Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

The Tension between Scholarship and Politics: A Consideration of the Legacy of Eliade

Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

The Tension between Scholarship and Politics: A Consideration of the Legacy of Eliade

Article excerpt

A legacy embodies past achievements, an accounting or summation for posterity in order to assess a person's place in the past within a particular field, and a critical evaluation of these achievements. With Mircea Eliade, there is a vast number of achievements because of his distinguished record of publications in Religious Studies on myth, ritual, various religious traditions, and specific subjects such shamanism and yoga. To this long list of books and essays, it is possible to include his journals and autobiography that give us a look behind the publications and into his private life. There are also the many literary publications of short stories, novellas, and novels, such as Maitreyi (Bengal Nights), Isabel §i apele diavolului (Isabel and the Devil's Waters), Tìnerete farà tìnerete (Youth without Youth), Secretul doctorului Honigberger (The Secret of Dr. Honigberger), and Noaptea de Sânziene (The Forbidden Forest). This output of literary and scholarly works is nothing short of astonishing for a single lifetime. In addition, Eliade was honored by holding an endowed chair at the University of Chicago, creation of an endowed chair in his name held by Wendy Doniger at the present time, editorship of the first edition of the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Religion, various honorary degrees, and posthumous election to the Romanian Academy. His continuing relevance is evident by a conference on his legacy and that of Joachim Wach at the University of Chicago in 2006 and a few panels devoted to discussing his contributions to the study of religion and literature at the 2010 annual convention of the American Academy of Religion.

Excluding his literary works, it is not an easy task to determine the precise legacy of his scholarly contributions, although I think that five of his scholarly books have withstood the test of time: Shamanism; Yoga Immortality and Freedom; The Myth of the Eternal Return; Patterns in Comparative Religion, and The Sacred and the Profane. In addition to their longevity and continued relevance, I have highlighted these scholarly works because they continue to exert either a positive or negative reaction from critics. These various critics have not always been satisfied with critiques of his method, theory of religion, particular phenomena, or comparisons. Embodied within the various forms of criticism hangs the specter of Eliade's past association with the politically far right Iron Guard, which espoused anti-Semitic sentiments and Fascist convictions. Despite his successful literary work and his scholarly contributions to the study of religion, any assessment of Eliade's legacy must consider his political and personal baggage from his past association with the Iron Guard because this is a part of his legacy. Although Eliade's pre- World War II association with this nationalistic right wing movement in Romania taints his work in the view of some critics, this political connection shapes his legacy for good or ill, and needs to be considered. Eliade's past political association became public knowledge late in his life. Unfortunately, he never addressed or clarified his political past, and gave the impression to many that he was trying to hide something sinister about himself. This is regrettable because he could have counteracted many critics, although he was never going to placate everyone. At the very least, he found himself on the wrong side of history and a target for left-wing academics.

When considering his scholarly legacy in this essay I want to consider his critics with my own critical eye without attempting to defend Eliade's past political associations, but I do make an attempt to view Eliade's political past from his own perspective without grinding my own political axe. I intend to show that the critical attacks on Eliade's past politics are symptomatic of a fad in the field of Religions Studies that are often combined with ad hominem attacks.

Two Theoretical Works

Patterns in Comparative Religion and The Sacred and the Profane are two books that exemplify Eliade's approach to the study of religion and its phenomena. …

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