A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS, Vol. I: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries by Mircea Eliade
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A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS IDEAS, Vol. I: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries

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Philosophical anthropology in the grand style: the first of an encyclopedic three-volume survey of religion around the world and down through the ages. Eliade has taught the history of religions for over 40 years in Bucharest, Paris, and Chicago, and this massive compilation, which naturally draws upon his previous books, is aimed at students (intermediate to advanced) rather than scholars. It covers ""magico-religious behavior"" in the Paleolithic period; Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Mesopotamian religions; ancient Egypt; Hittites, Canaanites. and Israelites; the Vedic gods; India before the Buddha; Iranian and Greek religion: Eliade, as usual, is both monumentally learned and consistently readable. He works from the presupposition that the sacred is a fundamental part of the structure of consciousness (and not just a stage in its history). As he wrote in The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (1969): ""On the most archaic levels of culture, living, considered as being human, is in itself a religious act. . . . In other words, to be--or, rather, to become--a man signifies being 'religious.'"" Modern man, Eliade implies, may have buried those archaic levels beneath his demythologized rationalism, but they remain both vital and accessible. This conviction lends excitement, as it always has, to his exploration of the pre-modern religious mind. With a subject of such vast scope before him, Eliade has to strike a compromise between thoroughness and clarity. In general he's successful, but inevitably there are some uneven spots. His treatment of the Vedas and of Zoroastrianism occasionally gets bogged down in technicalities, and his chapters on biblical religion err, perhaps, in the other direction by being too simple. Some readers may be disappointed by the almost total neglect of religious morality, but Eliade limits himself to cosmology, theology, and ritual--probably a wise choice. With its 100-page critical bibliography, the book should prove a gold mine for researchers. Authoritative and engrossing--a fitting climax to a splendid career.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press