Manual Romanian Theologians in Dialogue with the World

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The society will also actively pursue the creation of new dialogue groups at other institutions throughout Romania and sponsor an international conference, bringing together representatives of multiple Orthodox faiths with members of other religious traditions. By the Editor on October 13, in Network. Tags: Europe. In belief systems that involve a deus otiosus , the distant High God is believed to have been closer to humans during the mythical age.

After finishing his works of creation, the High God "forsook the earth and withdrew into the highest heaven". Eliade's scholarly work includes a study of shamanism, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy , a survey of shamanistic practices in different areas. His Myths, Dreams and Mysteries also addresses shamanism in some detail. If we define shamanism this way, Eliade claims, we find that the term covers a collection of phenomena that share a common and unique "structure" and "history".

In his examinations of shamanism, Eliade emphasizes the shaman's attribute of regaining man's condition before the "Fall" out of sacred time: "The most representative mystical experience of the archaic societies, that of shamanism, betrays the Nostalgia for Paradise , the desire to recover the state of freedom and beatitude before 'the Fall'.

According to Eliade, one of the most common shamanistic themes is the shaman's supposed death and resurrection. This occurs in particular during his initiation. In more than one way, this death and resurrection represents the shaman's elevation above human nature.

Romanian Theologians in Dialogue with the World by Serafim Romul Joanta

First, the shaman dies so that he can rise above human nature on a quite literal level. After he has been dismembered by the initiatory spirits, they often replace his old organs with new, magical ones the shaman dies to his profane self so that he can rise again as a new, sanctified, being.

Third, the shamanistic phenomenon of repeated death and resurrection also represents a transfiguration in other ways. The shaman dies not once but many times: having died during initiation and risen again with new powers, the shaman can send his spirit out of his body on errands; thus, his whole career consists of repeated deaths and resurrections. The shaman's new ability to die and return to life shows that he is no longer bound by the laws of profane time, particularly the law of death: "the ability to 'die' and come to life again [ Having risen above the human condition, the shaman is not bound by the flow of history.

Therefore, he enjoys the conditions of the mythical age. In many myths, humans can speak with animals; and, after their initiations, many shamans claim to be able to communicate with animals. According to Eliade, this is one manifestation of the shaman's return to "the illud tempus described to us by the paradisiac myths". The shaman can descend to the underworld or ascend to heaven, often by climbing the World Tree , the cosmic pillar, the sacred ladder, or some other form of the axis mundi. Because the gods particularly the High God, according to Eliade's deus otiosus concept were closer to humans during the mythical age, the shaman's easy communication with the High God represents an abolition of history and a return to the mythical age.

Because of his ability to communicate with the gods and descend to the land of the dead, the shaman frequently functions as a psychopomp and a medicine man. In addition to his political essays, the young Mircea Eliade authored others, philosophical in content. One of Eliade's noted contributions in this respect was the Soliloquii "Soliloquies" , which explored existential philosophy. The young writer was however careful to clarify that the existence he took into consideration was not the life of "instincts and personal idiosyncrasies ", which he believed determined the lives of many humans, but that of a distinct set comprising "personalities".

In Eliade's view, two roads await man in this process. By profession, Eliade was a historian of religion. However, his scholarly works draw heavily on philosophical and psychological terminology. In addition, they contain a number of philosophical arguments about religion. In particular, Eliade often implies the existence of a universal psychological or spiritual "essence" behind all religious phenomena. However, others argue that Eliade is better understood as a scholar who is willing to openly discuss sacred experience and its consequences.

In studying religion, Eliade rejects certain " reductionist " approaches. He insists that, although religion involves "the social man, the economic man, and so forth", nonetheless "all these conditioning factors together do not, of themselves, add up to the life of the spirit". Using this anti-reductionist position, Eliade argues against those who accuse him of overgeneralizing, of looking for universals at the expense of particulars.


