precisely what is at issue in the study of religion) or have mistakenly assumed it to refer to a particular deity or independent ontology. On the contrary, Eliade also repeatedly states that "the sacred is an element in the structure of (human) consciousness" (Quest i; No Souvenirs 1; and The History of Religious Ideas, vol. 1. xiii). It is that which is apprehended as real. It is the intentional object of human experience. Philosophically this is not a novel position—Immanuel Kant had concluded that the real is a category of the understanding in the late 18th century.9 Do Kant’s and Eliade’s claims make "the real" into a "vacuous concept" as McCutcheon insists? Perhaps it does for some, but Eliade’s assumption is not an unwarranted a priori. It is an interpretive move consistent with the empirical observation that myths are precisely those narratives that are held to be true. Applying it to the understanding of religion was a novel strategy that has yet to be fully appreciated. Thus applied, it becomes a powerful tool in the understanding of other worlds rather than privileging one’s own.
His "hierophanies," then, are those events or entities that are perceived to manifest this sacred/reality. Not only could any existing thing become a hierophany but "we cannot be sure that there is anything . . . that has not at some time in human history been somewhere transformed into a hierophany" (Patterns in Comparative Religion, 11). Existence is the only characteristic essential to the revelation of the real.
The dialectic of the sacred and profane implies that, while all events and entities could potentially be perceived as manifesting the sacred/real, the fact is that our ascriptions of sacrality to some things is simultaneously and necessarily a denial of the significance of others (see Reconstructing Eliade, chs. 1 and 3). Hence the coincidentia oppositorum: when the sacred is perceived it is always in profane realities, and profane realities always conceal or camouflage the sacred (ch. 4). The only thing, then, that can be said about any "ultimate reality" is that it transcends all dichotomies.
Illud Tempus, "that time"— "yon time," as I tend to think of it—is another world, one not normally experienced in the mundane world of the everyday. It is the world of myth, the time of the ancestors, the realm of tales. It may be thought "unreal" in the sense that historical actualities are "real," but, to the mind for which historical actualities are less significant than traditional narrative, it is eminently more real. It is the source of all meaning and of all values in the mundane realm (ch. 8).
Related to this constructivist understanding of the sacred as the real and all that follows from it, is the understanding of myth as "determined by the prevalent attitude to a popular narrative. Myth is the popular narrative which is (either uncritically or with reference to other myths) held to be true, to represent the real, and thus to be exemplary. In Eliadean terms, to be sacred" (Reconstructing Eliade 72). Myths tell people why their world is the way that it is in a way that elicits a meaningful response. Myths relate those events that are held to be "the effective determinant antecedents" (90) of the world they experience. In this way not only stories about gods, but, say, male superiority (or any unconsidered expression that simply assumes it to be true) would be mythic. The uncritical acceptance of an ethnocentric history that validates perceptions of ethnic superiority would be as mythic as the belief that the physical world was constructed from the corpse of a monster slain by a god. Myth gives access to illud tempus in that, via narrative or any other traditional art-forms, it brings into the world of experience a world that never existed in terms of historical actuality. For example, a world in which the British were unquestionably superior or a world in which every pious Hebrew was personally liberated from Egypt.10
The understanding of the role of "sacred histories" is becoming increasingly well established. Hence William Paden’s observation that "historians of religion are finding a large body of sophisticated analysis in other fields that illumine or recontextualize the notion of "sacred histories."11 This leads to an increasingly complex notion of history in which I have identified
For Eliade, this longing for a center, this desire to live in close proximity to the real, the true, the significant, the sacred, is an innate human characteristic. Even aware of it we cannot resist it. Even the deconstructionist critic, fully aware of the longing for a center and the centering of one binary over the other, cannot prevent that centering, and cannot refuse to apply binary couples. The best that can be done is to accept the "play of opposites" and to de-center and de-stabilize our own constructions. But in order to apprehend meaning in our experience we are required to judge. We cannot resist the temptation to center, to sacralize, or, if we could, we then could not evaluate the significance of our experiences. Centering or sacralizing ideal and non-historical categories, we appeal to illud tempus to justify our privileging of one over another, of the sacred over the profane, and thus we evoke mythical structures. The secular modern does this no less than the traditionally religious, but in a different world. "Historical," "physical," "rational," are valorized over "fictional," "spiritual," "intuitive," as if the former were somehow more accessible than the latter. "Nature" is valorized over "culture" as if we could finally and absolutely determine the difference.16 But none of these distinctions are "natural kinds," things that exist in all worlds independent of the social constructions placed upon them. None of these centerings are irresistible or indefeasible. All can be de-centered, refused, profaned. All must be constantly re-sacralized by a return in illo tempore by means of the narration of myth, the performance of ritual, and the re-establishment of sacred space.
