Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism

Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism

Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism

Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism


The influential scholar of religion Mircea Eliade envisioned a spiritually destitute modern culture coming into renewed meaning through the recovery of archetypal myths and symbols. Eliade defined this restoration of meaning as a "new humanism" of existential meaning and cultural-religious unity. Through a biographical exegesis of Eliade's life and writings from his earliest years in Romania to his final ones as professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, Cave sets forward a structural description of what this "new humanism" might have meant for Eliade, and what it signifies for modern culture. Cave concludes by endorsing Eliade's radically pluralistic vision which, he argues, offers a key to the revitalization of our demythologized and material culture. This study repositions previous Eliadean studies and places the "new humanism" as the paradigm in relation to which future readings of Eliade should be evaluated.


I first became acquainted with Eliade through his autobiography. What amazed me was how driven he was in his need to create, which for him meant to write from the enormous range of his readings and his multiform experiences. Eliade wrote broadly. He had an obsessive need to create an oeuvre. From the journalistic and apologetic to the literary and the scholarly, Eliade wrote in all genres for all audiences.

Yet behind this body of work an interpretive schema and visionary impulse cohered, stabilized, and directed his life. Eliade interpreted his life, as he would all human life, as being mythological in structure. Humans undergo repeated initiations in the pursuit of meaning. This mythological thrust to human life interested me. But what interested me more was the nature of the vision and impulse that inspired and drove him as a humanist. This study is a prolegomenon to the visionary impulse behind Eliade's prolix life. It also looks at how Eliade foresaw this impulse for culture at large, the audience to whom Eliade ultimately directed his writings.

In helping me refine and sober my initial readings of Eliade and initiate me into the complexities and controversies surrounding him, I am grateful to a number of people. Now at Baylor University, John Jonsson encouraged me to consider researching the thought of Eliade. Glen Stassen and E. Glenn Hinson, at Southern Seminary, commented on the initial drafts of each chapter and on the final manuscript. At the University of Chicago, Jerald Brauer, Joseph Kitagawa, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, and Paul Wheatley provided helpful perspectives on the life and thought of Eliade. the late loan Culianu confirmed my research direction at a time when I needed it, read the entire manuscript, and encouraged its publication. I am grateful for what he did and am grieved that such an eminent scholar and warm human being should have been so tragically taken from us.

Special thanks goes to Lawrence Sullivan at Harvard University. From when he first instructed me when I was a visiting student at the University of Chicago to when he read the entire text, Sullivan's comments were indispensable for giving me and others confidence in the manuscript.

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