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Civilizations and world religions


Civilizations and world religions 3. Lecture. The religious freedom The elements of evolutionary theory of religion 1. The interpretation of the origins of religion ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Civilizations and world religions

Civilizations and world religions
  • 3. Lecture.
  • The religious freedom

The elements of evolutionary theory of religion
  • 1. The interpretation of the origins of religion
    by the help of basic catherogies of evolution,
    (such as inheritance, mutation, selection,
    adaptation, etc.)
  • 2a. The interpretation of religion as a social,
    gadgeteered construction, as an adaptation, (a
    function that helps the survival).
  • 2b. The presentation of such functions, which
    helps the individuals and the group to solve
    certain problems in the actual situation, or in
    the actual level of evolution. (So, due to which
    function it is an adaptation, and not a
    by-product or a bug).
  • 3. The understanding of why is the unfolding of
    evolutionary story that lead to the present,
    (just so story). In evolution the answer to a
    question is always a story.

What is religion? In the prespective of
evolutionary theory
  • 1. Religion is a cultural universal it could
    be found in every known present and past (after
    its material mementos known) societies.
  • Concerning sociologists (Durkheim, Murdock,
    Lévi-Strauss, Donald Brown, etc.) a cultural
    universal is an element, pattern, trait, or
    institution that is common to all human cultures

The sacred and the profane. Initial remarks
  • Every particular religion has religious texts and
    documents, rituals, festivals, holy items,
    sacred places. Has a sacred account about the
    totality of the world and being.
  • This means, that every particular religion has
    its institutionalized, canonized form of
    religious experience. At the core of religious
    experience lie the distinctions between sacred
    and profane, this-world and other-world. The
    positive religions give an institutionally
    articulated form to these basic distinctions.
  • The conception of transcendence or the sacred is
    always embedded into a special cultural context.
    This could be a source of conflicts between
    different cultures. What one culture considers
    sacred, is not sacred for another cultural
    community, or even the antagonistic opposition of
    holy the unholy. Some religions regard other as
    counter-religions, and fanatics sometimes
    desecrate the counter-religions holy symbols.
  • Conflict American soldiers burnt Korans in
    Afghanistan a few days ago, which caused a huge
    wave of protestation there.

Mircea Eliade. Life and work
  • Mircea Eliade born Bucharest, 1907 deceased
    Chicago, 1986. Romanian theorist and historian of
    religion, father of modern religious studies.
  • Most essential works The Sacred and the Profane
    The Nature of Religion (1956), History of
    Religious Ideas I-III (1968), The Myth of Eternal
    Return Cosmos and History (1969).
  • Other important works Yoga Immortality and
    Freedom, Shamanism Archaic Techniques of
    Ecstasy, Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural
    Fashions, Images and Symbols Studies in
    Religious Symbolism.
  • Was a supporter and an ideologist of the romanian
    Iron Guard, in the 1930es. For this reason he had
    to spend three weeks in prison, in 1938.
  • Because of his earlier radical rightist views he
    had to go to exile on September 16,1945 he moved
    with his daughter to France. Due to his
    friendship with Georges Dumézil he got a position
    of a lecturer in Paris, (École pratique des
    hautes études).
  • In October 1956, he moved to the United States,
    settling in Chicago, and became the professor of
    Chicago University. There has been organised a
    school of researchers around Eliade.

Main ideas. Basic structures of religious
  • According to Eliade the idea of a homogeneous
    space and time of the modern man is a result of a
    long cultural development.
  • The space and time of the modern man is
    homogeneous, every point of it is equal to the
  • On the contrary the archaic, premodern,
    religious man had an inhomogeneous space and
    time. This means that the space and time of
    archaic man had special points.
  • For the archaic /premodern/religious man it meant
    a difference of sacred space and time as opposed
    to profane space and time.
  • Sacred space the holy place, the sacred ground
    where the religious man had a special connection
    with transcendence. Sacred time the holy time,
    the religious fest, when a special event of the
    religions mythical history returned.

The sacred and the profane
  • In Eliades opinion the most fundamental
    structure of religious experience is the
    experience of the sacred. The sacred is the
    manifestation of the transcendence. The
    difference of sacred and profane could be found
    in every known religion.
  • According to Eliade this structure of experience
    could be found even at modern, secular,
    non-religious man. The cult of politicians,
    political leaders in totalitarian regimes, and
    pop-stars in modern popular culture is a
    reminiscence of this experience, (the sacred
    person). In Eliades interpretation this is a
    sign that religious experience is in a way
    inherent to the human being, it is a necessary
    structure of human existence.
  • The differentiation of sacred and profane comes
    originally from Émile Durkheim, (The elementary
    forms of religious life, 1912) who used this
    distinction in his descriptions of totem and
    taboo of natural, primitive religions.
  • But it was Eliade who worked out an overall
    conception on the basis of this distinction, to
    characterize religion in its essence, in general.