Accepting for the moment that this "postmodern" meaning of Eliade’s thought can genuinely be found in his work, what point does it have? To what end can it be put? I have suggested benefits to our field in the de-stabilization of binary oppositions such as belief/un-belief and religious/non-religious (Reconstructing Eliade 109, 116) and I will not rehearse the obvious here. What needs to be repeated, perhaps, is that the scientific worldview and its concomitant insistence upon empirical "reality" as the ultimate locus of meaning is itself a belief. Its authority, like that of any traditional religious system, rests in our ascription of authority to it. Its powerful compulsion resides in its breadth of acceptance as well as its internal coherence. Perhaps I should point out that this is still my world. I do not find demon possession more credible that quantum physics. But some do, and for comparable reasons. This does indeed emphasize sameness at the expense of difference. It provides a clear vision of a universal human nature that allows us to conceive the other as the self; that allows the cognition of identity in difference, and thus provides an open door into the world of the other. All worlds are in contact in that they share this structure of centering and of the dialectic of the sacred and the profane. As we can enter into other worlds of fantasy and fiction, we can enter into the religious worlds of the other by means of the imaginative process that Eliade describes as creative hermeneutics. "Creative hermeneutics" is what I have just attempted to explain and to do in my analysis of Eliade: one assumes the internal coherence of the religious world for its inhabitants and attempts to recognize the apprehensions of the real, the hierophanies and centerings, that are implied by that coherence.
Evidently this evaluation of Eliade ascribes a great deal of meaning to his writings. His scholarship provided a commentary that assisted me in my attempts to understand people who inhabited worlds markedly different from my own, who believed that which I could not. Other scholars, even those whom I admired or found useful and informative, were clearly articulating their own worlds of meaning. Nor were theologians (closet or otherwise) exclusively guilty of this. Dogmatic secularists seemed particularly intent on making readers see the world as they saw it rather than on articulating alternative perspectives. Such critics write as if any coherent articulation of an alternative worldview challenges the rectitude of their own. However, if one is to understand how the Muslim can experience Allah as closer than his own jugular, how Sri Aurobindo could encounter Krishna in his Alipore jail cell in 1908, how the characters in James’ Varieties of Religious Experience could encounter the absolute in Christ, without making them into fools, frauds, or liars, one cannot take a stance of unmitigated self-righteousness. In this, for me, Eliade’s writings proved effective.
In contrast to my own attempt to claim some utility for the thought of Mircea Eliade are the critiques of various scholars who perceive Eliade as a dangerously misleading and tendentious author. My intention is to acquaint the reader with the current critiques of Eliade so that both negative and positive responses to our central question may receive a fair hearing. In the first contribution to the section on critique, Roger Corless frankly calls for an end to the Eliadean era, building on Eliade’s "magnificent failure" with "a polymethodic approach to what-you-would-die-for systems, combining these and other investigative tools with those developed by History of Religion(s) under the leadership of Eliade." The only re-publication in this volume, this article remains one of the most succinct statements of some of the problems with Eliade’s work, specifically in the religious studies classroom.
