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Douglas Allen

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Title and/or Abstract:
Mircea Eliade's View of the Study of Religion as the Basis for Cultural and Spiritual Renewal.

Douglas Allen

Texts, contexts, and interpretations dynamically interact in complex, often contradictory, relations. This is true of Eliade's personal historical background: Eliade's construction of specific kinds of texts and how these are integrally related to the specific Romanian, Indian, and other contexts within which he lived. This is also true of Eliade's reception in the USA: how Eliade's texts were interpreted and received is integrally related to the specific historical, political and scholarly contexts within the United States.

My primary interest is how Eliade's historical background did or did not shape his scholarship and the reception of his works. I believe that his scholarly attitudes, commitments, and methodology were partially or largely shaped by his personal, psychological, cultural, historical background. And his reception in the USA was greatly determined by how he fit into specific historical contexts within this country. At the same time, I am not a mechanistic, historical determinist. I do not want to reduce completely Eliade's scholarship and his reception to such historical determinants. But I also do not believe that we can understand Eliade's scholarship and reception by completely detaching them from their historical contexts.

It is my position that some of Eliade's defenders and critics have at times oversimplified what is a rather complex and ambiguous picture. On the one hand, Eliade was well received by a small group of influential scholars at the University of Chicago and became the dominant figure in the Chicago School. The fact that Joachim Wach invited Eliade to the USA and Eliade succeed Wach as the dominant professor in the History of Religions at Chicago is revealing.

On the other hand, most scholars of religion rejected Eliade's approach as methodologically uncritical, unscientific, antihistorical, arbitrary, and outdated. Leaving aside Altizer's book in 1963 (which is more about Altizer than Eliade), there was not one scholarly book written about Eliade published in the United States (or anywhere else) for over 20 years after Eliade had come to Chicago (even though Eliade's most significant scholarly books were written in France in the late 1940s and 1950s and were available in English). For several decades, this rejection or dismissal of Eliade had little or nothing to do with his personal or political history, such as his relationship with Romanian fascism.

By examining some of the different contexts in the United States from the 1950s when Eliade came to the US to 1986 when he died-50s aftermath of McCarthy period, 60s counterculture and interest in India and nonWestern spirituality, 70s and 80s conservative backlash against liberal projects of modernity, and so forth-we can better understand some of the appeals Eliade had to very different audiences.

Even Eliade's appeal as a conservative within different conservative contexts can be ambiguous and contradictory. There are certain kinds of orientations, as seen in aspects of Eliade's life and works, that may seem to be quite radical, but which can be tolerated, or even at times appropriated, by conservatives. There are other kinds of nonEliadean radical orientations, such as those grounded in historical analysis, that must be rejected by conservatives.

I want to explore the complexity of the reception in terms of the backlash against the Enlightenment project and a certain kind of anti-modernism. Eliade's personal and scholarly history of anti-modernism gave rise to ambiguous and complex receptions. The usual anti-modernist reaction was methodologically and politically conservative: a nostalgia for some pre-modern condition, a nonhistorical legitimation of rather static, premodern, hierarchical structures of domination, and so forth.

But this was not necessarily the case. I shall try to elaborate on how some scholars, including myself, did not completely reject Eliade, but their reception of Eliade was selective. They found much that was valuable in Eliade and tried to incorporate this in some nonEliadean synthesis and orientation. The dissatisfaction with much of modernism, for example, need not lead to a romantic pre-modernism. It can also lead to a post-modernism or to the adoption of a significantly re-formulated modernist project. I shall show how this has contributed to the ambiguous and contradictory reception of Eliade.

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Douglas Allen is associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Maine at Orono. He gained his PhD from Vanderbilt University and has studied at Yale and Benares Hindu University. He has published Structure and Creativity in Religion: Hermeneutics in Mircea Eliade's Phenomenology and New Directions (The Hague, Mouton, 1978); "Eliade and History," in the Journal of Religion (68 (1988): 545­565); and, with Denis Doeing, Mircea Eliade. An Annotated Bibliography (New York and London: Garland, 1980). Prof. Allen's Mircea Eliade on Myth and Religion was published by Garland Press in 1998.