Mircea Eliade:

The Sacred and the Profane


1.     Eliade’s starting point: Two Axioms

a.     Religion is sui generis: “A religious phenomenon will only be understood as such if it is grasped at its own level, that is to say, if it is studied as something religious”.

b.     We should study religion through a comparative, phenomenological approach (as well as through study of the unique histories of religions).

                                      i.     Phenomenology is the comparative study of things in the form, or appearance, they present to us

                                    ii.     Goethe: “He who knows one knows none”

                                   iii.     Look for general forms, broad patterns of phenomena in religion that can be taken outside of their original time and place

2.     The Sacred and the Profane

a.     Modern person must step outside of modern civilization and into the world of “archaic man” – people who lived in prehistoric times or who today live in tribal societies and rural folk settings – where the daily routine (hunting, fishing, farming) occurs within the world of nature.

3.     Life is lived on two different planes: the sacred and the profane

a.     The profane: realm of everyday business, ordinary, random, unimportant.  Vanishing and fragile, full of shadows.  Things are changeable and chaotic.

b.     The sacred: sphere of supernatural, extraordinary, memorable, momentous.  Eternal, full of reality and substance. Sphere of order and perfection, home of ancestors, heroes, gods.

                                      i.     Draws on Otto: sacred is realm of the numinous, overpoweringly great, saturated with power

                                    ii.     Irreducible

c.     For pre-modern: sacred is absolutely essential to existence. Divine models, sacred patterns that shape all aspects of their lives

                                      i.     Phoebus Apollo: god drives chariot of sun across the sky everyday.  Rise at dawn when he harnesses horses; work as he travels; sleep and restore strength when he rests his horses. Sacred patterns govern all kinds of activities: building chariots, boats, houses, etc.

d.     Patterns in Comparative Religion

                                      i.     Hierophany (sacred appearance) and Cosmos (world, place of order)

                                    ii.     Setting up a village: divinely ordered structure issuing from a sacred center, surrounded by disorder of desert, forest, open plains

                                   iii.     Building a house: Indra and Vritra, snake that supports the world, fix its head (chaos to order of creation)

                                   iv.     axis mundi(centerpost of the world): sacred  center marked by pole, pillar, vertical object, tree, mountain.  Unites heaven, earth, and underworld, whole world turns around it, order emanates from it.

1.     Example: Hindu temple; Jacobs ladder

4.     Desire of archaic people to be in the realm of the sacred.

a.     A sense of the “fall,” a profound separation, feeling of absence, nostalgia for paradise