Hierophany, epiphany, theophany.
  • Eliade used mostly the term hierophany to
    characterize the phenomenon of the sacred. The
    term hierophany signifies the manifestation of
    the sacred. Hierophany is a greek expression
    hieros sacred, phainein to reveal.
  • A strongly correlative term for hierophany is
    epiphany. Epiphany means in ancient greek
    language epiphaneia, manifestation, striking
    appearance. The epiphany is insight or
    illumination through the divine or the
  • Theophany is a more restrictive term for
    hierophany. Theophany means the appearance of a
    god. So it is a more concrete understanding of
    hierophany, as it refers to a concrete form of
    transcendence, namely to a godly or divine

The sacred place
  • For the ancient man there were sacred places in
    space, which were considered by them as central
    points in the world.
  • Usually there were several central sacred places,
    and a hierarchy of these points. So there was a
    centre of centres or a highest centre for a
    certain religious community.
  • E.g. three very favoured places of pilgrimage in
    Medieval Christianity were 3. the Purgatory of
    Saint Patrick (Ireland), 2. Santiago de
    Compostella (Spain, the tomb of Apostle Saint
    James), 1. Rome, (Italy). But there was a centre
    of centres Jerusalem, (Israel). Jerusalem was
    also the highest centre for Judaic (Jewish) and
    Muslim religions.
  • But over and above these major and highest
    centre, there were, so to say minor centers
    the church and temple for every single religious
    community. In medieval communities the church
    counted as the centre of the particular community.

Axis mundi
  • This symbolism of the centre, or of the centres,
    according to Eliade, goes back to a fundamental
    structure of religious experience, which he
    called axis mundi (axis of world).
  • For the proper religious community axis mundi was
    the centre of the entire world, and also a
    channel between the region of mortals and the
    region of deities, of divine transcendence.
  • The religious leaders of the group in question
    (shamans, witch-doctors, clerics, priests etc.),
    those who know the proper rituals, could easily
    communicate with the divine forces at these
  • All known religions knew centers of this kind.
    The more archaic religions had these highest
    centre in a very concrete form the mountain
    Olympus for the Greeks, or the Yggdrasil, the
    World Tree for the old Nordic, German, Viking
  • The more developed a religion was, the more
    abstract the idea of this centre became. In
    monotheistic world-religions (on a certain degree
    of development) these centers gained a merely
    symbolic meaning.

Sacred time. The festival
  • The more important points (points of
    articulation, of orientation) of time for
    religious person were religious holidays or
  • Eliade criticized Carl Gustav Jung, who claimed
    that the religious person commemorated the
    important events of the mythical history of the
    particular religion in question.
  • According to Eliade religious festivals were
    something much more stronger than mere
    commemorations. In his opinion festivals were a
    sort of Eternal Return.
  • The ancient, premodern person did not only
    commemorate the fundamental events of his or her
    religions mythical pre-history. For him or her
    those events returned and repeated during the
    sacred time of festivals, in quite a literal way.
  • As the sacred places, the sacred times too meant
    a channel through the world into the transcendent

Eternal Return and the Terror of History
  • In Eliades interpretation the archaic/premodern
    man lived in a rather cyclic world. For him/her
    the world was an Eternal Return or repetition of
    days, seasons, years and mythical events. The
    born and death of Sun God, the born and death of
    barley (Eleusinian Mysteries!), the born and
    death of entire generations.
  • The New Year ceremonies amongst Mesopotamians,
    Egyptians, and other Near Eastern peoples
    re-enacted their cosmogonic myths. Each and every
    New Year ceremony was the beginning of the World
    in real.
  • According to Eliade, the linear view of history
    and time is a modern construction, which is based
    on the Eschatology of major monotheistic
    religions, (Judaism, Islam, Christianity).
  • Eliade refers with the term The Terror of
    History to the modern, secularized conception of
    historical time, which was entirely empty of the
    sacred. In Eliades interpretation the ancient
    man had a living connection with transcendence,
    due to its contact with the mythical age through
    the Eternal Return. Therefore the ancient people
    were in a way safe of the Terror of History.