Russell McCutcheon takes up Corless’ refrain, also calling for the end of the Eliadean era. McCutcheon’s is, in many ways, one of the most critical essays included in this volume. Not just critical of Eliade but of defenders of Eliade and of any scholar who would support the "sui generis discourse" in religion by maintaining "the autonomy of the sacred,"17 McCutcheon sees "links between the Eliade, de Man, and Heidegger affairs not in terms of any similarity in their individual actions, beliefs, or guilt" but in "the techniques their contemporary defenders use not only to protect their work and influence in academia but to construct and maintain a supposedly ahistorical, totalized scholarly field." In brief, his argument is that to follow Eliade’s advice and study the reports of religious believers "on their own plane of reference" is to give privileged authoritative status to insider judgments—a hallmark of the sui generis discourse that treats religion as an essentially independent category. Although McCutcheon permits that "without taking such insider reports and interpretations seriously we would have no descriptive data to study," he insists that "scholars must carefully devise defensible criteria to determine at what level of analysis they do or do not suspend such first person explanatory authority" (emphasis original). The failure to do so is connected with—if not directly responsible for—the paucity of theory in our field. McCutcheon argues that following Eliade’s recommendations and example has not only been of little or no benefit to the field of religious studies; it has actively hindered its development.
It is not surprising that Robert Segal, a prominent theorist on myth, has chosen to write on Eliade’s understanding of myth. Behind his choice is his recognition of Eliade’s attempt to universalize the religious impulse, presenting it as innate to humanity. Since, in Eliade’s understanding, myth is co-extensive with religion, his success or failure in arguing the ubiquity of myth indicates the success or failure of his entire program. Segal argues that "[i]f moderns have myths, as Eliade contends, then surely those myths must fulfill the same . . . functions as traditional myths." Eliade has seen the functioning of myths and mythology in secular modern thought, including political ideology, psychoanalysis, and popular culture. In psychoanalysis, "dreams, reveries, fantasies, and so forth" are seen as "private myths," which psychoanalysis "employs . . . as a vehicle for returning to the past." He concludes, "while private myths may well carry one back to the character-forming, precedent-setting time of childhood, no gods are to be found in this private primordial time." Of the "camouflaged" myths of popular culture Segal asks, "[w]hat . . . is religious about these camouflaged myths?" Since they do not provide a charter for contemporary institutions, they do not "serve as models for others." Since "the modern spectator or reader [does not] travel to the time and place of the story," then "Eliade’s claim that moderns have myths is less convincing than Jung’s or Campbell’s." Eliade "faces a key dilemma that Jung and Campbell avoid: to be acceptable to moderns, myths must be secular, yet to function as myths, they must be religious. Segal concludes that Eliade fails to overcome this dilemma, thus failing to show that modern myths exist. Having failed to show that modern myths exist, Eliade’s conception of religion as universal is significantly falsified. For Segal, then, Eliade has little of benefit to say to contemporary scholars.
In a section focused on the philosophical analysis of Eliade’s work, Tim Murphy argues that "a transhistorical subjectivity (‘humanism’ in Eliade’s terms) forms the condition for the possibility of the kind of hermeneutic of religion which Eliade both described and practiced" and that this "is Eliade’s central legacy in the history of the study of religion." According to Murphy, however, "the subject is, in fact, historical" and Eliade’s misplaced acceptance of the universality of the subject informs his acceptance of "the homogeneity of consciousness, [which] then, is the basis for Verstehen on this hermeneutical model." Murphy’s "argument is that the necessary consequence of Eliade’s transcendental subjectivity is that it makes his methodology inherently ethnocentric" and that "Eliade’s approach to non-Western cultures is aggressively assimilating in the name of an ethnocentric project." Although Eliade "will say of the term ‘primitive,’ that it is ‘ambiguous and inconsistent,’18 and he often (though not always) puts it in scare quotes," he groups together all Africans, Oceanians, Asians, archaic, and "primitive" peoples. "In what universe do these peoples belong together?" asks Murphy, and he has to answer, "only in the universe of an essentialist consciousness; only in the universe of a universalist subjectivity." Murphy proposes a Nietzschean/Foucaultian "genealogy" as an alternative to the universalist subjectivity informing Eliadean phenomenology. Thus, while not entirely rejecting the value of studying Eliade, Murphy issues a blunt warning against the vices inherent in Eliade’s thought and recommends more salutary fare.