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Eliade admits that every religious phenomenon is shaped by the particular culture and history that produced it:. When the Son of God incarnated and became the Christ, he had to speak Aramaic ; he could only conduct himself as a Hebrew of his times [ If the Son of God had been born in India, his spoken language would have had to conform itself to the structure of the Indian languages. However, Eliade argues against those he calls " historicist or existentialist philosophers" who do not recognize "man in general" behind particular men produced by particular situations [] Eliade cites Immanuel Kant as the likely forerunner of this kind of "historicism".

According to Eliade, traditional man feels that things "acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality". Eliade describes this view of reality as a fundamental part of "primitive ontology " the study of "existence" or "reality". He argued:. Plato could be regarded as the outstanding philosopher of 'primitive mentality,' that is, as the thinker who succeeded in giving philosophic currency and validity to the modes of life and behavior of archaic humanity.

Eliade thinks the Platonic Theory of forms is "primitive ontology" persisting in Greek philosophy. He claims that Platonism is the "most fully elaborated" version of this primitive ontology. In The Structure of Religious Knowing: Encountering the Sacred in Eliade and Lonergan , John Daniel Dadosky argues that, by making this statement, Eliade was acknowledging "indebtedness to Greek philosophy in general, and to Plato's theory of forms specifically, for his own theory of archetypes and repetition".

Behind the diverse cultural forms of different religions, Eliade proposes a universal: traditional man, he claims, "always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred , which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real".

According to Eliade, "modern nonreligious man assumes a new existential situation". In contrast, nonreligious man lacks sacred models for how history or human behavior should be, so he must decide on his own how history should proceed—he "regards himself solely as the subject and agent of history, and refuses all appeal to transcendence".

Because of this new "existential situation", Eliade argues, the Sacred becomes the primary obstacle to nonreligious man's "freedom". In viewing himself as the proper maker of history, nonreligious man resists all notions of an externally for instance, divinely imposed order or model he must obey: modern man " makes himself , and he only makes himself completely in proportion as he desacralizes himself and the world.

Eliade says that secular man cannot escape his bondage to religious thought. By its very nature, secularism depends on religion for its sense of identity: by resisting sacred models, by insisting that man make history on his own, secular man identifies himself only through opposition to religious thought: "He [secular man] recognizes himself in proportion as he 'frees' and 'purifies' himself from the ' superstitions ' of his ancestors. Eliade sees traces of religious thought even in secular academia. He thinks modern scientists are motivated by the religious desire to return to the sacred time of origins:.

One could say that the anxious search for the origins of Life and Mind; the fascination in the 'mysteries of Nature'; the urge to penetrate and decipher the inner structure of Matter—all these longings and drives denote a sort of nostalgia for the primordial, for the original universal matrix. Matter, Substance, represents the absolute origin , the beginning of all things. Eliade believes the rise of materialism in the 19th century forced the religious nostalgia for "origins" to express itself in science.

He mentions his own field of History of Religions as one of the fields that was obsessed with origins during the 19th century:. The new discipline of History of Religions developed rapidly in this cultural context. And, of course, it followed a like pattern: the positivistic approach to the facts and the search for origins, for the very beginning of religion. All Western historiography was during that time obsessed with the quest of origins. From a psychological point of view, one can decipher here the same nostalgia for the 'primordial' and the 'original'.

In some of his writings, Eliade describes modern political ideologies as secularized mythology. According to Eliade, Marxism "takes up and carries on one of the great eschatological myths of the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world, namely: the redemptive part to be played by the Just the 'elect', the 'anointed', the 'innocent', the 'missioners', in our own days the proletariat , whose sufferings are invoked to change the ontological status of the world.

Likewise, Eliade notes that Nazism involved a pseudo-pagan mysticism based on ancient Germanic religion. He suggests that the differences between the Nazis' pseudo-Germanic mythology and Marx's pseudo-Judaeo-Christian mythology explain their differing success:. In comparison with the vigorous optimism of the communist myth, the mythology propagated by the national socialists seems particularly inept; and this is not only because of the limitations of the racial myth how could one imagine that the rest of Europe would voluntarily accept submission to the master-race?

