Hermeneutics in History: Mircea Eliade, Joachim Wach, and the Science of Religions
November 3-4, 2006
The University of Chicago
1025 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Joseph Kitagawa once stated that the attempt to create a common language for religious studies was a major focus of Joachim Wach's mature work—a language that was universal in its outlook rather than parochial and that would permit a genuine understanding of religious phenomena as the expressions of a universal religious experience. Wach pursued this attempt theoretically by developing an idea that he called "the classical" and practically by formulating extensive typologies in writings such as his Sociology of Religion.
From a distance of more than half a century, it would seem that Wach's efforts failed. Scholars of religions have largely forgotten his notion of the classical and abandoned his typologies as perpetuating parochial insights as much as overcoming them. Moreover, the last several decades have seen concerted efforts to deconstruct scholarly categories in religious studies. As Jacques Derrida has observed about the term "religion" itself: "this word seems a unique event to which a meta-language seems incapable of acceding, although such a language remains, all the same, of the greatest necessity."
In keeping with the historical focus of the conference, I will contextualize Wach's efforts to create a language for religious studies. I propose to examine not just the specific antecedents of Wach's ideas but also the structural configurations out of which Wach's attempts emerged. I will then reflect generally on the possibility and desirability of finishing Wach's project. I will be particularly concerned with the practical difficulties posed by the increasingly globalized environment in which scholars of religious studies work but also with theoretical possibilities raised by more recent work in the philosophical examination of human conceptualization.
The paper deals with the contrasts between Eliade's and Ionesco's approaches to their Romanian identity. Eliade saw himself as a Romanian scholar and writer in exile and played a role in the Romanian émigré community, aside from his academic work in the history of religions, for which he became internationally known. Ionesco adopted a French linguistic and literary identity and went on to become a major French playwright recognized throughout the world. At the beginning, Ionesco, an adversary of the Romanian extreme right-wing movement of the Iron Guard, to which Eliade had belonged, regarded Eliade as an ideological enemy. Over time, however, with Eliade appearing to regret his political past (although not publicly), Ionesco "forgave" him and the two became friends. Ionesco admired Eliade's work on myth and religion and Eliade wrote insightful pages on the symbolism of light in Ionesco's theater.
"The Poetical and
Rhetorical Structure of the Eliadean text"
(A French Contribution to the Critical Theory and Discourses on Religions)
Daniel Dubuisson, Docteur ès Lettres, Directeur de recherche au CNRS, Directeur de l'Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion (CNRS/Lille3).
Following the pioneering works of Ivan Strenski, I and others have devoted numerous critical studies to the ideas developed in the now controversial writings of Eliade. It therefore seems unnecessary for me to repeat arguments I have made elsewhere and which have already been widely discussed.
On this occasion, I would like to draw attention to the rhetorical and poetic processes that Eliade used as a vehicle for his ideas.
These processes present a certain number of "typical" traits. They are recurrent from one book to another, and reveal the existence of a coherent, global project. They are indissociable from the ideology they convey. Once again, "form" and "substance" appear to be inextricably linked. But why?
"Extent and limits of
Eliade's interest in Western Esoteric Currents"
Antoine Faivre, professor emeritus of History of western esoteric currents in modern and contemporary Europe, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sciences Religieuses, Sorbonne.
What we intend here under this term is a variety of currents that bear a family resemblance and have flourished in the Western world since the early modern period (from the end of the 15th to the 20th centuries). Standing out among them are, for example: Christian Kabbalah, neo-alexandrian hermetism, Renaissance 'magic', 'spiritual' alchemy, Paracelsian and neo-paracelsian Naturphilosophie, later theosophy (Jacob Böhme and his followers), Rosicrucian literature and associations, and later still the so-called 'occultist movement'. The purpose of this paper is to examine, first, the place which these currents occupy in Eliade's historical works. Indeed, though Eliade's strong interest in 'esotericism' as we understand it here is well documented, it is still the case that it bears on some of these currents, in particular on some aspects of the so-called 'occultist movements,' much more than on some others that he rather underplays (regardless of the historical importance which they actually have). Second, this paper is meant to demonstrate that the reasons for his choices are primarily linked to the fact that a 'philosophy of nature' clearly present in most of these currents did not really tally with his idea of what the essentials of 'religion' are or should be all about.