In a more positive assessment of Eliade, Allan Larsen provides a perspective from the discipline of philosophy more-or-less independent of the History of Religions. His paper gives an interesting insight into the philosophical understanding of phenomenology. So strong is Larsen’s conviction of the significance of this phenomenology in Eliade’s work that he can suggest that "it would seem that the title ‘history of religions’ is inappropriate and the ‘phenomenology of religion’ might be more fitting for his work." Moreover, Eliade’s
It is increasingly clear that the distinctions between philosophy, literature, and scholarship in religion are permeable constructs. However, such distinctions are nonetheless applicable and are applied in this volume by separating sections on literature and philosophy. Mac Ricketts informs us that Mircea Eliade felt that, in the long run, his works of fiction would outlast his scholarly writings and finally prove of greater significance.19 Matei Calinescu is likewise "certain that one day Eliade’s literary work will enjoy the wider readership it deserves."20 It is evident that some understanding of Eliade’s literary output is required in any attempt to assess the man and his work. Furthermore, it may be that the study of the relation between literary creativity and the activity of scholarship will itself prove a fruitful application for the study of Eliade.
Mac Linscott Ricketts gives us a brief history of Eliade’s publishing career in America. Although it is particularly "The United States’ Response to Mircea Eliade’s Fiction" that occupies Ricketts, he unavoidably relates details of both Eliade’s worldwide publishing career and of Eliade’s response to his fictional publications in the United States. Although Ricketts seeks to be informative rather than evaluative, this information can be helpful in our attempt to evaluate Eliade. Ricketts’ article is not an account of the content of Eliade’s fiction, nor an evaluation of its merit, nor a literary critical analysis. While such work remains to be done, it cannot be done without first raising awareness of the fact that Eliade was a writer of fiction, and of the significance of this fact. It should be noted that Ricketts agrees with Walter Strauss that "it would be quite wrong to think of [Eliade’] creative work as ‘illustrative’ of his scholarly theories."
The work of literary-critical analysis is begun for us here by Rachela Permenter, who has used Eliade in her work on "non-duality" in the writings of Herman Melville, D. H. Lawrence, and Louise Erdrich. Here, among other insights, she traces the connection between Romanticism and Postmodernism and assesses the presence of "Romantic Postmodernism" in the fiction of Mircea Eliade. She suggests that "[h]is work offers a dependable bridge from Romantic to postmodern thought and by doing so, can help create a postmodernism that includes a protean foundationalism with its anti-foundationalism." In the context of reading some of Eliade’s published fiction such as The Old Man and the Bureaucrats and Miss Christina, as well as materials unpublished in English such as the play Men and Stones and of the short story, published in this volume for the first time in English, "The Man Who Could Read Stones," Permenter makes clear statements about the lineage and characteristics of both Romanticism and postmodernism and helps the willing reader to enter these worlds and to appreciate their continuity. Declaring that it is paradoxically "our repeated arresting of Proteus that allows us to function," she accepts Eliade’s central contradictions as inevitable.
The short story from Mircea Eliade, translated by Ricketts, concludes the section on Literature. Written (in Romanian, of course) some two or three years after Eliade’s move to Chicago, this story has been repeatedly published in Romanian, but never before in English. It is no more revealing than his other fiction of either his style as a writer or the presence of certain themes in his writing. It is, however, a conveniently length and it does include the common themes of his fiction. In the light of Ricketts’ information and Permenter’s analysis, this piece of fiction is included to give readers the opportunity to assess for themselves the possible utility of a study of Eliade’s fiction.