According to Eliade, modern man displays "traces" of "mythological behavior" because he intensely needs sacred time and the eternal return. According to Eliade, this "terror of history" becomes especially acute when violent and threatening historical events confront modern man—the mere fact that a terrible event has happened, that it is part of history, is of little comfort to those who suffer from it.

Eliade asks rhetorically how modern man can "tolerate the catastrophes and horrors of history—from collective deportations and massacres to atomic bombings —if beyond them he can glimpse no sign, no transhistorical meaning". Eliade indicates that, if repetitions of mythical events provided sacred value and meaning for history in the eyes of ancient man, modern man has denied the Sacred and must therefore invent value and purpose on his own.

Without the Sacred to confer an absolute, objective value upon historical events, modern man is left with "a relativistic or nihilistic view of history" and a resulting "spiritual aridity".

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Eliade argues that modern man may escape the "Terror of history" by learning from traditional cultures. For example, Eliade thinks Hinduism has advice for modern Westerners. According to many branches of Hinduism, the world of historical time is illusory, and the only absolute reality is the immortal soul or atman within man. According to Eliade, Hindus thus escape the terror of history by refusing to see historical time as the true reality.

Eliade notes that a Western or Continental philosopher might feel suspicious toward this Hindu view of history:. One can easily guess what a European historical and existentialist philosopher might reply [ You are asking me, then, to give up my authentic existence and to take refuge in an abstraction, in pure Being, in the atman : I am to sacrifice my dignity as a creator of History in order to live an a-historic, inauthentic existence, empty of all human content.

Well, I prefer to put up with my anxiety: at least, it cannot deprive me of a certain heroic grandeur, that of becoming conscious of, and accepting, the human condition. However, Eliade argues that the Hindu approach to history does not necessarily lead to a rejection of history. On the contrary, in Hinduism historical human existence is not the "absurdity" that many Continental philosophers see it as.

Furthermore, Eliade argues that Westerners can learn from non-Western cultures to see something besides absurdity in suffering and death. Traditional cultures see suffering and death as a rite of passage. In fact, their initiation rituals often involve a symbolic death and resurrection, or symbolic ordeals followed by relief.

Thus, Eliade argues, modern man can learn to see his historical ordeals, even death, as necessary initiations into the next stage of one's existence. Eliade even suggests that traditional thought offers relief from the vague anxiety caused by "our obscure presentiment of the end of the world, or more exactly of the end of our world, our own civilization". Thus, they feel comforted even in contemplating the end times.

Eliade argues that a Western spiritual rebirth can happen within the framework of Western spiritual traditions. In his Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries , Eliade claims that a "genuine encounter" between cultures "might well constitute the point of departure for a new humanism , upon a world scale". Mircea Eliade sees the Abrahamic religions as a turning point between the ancient, cyclic view of time and the modern, linear view of time, noting that, in their case, sacred events are not limited to a far-off primordial age, but continue throughout history: "time is no longer [only] the circular Time of the Eternal Return ; it has become linear and irreversible Time".

When God is born as a man, into the stream of history, "all history becomes a theophany ". From Eliade's perspective, Christianity's "trans-historical message" may be the most important help that modern man could have in confronting the terror of history. In his book Mito "Myth" , Italian researcher Furio Jesi argues that Eliade denies man the position of a true protagonist in history: for Eliade, true human experience lies not in intellectually "making history", but in man's experiences of joy and grief.

Thus, from Eliade's perspective, the Christ story becomes the perfect myth for modern man. By identifying with Christ, modern man can learn to confront painful historical events. In Eliade's view, traditional man sees time as an endless repetition of mythical archetypes. In contrast, modern man has abandoned mythical archetypes and entered linear, historical time—in this context, unlike many other religions, Christianity attributes value to historical time.

