Eliade, Mircea, 1907-1986

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1907-03-09
Death 1986-04-22
Romanians
Romanian; Moldavian; Moldovan, English, French

Biographical notes:

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Romanian historian of religions and author, and professor in the University of Chicago Divinity School and Committee on Social Thought, 1957-1986. The papers include correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, publications, audio and video recordings, and personal materials and artifacts.

From the description of Mircea Eliade papers, 1926-1998 (inclusive) (University of Chicago Library). WorldCat record id: 606590136

Mircea Eliade (13 March 1907-22 April 1986), author and historian of religions, was born in Bucharest Romania to Gheorge Eliade, an army officer, and Ioana Stoenescu Vasile. Gheorge had changed the family name from Ieremia to Eliade in order to honor the noted Romanian writer Ion Eliade Radulescu. During most of World War I, Gheorge served on the front line while the adolescent Mircea lived in German-occupied Bucharest. After the war, Captain Gheorge Eliade retired, and Mircea was raised in genteel poverty.

An eager learner from childhood, Eliade read voraciously despite his myopia and published scores of short stories and commentaries by the time he was eighteen years old. As a student at the University of Bucharest, Eliade contributed to the newspaper Cuvântul and was mentored by its editor, Professor Nae Ionescu. Active in religion and politics, Ionescu maintained a strong influence over Eliade until his death in 1940.

Interested in Indian philosophy and wanting to learn Sanskrit, Eliade wrote to a wealthy Indian maharajah and requested six months of funding so that he might study with the scholar Surendranath Dasgupta. The maharajah replied that he would fund Eliade's studies for five years to allow a serious study of the language. Eliade's studies in India began in 1928, but his benefactor died after only two years, leaving Eliade with no financial support except a small stipend from the Romanian government. His instructor, Dasgupta, allowed Eliade to continue his studies and supplied room and board until he discovered that his daughter and Eliade were romantically involved. Dismissed by Dasgupta, Eliade studied yoga under Swami Shivananda at Rishikesh for six months before returning home under the threat of being drafted by the Romanian military.

Eliade returned to Bucharest in 1931 and continued to publixh articles and novels while completing his dissertation at the University of Bucharest (1933). He remained at the university as an assistant to Professor Nae Ionescu and taught classes on yoga. The publication of his book Yoga (1936) in French brought Eliade international attention, though within Romania he remained known primarily for his novels and nationalist writings.

Nae Ionescu had been actively involved in the Legion of the Archangel (also known as the Iron Guard), a right-wing Romanian movement, and Eliade lent his support to Ionescu. In 1938, Eliade, along with the leaders of the Legionary movement, was imprisoned by the government of King Carol II for several months.

Ostracized by the university after his release from prison, Eliade supported himself solely by writing until he was appointed as the Romanian cultural attaché to London in April 1940. In 1941, following Romania's entry into World War II as a member of the Axis powers, Eliade was reappointed to Portugal. Eliade spent the remainder of war as a cultural attaché in the Romanian legation in Lisbon. Emotionally devastated by the death of his wife, Nina, and the imposition of Soviet control over Romania at the end of the war, Eliade moved to Paris in 1945, where he lectured at the Sorbonne and became part of the Romanian émigré community. Eliade learned French and supported himself by writing on religion, which gained him the respect of European scholars. In 1950 he married Christinel Cottesco, a Romanian living in Paris, and in that same year he began participating in the Jungian Eranos Conferences in Switzerland, which brought him into contact with international scholars on subjects such as religion and psychology. This led to numerous lectures at universities and a stipend from the Bollingen Foundation for the publication of his books on shamanism (1951), yoga (1954), and alchemy (1956) and his last novel, Forêt interdite (1954).

Eliade accepted an appointment as a Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago in 1956, where he delivered the Haskell Lectures on the history of religions. In 1957, Eliade assumed the position of Professor in the University of Chicago Divinity School. He was subsequently appointed to an endowed chair as Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and Professor in the Committee on Social Thought. Very productive during his Chicago years, Eliade co-founded and edited the journal History of Religions. As his books began appearing in English translations, his recognition and influence grew. In these years Eliade published broader scholarly works such as his three volume A History of Religious Ideas (3 vols., 1978, 1982, 1985), and the sixteen-volume Encyclopedia of Religion (1987), in addition to his autobiography.

Although homesick for Romania, Eliade refused to return the country of his birth, even after steps were taken by the Communist regime in the 1960s to move toward "rehabilitation" of his name.

Mac Linscott Ricketts studied with Eliade and translated many of his books into English. Regarding Eliade's academic legacy Ricketts has stated:

"Eliade's impact on religious studies has been vast but is difficult to measure. He did not create a 'school,' although most of his former students can be identified by their insistence on the 'irreducibility' of religion and their penchant for seeing common patterns (or 'archetypes') in religious and cultural phenomena everywhere. Eliade taught his students to be 'hermeneuts,' always searching for 'meanings' in the religious phenomena, and he urged them to write oeuvres as well as erudite, scientific tomes. Eliade believed the study of the history of religions could bring about a 'new humanism,' an intellectual awakening comparable to the Renaissance, but this time evoked by the rediscovery of archaic and non-Christian religions." (American National Biography Online, American Council of Learned Societies, Oxford University Press, 2000.)

Mircea Eliade died in Chicago on 22 April 1986.

From the guide to the Eliade, Mircea. Papers, 1926-1998, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

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