Philip Vanhaelemeersch

"Eliade, 'History' And 'Historicism'"

Abstract Curriculum Vitae


This paper discusses the status of "history" in Eliade. Instead of reiterating the classic accusation that Eliade denies the idea of history, I want to bring some more nuance to the arguments of and against Eliade. History is an idea that may cover anything from the mere collection of empirical data up to existentialism.

The best way to bring clarity in Eliade's ideas on history is by conceptualizing the term that has and still creates so much confusion. To use the seemingly obvious term "history" to establish the presence or absence of the idea of "history" is wrong. Instead, I would suggest that we address the issue in terms of the concept of "historicism."

First, as a historian of religion Eliade does not reject history as do yogins or shamans. What he rejects is a specific way of conceiving the historical character of religion. "Historicism" in this context means the belief not only in the irreversibility of the process of history but also in the irreversibility of events. To say that an event is irreversible means that the event means only what it means at the time it occurs. There is no way in which past events (or persons) could be rendered present afterwards.

Secondly, I shall confront Eliade with the Italian form of historicism (storicismo). This is an entirely different kind of historicism although it has often been equated with other kinds of historicism and although it usually occurs in a somewhat diluted form. The historicism of the father of storicismo, Benedetto Croce, moves the discussion with Eliade on history to the most fundamental level, to a genuinely philosophical level.

Curriculum Vitae

Please e-mail inquiries to:

Bryan Rennie