In the Rumanian novels written in the mid-30's, there are fascinating scenes that illustrate Eliade's understanding of religion, presented as contemporary alternatives in interwar Bucharest. Comparing these passages to his scholarly vision of religion helps to delineate a better understanding of both his phenomenology and its emergences in time.
After Weber's text on "Religious Communities" was published posthumously in Economy and Society 1922, most scholars of religions ignored it. In an age that discovered the endless varieties of historical religions beyond the Christian-Jewish universe, most of them regarded a perennial religious experience of the sacred as the only remaining solid ground for studying the history of religions. Wach made an exception. Since he was afraid of misunderstanding other religions, he turned to Weber's reflections on types of religious communities as the embodiment of distinct religious meanings. But in contrast to Weber, who related these varieties to external social conditions, Wach studied religious communities as an autonomous matrix for religious expressions. But he conceived of these differences still in terms of German constructions of religious history. His admiration for the George circle had an impact on that revision.
I have previously argued against the identification of Mircea Eliade as a "closet theologian" whose theoretical understanding of religion was little more than a camouflaged attempt to subsume the understanding of religion as a global phenomenon to a pre-existing Christian theological doctrine. Nonetheless, I feel that the influence of Eliade's Romanian Orthodox background can be detected in his work. In this paper I hope to trace specific correlations between Eliade's analysis of religion and Orthodox theology and to suggest that Eliade was neither particularly unusual nor entirely unwarranted in his secular reconstruction of his traditional religious background.
Between the middle 1930's and the publication, in 1961, of the article, "History of Religions and a New Humanism" we may locate the essential period during which Eliade crystallized, enriched, and redefined his conception of the history of religions. Several stages and moments emerge as landmarks in this process during which Eliade's thought opened up to various influences while at the same time striving to define, once and for all, the particularity of his own approach in relation to different intellectual traditions. One of the aspects of this thought which was to give birth to a distinct theme in Eliade's writings concerned South-east Europe as a privileged space of folklore, of prehistoric survivals, and of contact between the Orient and the Occident. For Eliade, a primary theoretical vision of the connection between folkloric sources and the history of religions, between mythic time and historic time, between Christianity and the pre-Christian religious heritage, between historiography and the history of religions, was formulated on the margins of his analysis of the various Balkan folkloric themes and the cultural ties, since prehistory, between the Balkans and Asia.
Culture: Joachim Wach and Religionswissenschaft in the
Steven M. Wasserstrom, The Moe and Izetta Tonkon Professor of Judaic Studies and the Humanities, Reed College, Portland, Oregon.
Joachim Wach (b. 1898) belonged to the distinctive Generation of 1914, whose formative experience came during and immediately after the First World War. Like many in his cohort, he was remarkably prolific and mature as a scholar at a very young age: the first volume of his major work, Das Verstehen, was published when he was 28 years old. Under the Weimar Republic Wach was aligned with conservative thought, in intimate conversation with the Stefan George circle, and showed important influences from Freyer, Heidegger, Klages, Schaeder, Gundolf, von Hofmannsthal (who coined the term "conservative revolution") and other major figures on the German right, as well as a few moderates, such as Carl Heinrich Becker. A strong missionary dimension marked all his work, as indicated by his regular publication in Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft, which he eventually co-edited. This paper will consider his career in terms of a thriving "conversion culture," whose volatile and profound mutability foundationally marked the budding science of religion. Wach's mentor, Friedrich Heiler, converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism; Heidegger left Catholicism; Schaeder converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism; and Wach himself converted to the Episcopal Church on emigration to the USA. Behind this conversion culture loomed Moses Mendelssohn, Wach's great-great-grandfather. Moses Mendelssohn, the orthodox, spiritual progenitor of the Jews of Germany, was the model for Lessing's Nathan, the Wise; his son, the composer Felix Mendelssohn, also abandoned his ancestral faith.