As already mentioned, the boundaries between scholarship in religious studies, philosophy, and literature are conveniences and can be crossed at will. Placing the contributions of Norman Girardot and Wendell Charles Beane in a separate section labeled "Personal Reflections" indicates the confluence of these various styles in the personal lives of their practitioners. While many are bemoaning the failure of the academic study of religion to exhibit any coherence or relevance and questioning its very right to exist as an independent study, Norman Girardot supplies a deeply sensible observation: "Just at the point when the study of religion has finally gained some meager acceptance within the academy, the whole nature of higher education seems poised on the brink of a major sea-change." It is not only the study of religion that is suffering in this way, but the whole of the Academy and religious studies along with it. This "age of erasure" as Girardot neatly labels it, has seen loomings of a failure of nerve21 in many disciplines. This is significant to our study because
Wendell Beane’s argument reveals that there is an inherently inescapable romantic dimension in the truly historical quest and an inherently inescapable historical dimension in the ideal romantic quest. Beane thus alerts the reader to the complexity of the issues that confront the historian of religion and warns against the folly of attempting analyses that seek to be purely historical or purely philosophical. "Neither philosophy nor the history of religions can ever afford to ignore each other," he concludes.
Since he does refer to "the dimension of mystery that the sacred presents to us," Beane is sure to raise the ire of commentators who abhor the inherent vagueness of such terms and the abuses to which it can lead. This suspicion has sound cause, but Beane is irrefutable in his contention that religion insists on talking about things that we do not and arguably cannot know. It is a method of mapping terra incognita and, like it or not, it thus deals with what is mysterious. The greatest danger for the study of religion remains the same danger for all areas of knowledge. That is the great mistake of assuming that our mapping of the unknown is identical to the territory.
Two brief excerpts, previously unpublished in English, from Eliade’s Indian journals of 1929-30 complete this section. Eliade brings to life the realities of the India where he lived for four years. In our attempt to assess the value of his writings it is well that we should be aware of some of his personal reflections on the experiences that formed his early life and thought.
Douglas Allen’s paper is the first of those I have grouped together because of their suggestions as to the applicability of Eliadean thought. In this paper Allen "focus[es] on some of the boldest and most controversial claims in Eliade’s theory of religion: his claims that the study of religion can serve—or even, must serve—as the basis for the cultural and spiritual renewal of modern human beings." He "examine[s] Eliade’s proposals for overcoming modern anxiety, meaninglessness, and provincialism through a radical cultural and spiritual renewal." Allen insists that Eliade’s antihistorical judgments involve an ontological stance and philosophical claims that go far beyond the usual boundaries of the history and phenomenology of religion. However, Allen does not thus claim that Eliade’s "entire study of religion is based on his own religious orientation, on his normative assumptions and judgments." Rather, "in most of his studies, Eliade is attempting to interpret the religious meaning of phenomena for homo religiosus, not the religious meaning for Eliade."
Allen is even-handed in his conclusions as to the value of Eliade’s work. While recognizing its value he concludes that:
In an essay with a sound suggestion to offer for the continued study of religion, William Paden calls for a "new comparativism" that focuses on "religious world habitation." He identifies two differing voices in the writings of Eliade:
Paden attempts a formal characterization of this notion of "world," which "not only marks a clear shift to a post-theological model of comparativism, but also provides a foundational term for addressing the main issue surrounding comparativism, namely, doing justice to difference as well as commonality" and "gives a frame for seeing both commonness and difference."22 He even hazards the identification of "a universal case of worldmaking behavior" in the construction of sacred histories. Any such identification of universals invites unkind attention in this "age of erasure" (Girardot’s phrase), but it also marks the presence of robust theorizing of the kind whose absence is bemoaned by many of Eliade’s critics (especially McCutcheon). Paden suggests the need for a reconsideration of the idea of universals based on world construction and concludes that "the concept of plural world habitation receives some direction and vision from Eliade but needs to be worked out on a broader canvas." He makes a courageous beginning to that work and issues an attractive invitation for our participation.
The subtitle of the volume, The Meaning and End of Eliade, is taken from Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s classic work The Meaning and End of Religion.23 Under this title the concluding essay elucidates certain parallels between our study of Eliade and the study of religion itself. It also attempts to respond to all of the arguments involved, particularly to those calling for an end to Eliadean thought or "the Eliadean era." Focusing on the meaning that Eliade has had for me and for other contributors to this volume, and suggesting the possible meaning of our interpretation for the study and understanding of religious phenomena, I attempt to put Eliade to another end. Some carefully constructed arguments for both positions inform the following essays and readers should consider each one and the world from which each one comes in assessing the very possibility of thus changing worlds.