Chicago, IL

The University of Chicago and Mircea Eliade, a Wonderful Professor, Historian of Religions, Novelist of the XXth Century

Roxana Anton

"If the truth is not discovered through love, wherever it is, it doesn't matter to me."

"Life is pain, because it is framed in an ocean of illusions and, at the same time, vitiated by ignorance."

"If everyone were to act without the thought of reward, the earth would be heaven."

- Mircea Eliade

The University of Chicago is a private higher education institution, whose faculties are located primarily in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, USA. The university was founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller and began teaching on October 1, 1892.

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University of Chicago: Hyde Park, East 57th Street, Chicago, IL, USA, photo courtesy Unsplash

Today I wish to uncover an episode from the past, removing the dust from memories that maybe many of you are not even aware of.

As in the sixties, the University of Chicago hosted a great professor of history of religions, sometimes considered to be the best historian of religions of all times.

I am talking about the incredible Mircea Eliade (1907–1986).

This is a very emotional discovery for me, as he was born in Romania, very close to my hometown.

"There are times when you can only move forward if you move against the current."

"To live by the newspapers means to become stupid." - Mircea Eliade

He was born in Bucuresti, but his family was from the county of Covurlui, in the historic region of Moldova (Romania, Eastern Europe).

Mircea Eliade had a very serious philosophic preparation in Bucuresti, Romania's capital.

He started very young, by writing novels, that are still highly appreciated and studied in schools from Romania today.

"Youth is tempted by sentimental and cerebral mediocrity, by the illusion of comfortable happiness."

"In Love, we always wake up when it is too late" - Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade had several intellectual passions, like for instance French and Italian cultures.

He graduated from the University of Bucharest in 1929, with a thesis about Italian Philosophy during Renaissance.

After Italian culture, Indian philosophy becomes Mircea Eliade's second passion. Obtaining a private scholarship, he began to study Sanskrit and Yoga in Calcutta. Later on, he obtains a doctorate in philosophy with a dissertation on yoga.

"India has the merit of adding a new dimension to the Universe: that of being free." - Mircea Eliade

In 1933, the novel Maitreyi gained great popularity, based on his Indian experience and autobiographical data. Between 1932 and 1943 he published several volumes of literary prose, essays, and scientific papers.

Today, Maitreyi gained planetary fame, being a true delight to every young generation in Romania. It tells the love story between the young Romanian student Mircea Eliade (Allan) and the Indian girl Maitreyi Devi, who was going to become a famous Indian poet. She also wrote a reply to Eliade's famous novel: It Does Not Die.

From 1957, he was invited to do a series of conferences in Chicago, and he became a Professor at the Divinity School and in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. (source: press.uchicago.edu)

He became one of the most important personalities in the study of religions. He wrote very many works of scholarship and fiction, including A History of Religious Ideas and ten novels.

Mircea Eliade remained, as for today, Romania's most famous intellectual.

He spent much of his life away from his country Romania because the intellectual environment during communism had become impossible for any man of culture.

For more than 20 years, he led the Department of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago, which will be named after him.

"If you only knew how much I ran away from you until I met you…" - Mircea Eliade

Throughout his time at the University of Chicago, Mircea Eliade publishes a lot. Together with a group of researchers, he will create the huge Encyclopedia of the History of Religions, in 20 volumes.

In 1965, he teaches at the universities of Mexico, Princeton, California Santa Barbara, and so on.

In 1966, he receives an honorary doctorate from Yale University.

In 1970, he becomes a doctor honoris causa of the University of Loyola, Chicago. He obtains American citizenship.

In 1980 the University of Lyon nominates him for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His books, indeed, are a great study for anyone who is interested to explore the roots of a human being.

In 1985, George Washington University awarded him the title of doctor honoris causa.

As a historian of religions, Mircea Eliade emphasized the notions of sacred space and time.

Sacred space is in his conception the center of the entire universe, and sacred time is the repetition of archetypes from the beginning of the world.

In modern man, there would be a hidden, subconscious dimension, governed by the secret presence of deep religious symbols. (source: ziarullumina.ro)

In 1986, Mircea Eliade died of a cerebral stroke.

Eliade's Romanian disciple Ioan Petru Culianu, who recalled the scientific community's reaction to the news, described Eliade's death as "a mahaparanirvana", thus comparing it to the passing of Gautama Buddha

His body was cremated in Chicago, and the funeral ceremony was held on University grounds, at the Rockefeller Chapel.

It was attended by 1,200 people, and included a public reading of Eliade's text in which he recalled the epiphany of his childhood—the lecture was given by novelist Saul Bellow, Eliade's colleague at the University.

His grave is located in Oak Woods Cemetery.

"The miracle of death does not consist in what it ends, but in what it begins."

(Miracolul morții nu constă în ceea ce sfârșește ea, ci în ceea ce începe.)

"Absolute freedom is gained through love. For only love frees man from his nature."

"We are all immortal, but we must die first."

"If I had to summarize my experience in a few words, I would say that the game has always taken me further and further, deeper and deeper into reality. And my philosophy would be reduced to one dogma: Play!"

"Who knows why I'm weeping? Maybe I'm in love or maybe I'm waiting; my hopes are wasted. Who knows why I'm staring blankly? Maybe I have memories, or maybe I'm guessing in advance the pain of life that demands to be lived, completely".

"You can only get rid of certain things by living them, you can only clear certain obsessions by looking them in the face, and you can only know true love by overcoming it."

"Culture is the only means of affirmation, both in the face of today's humanity and in the face of tomorrow's history."

(all quotes belong to Mircea Eliade, source of the quotes: booknation. ro)

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Sacred Geometry, Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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