Sunday, February 20, 2022

New article on Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism

A newly published article in Aries adds to the debate on the relationship between Mircea Eliade and Traditionalism. It is Davide Marino's "Mircea Eliade and René Guénon: Patterns of Initiation and the 'Myth of Affinity,'" Aries 2022, DOI 10.1163/15700593-20211007

The "myth" that Marino challenges is the idea that Eliade was really a secret Traditionalist but did not dare admit it. Marino carefully traces the development of this myth, and then challenges it in three ways: by reading what Eliade actually wrote about René Guénon in his published work, by looking in detail at how the two men understood initiation, and by suggesting a way in which the myth of affinity might have arisen in the first place. 

As Marino shows, the tone of Eliade's references to Guénon changes over time. Until the 1950s, there are admiring, referring especially to Guénon's critique of modernity. After the 1950s, they are increasingly critical, and Eliade finally goes so far as to dismiss Guénon's understanding of the history of religions – that is, in effect, his perennialism – as no more accurate than the understandings of Marx or Freud. Marino also demonstrates clearly that the two understandings of initiation are different and incompatible.

So, whence the idea that Eliade was a secret Traditionalist? Much of the blame for this seems to lie with Eliade himself, as in 1948 he told another Romanian exile, the Traditionalist Michel Vâlsan, that he agreed with Guénon "on everything," which is fairly explicit, and in 1951 seems to have written something similar to Julius Evola. Why? Marino here agrees with the suggestion of the Italian scholar Paola Pisi, who argued in 1998 that Eliade was at that point looking for a job in the United States, a task in which another Traditionalist scholar, Ananda Coomaraswamy, had been trying to help him. This is plausible, and not as discreditable as one might think, given the somewhat desperate situation that the Communist takeover of Romania had left him in.

Convincing, but probably not the last word on the topic. I myself remain convinced that, while Eliade certainly did not agree with Guénon on everything, his early "soft" Traditionalism is still found in his later work, even though he also disagreed with the Traditionalists on certain points, including the understanding of initiation.


Anonymous said...

Could you please be more explicit about what their differences on initiation were? Or at least summarize it for those who may not be aware? Thank you.

Davide Marino said...

In a few words: for Guénon, initiation is a real "reconnection" (with the aid of the "spiritual influence") with the Tradition. The initiate has a "real" power inside him that enable him new possibilities. It changes the metaphysical status of the individual.
For Eliade, initiation is the "rupture of plain", not necessarily metaphysical. In 'Rites and Symbols of Initiation' he describes many phenomena that are either social or psychological. There is no discussion about the only thing that matter for Guénon (the reconnection with the Tradition).

If you are interested in my article where I talk extensively about this subject, feel free to write me an email (you find my email address here

Anonymous said...

Thank you to Davide Marino above for the clarification.