Titles, Order. A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries by Mircea Eliade, volume 1. A History of Religious Ideas. A History of Religious Ideas, 3 volumes. By Mircea Eliade. Volumes 1 (From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries) & 2 (From Gautama Buddha to the. History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, Eliade, Trask.


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There are important issues to be addressed before we may accept his positions.


Many of these "philosophic" issues are not considered by him, either in these books or, contrary to what he says, in his others as well. Eliade says in the Preface to Volume I that he will not concern himself in this project with questions of methodology and that his history of religious ideas in support of his approach to the history of religions have been given elsewhere.

He does say, laconically, what this approach is, however, and it appears to be in one respect contrary to his previously stated position.

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  • A History of Religious Ideas 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries

Whereas he champions an ahistorical methodology in many of his earlier works and attempts to lay bare the putatively universal structure of the human experience of the sacred, Eliade here purports to discern "progress" in the history of religions.

He claims that while "every manifestation of the sacred is important to the historian of religions, In other words, he says that his selection of material to relate in these books is in part determined by "crises in depth" which result in new creations whereby religious traditions are able to renew and sustain history of religious ideas.

Thus we are to discern no mere eclecticism in this narration but rather at least in part a meaningful history of evaluative response. This is one of two themes that give his narration a peculiar unity.

The other is a theme of mysticism that we shall examine later on.

History of Religious Ideas, Volume 3

The syncretism that is obvious in many religious developments is not viewed by Eliade as a difficulty history of religious ideas his theory of religious progress. Contrary to what one might expect from a defender of the validity of religious experiences, Eliade relishes the syncretisms of history.

On the whole, he sees the borrowings and incorporations of religious ideas as part of the dialectic of the sacred, to be explained as culturally appropriated insight into some inadequacy of a traditional belief or practice and as an implicit attempt to widen the sphere of religious response.

Thus the moments of syncretism are to be moments of "valorization" whereby history of religious ideas culture renews its religious life and progresses.

Series: History of Religious Ideas

This understanding of religious syncretism informs a large portion of the discussion in Volume 1. As indicated, that there is a temporal dimension to the notion of a dialectic of the sacred appears to constitute a change in Eliade's thought. In Patterns in Comparative Religion, one of his important earlier works for questions of methodology, that dimension is not prominent, and Eliade warns against taking a priori history of religious ideas "evolutionist" approach.

On the other hand, he does say that "Christian faith" provides for the modern person the best defense against the "terror of history" in its idea of a historical transfiguration [3] -- in as early a work as The Myth of the Eternal Return [first published ].

In any case, near the end of Volume 2 he says, " As suggested, it often appears that such a conviction stands at the heart of Eliade's own project see for example the interpretation of Mazdean theology, 2,and the imputed importance of Joachim of Fiore, 3, But it is equally true that Eliade has not abandoned the "structural" and "ontological" approach of his earlier works, as will be elaborated below.

Note that while superficially the two outlooks are blended rather well in the exposition, Eliade does not try to illumine the compatibility of the two. History of religious ideas may then ask why is it that the sacred, which is real and has been known to be so throughout human history, should also be progressively revealed.

Further, precisely to what extent are valuations of religious creations to be a part of the "dialectic of the sacred," and what part may the religious experiences claim?


We shall have to wait for the appearance of the fourth and final volume of the series to see the ways in which Eliade thinks that the line of ideas and progressive creations is continued in our day, for Volume 3 does not proceed history of religious ideas further than the era of the Reformation.

A fourth volume is indeed promised in the "Preface" to Volume 3 in French.

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In the Preface to Volume 1, Eliade says that in the final chapter of the projected three-volume work he will comment on the religious creations of the modern and contemporary period.

That chapter is now slated for the forthcoming Volume 4. Eliade is plainly history of religious ideas ecumenicist of a certain sort.