Myths of origin. The origin of time
  • According to Eliade in ancient man lived a strong
    nostalgia for origins, (Eliade, Myths, Dreams
    and Mysteries, 1967 44 ). The ancient man made a
    difference between his time and the mythical
    time, between his age and the mythical age. In
    the ancient mans view of world the mythical time
    was the origin of time itself.
  • The mythical time was the time of the Beginnings,
    the time of myths of origins. In traditional
    societies, Eliade says, myths represented the
    absolute truth about primordial time, (Eliade,
    1967 23).
  • The myth of origins, as he states, is always an
    account of a creation, (Eliade, 1967 6). The
    mythical time was the time when Sacred first
    appeared and established the structure of the
    world. The myth of origin is an account about the
    origin of Sacred itself.

Coincidentia oppositorum The coincidence of
  • According to Eliade the Sacred often united
    antagonistic oppositions in itself. Eliade called
    the unity of opposition in one concrete form of
    the Sacred as coincidentia oppositorum or the
    coincidence of oppositions.
  • Yahweh is both kind and wrathful the God of the
    Christian mystics and theologians is terrible and
    gentle at once, (Eliade, 1967 450).
  • Coincidentia oppositorum represented, according
    to him, a strong union or unity of oppositions.
    It is a mythic pattern that could be found again
    also in almost every religions so in Far East,
    Oriental and ancient religions also.
  • E.g. for the ancient Greeks Zeus is terrible and
    noble at the same time. In Buddhism the Karma
    (which is the engine which drives the wheel of
    uncontrolled rebirth) could be gentle and
    terrible at the same time. (But in Buddhism the
    opposites appear only on the relative level of
    sensuous phenomena, and they disappear in the
    absolute space of enlightened consciousness).

The Sky Father. The pattern of High God
  • According to Eliade in most archaic religions one
    could find a central divine figure, around which
    the community of other gods is organized.
  • Eliade criticizes both the "evolutionistic"
    theory of Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) and
    others, and Wilhelm Schmidts (1868-1954) theory
    of a primal monotheism (Urmonotheismus).
  • According to Tylers evolutionist theory of
    religion, there was a natural progress from
    animism to polytheism, and from polytheism to
    monotheism. But in Eliades opinion this strict
    schema does not hold in the reality, and the
    figure of Sky Father could be found in almost
    every tribal, primitive religion. The most
    popular prayer in the world is addressed to 'Our
    Father who art in heaven.' It is possible that
    man's earliest prayers were addressed to the same
    heavenly father. said Eliade, (Eliade,
    Patterns in Comparative Religion, 1958 38).
  • But he also criticized Schmidts conception about
    a strict primordial monotheism. This theory, as
    Eliade thought, was rigid and unworkable.
    Though archaic, tribal cults had a central
    figure, they were nonetheless polytheistic, and
    their High God was very different from the One
    God of more developed monotheistic religions.
    (E.g. the High God could manifest himself as an
    animal, without losing his status as a celestial
    Supreme Being).

Cosmos and chaos. Fundamental structure of the
actual world
  • The distinction of cosmos and chaos referred
    again to further fundamental feature of the
    ancient mans view of world at Eliade, (The
    Sacred and the Profane).
  • These words came from the ancient Greek language.
    Cosmos signified world and order at the
    same time. For the ancient man world meant an
    articulated world, with laws and order. Chaos
    was for him/her the counter-concept of cosmos
    the lack of any order and law. Chaos was a
    rupture in the texture of cosmos, of the world.
  • Cosmos signified at Eliade the home-world of
    ancient man the world of laws, customs, habits,
    rituals which were familiar and accustomed for
    the premodern person. Cosmos was the world of
    mortals and immortals the pantheon of the
    concrete cultural community belonged to the
    home-world of this community also.
  • The chaos meant the opposite of the world, it
    meant counter-world, the lack of the world.
    Outside the particular world of the community,
    its laws do not hold anymore. Beyond the borders
    of the home-world of the particular group there
    is the other-world.

Criticism of Eliades ideas
  • The main points of criticism concerning Eliades
    scholarship aimed at Eliades overgeneralizations.
  • Eliades critics claimed that he tended to use
    his classifications and conceptions even in those
    cases in which he was actually had no
    satisfactory evidence. He tended to elide the
    principal differences between different
  • According to these scholars (e.g. Dougles Allen,
    Geoffrey Kirk, Wendy Doniger) even Eliades
    speculations about the fundamental features of
    religions implied to rigid categories, and every
    religion has such particular moments which cannot
    be described with Eliades own system of
  • The complexity of particular religions cannot be
    so easily grasped with such as system of
    categories that Eliade worked out.