Thus, Eliade concludes, "Christianity incontestably proves to be the religion of 'fallen man'", of modern man who has lost "the paradise of archetypes and repetition". In analyzing the similarities between the "mythologists" Eliade, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, Robert Ellwood concluded that the three modern mythologists, all of whom believed that myths reveal "timeless truth", [] fulfilled the role " gnostics " had in antiquity.

The diverse religious movements covered by the term "gnosticism" share the basic doctrines that the surrounding world is fundamentally evil or inhospitable, that we are trapped in the world through no fault of our own, and that we can be saved from the world only through secret knowledge gnosis. Whether in Augustan Rome or modern Europe, democracy all too easily gave way to totalitarianism , technology was as readily used for battle as for comfort, and immense wealth lay alongside abysmal poverty.

To all this the mythologists spoke, and they acquired large and loyal followings. According to Ellwood, the mythologists believed in gnosticism's basic doctrines even if in a secularized form. Ellwood also believes that Romanticism , which stimulated the modern study of mythology, [] strongly influenced the mythologists. Because Romantics stress that emotion and imagination have the same dignity as reason, Ellwood argues, they tend to think political truth "is known less by rational considerations than by its capacity to fire the passions" and, therefore, that political truth is "very apt to be found [ As modern gnostics, Ellwood argues, the three mythologists felt alienated from the surrounding modern world.

As scholars, they knew of primordial societies that had operated differently from modern ones. And as people influenced by Romanticism, they saw myths as a saving gnosis that offered "avenues of eternal return to simpler primordial ages when the values that rule the world were forged".

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In addition, Ellwood identifies Eliade's personal sense of nostalgia as a source for his interest in, or even his theories about, traditional societies. In Ellwood's view, Eliade's nostalgia was only enhanced by his exile from Romania: "In later years Eliade felt about his own Romanian past as did primal folk about mythic time. He was drawn back to it, yet he knew he could not live there, and that all was not well with it. Ellwood sees evidence of this in Eliade's concept of the "Terror of history" from which modern man is no longer shielded.

Eliade cites a wide variety of myths and rituals to support his theories. However, he has been accused of making over-generalizations: many scholars think he lacks sufficient evidence to put forth his ideas as universal, or even general, principles of religious thought. According to one scholar, "Eliade may have been the most popular and influential contemporary historian of religion", but "many, if not most, specialists in anthropology, sociology, and even history of religions have either ignored or quickly dismissed" Eliade's works.

The classicist G. Kirk criticizes Eliade's insistence that Australian Aborigines and ancient Mesopotamians had concepts of "being", "non-being", "real", and "becoming", although they lacked words for them. Kirk also believes that Eliade overextends his theories: for example, Eliade claims that the modern myth of the " noble savage " results from the religious tendency to idealize the primordial, mythical age.

For example, Kirk argues that the eternal return does not accurately describe the functions of Native American or Greek mythology. Even Wendy Doniger , Eliade's successor at the University of Chicago, claims in an introduction to Eliade's own Shamanism that the eternal return does not apply to all myths and rituals, although it may apply to many of them.

She also argues that Eliade's theories have been able to accommodate "new data to which Eliade did not have access". Several researchers have criticized Eliade's work as having no empirical support. Thus, he is said to have "failed to provide an adequate methodology for the history of religions and to establish this discipline as an empirical science", [] though the same critics admit that "the history of religions should not aim at being an empirical science anyway".

She contends that Eliade never did any field work or contacted any indigenous groups that practiced Shamanism, and that his work was synthesized from various sources without being supported by direct field research. In contrast, Professor Kees W. Bolle of the University of California, Los Angeles argues that "Professor Eliade's approach, in all his works, is empirical": [] Bolle sets Eliade apart for what he sees as Eliade's particularly close "attention to the various particular motifs" of different myths. Ronald Inden , a historian of India and University of Chicago professor, criticized Mircea Eliade, alongside other intellectual figures Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell among them , for encouraging a "romantic view" of Hinduism.

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