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The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (Harvest Book)
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2011
Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and the Profane" is a classic within the academic field known as comparative religion. First published in 1957, the book attempts to give a general overview of the religious or spiritual worldview and then contrasts it with the secular ditto. The author also deals with the differences between Christianity and the "pagan" religions (but also sees some similarities).

Most of the book is an analysis of various recurring motifs in the "pagan" religious traditions, including myths, symbols and rituals. However, "The Sacred and the Profane" isn't really an anthropological survey, but rather a philosophical reflection on the nature of religion per se. It could be a hard read, unless you are a philosophically-minded practitioner of some religious or spiritual tradition. Eliade's book attempts to analyze religion as an independent phenomenon, without reducing it to sociology or psychology. It often feels suspended in another dimension. A more spiritual dimension, perhaps?

It's obvious that Eliade somehow believes in reality of the phenomenon he is describing. He traces the origins of religion to an objective revelation of the sacred, an irruption of the supernatural into "our" material world, an irruption he calls a hierophany. Indeed, only the hierophany makes sense of the world, which would be a formless mess or void without it. Religion is therefore the centre of man's existence. The book criticizes the modern world for its desacralization and secularization, while pointing out that even modern man often acts in ways that are religious or crypto-religious. Eliade also takes a cue from Jung and his theory of archetypes, claiming that humans are innately religious and that religious symbols are deeply ingrained in our subconscious.

This way of analyzing religion is largely out of fashion today, and Eliade's books are often criticized by more modern (or post-modern?) scholars. They like to accuse him of exaggerating the similarities between various religious traditions, and the standard approach today is to look at religion mostly as a social or psychological phenomenon. The fact that Eliade in some sense considered the sacred to be real, is sometimes held against him. Of course, Jung is also controversial. Eliade's political views have come in for closer scrutiny, as well. Before becoming a renown scholar, Eliade was a supporter of the Iron Guard in Romania. In plain English, Eliade was a fascist. He was also inspired by the Traditionalists around René Guénon and, perhaps more disturbingly, Julius Evola.

Despite this, I nevertheless believe that "The Sacred and the Profane" will remain a classic. Many of Eliade's observations concerning myths and rituals are obviously useful to anthropologists, and all his generalizations aren't wrong. Who can deny that the axis mundi, deus otiosus or Mother Earth are universal or near-universal symbols? Besides, Eliade is sophisticated enough to point out that there are crucial differences between religious traditions, for instance early Vedic religion and later Puranic Hinduism, or between the Judeo-Christian religions and the "pagan" traditions. I also suspect that "The Sacred and the Profane" is seen as relevant by the religious devotees themselves. (Just read some of the other reviews.)

While not an easy read, "The Sacred and the Profane" nevertheless gives an interesting look into the mindset of homo religious.

Five stars.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 1999
This eminently readable introduction to cross-cultural religious studies is one of the gems of my personal library. Eliade does not believe that "primitive" means "simple-minded" or "outmoded", hence, his discussions of "primitive" religious ideas are sympathetic and penetrating. The final section of the book skewers "modern" humanity's pretensions to having transcended the sacred. The appendix contains a succinct and iluminating chronology of the development of "history of religions" studies. If you always thought (along with most of the rest of the world) that "myth" simply meant "old superstition" or "false story"' this book has a few surprises in store for you. Just read it!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Years ago, I was assigned this book in one of my university classes. I number it in my most memorable and personally influential works that I have ever read. At the time, I had just begun to study archaeology and had very little understanding of the concept of ethnocentricism. My personal way of thinking was very black and white. The only real experience that I had with the dichotomies of the sacred versus the profane at that point was my own experiences.

The Sacred and the Profane gave me an entirely different perspective. I began seeing how others saw religion, spirituality, ritual, and symbolism in slightly different ways. How certain experiences could be interpreted in a variety of ways to become personal and cultural beliefs. I also noticed how these beliefs permeated into everyday life. So began my interests in spirituality, symbolic dichotomies, and the varied beliefs of others.
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on 12 January 2015
A fine book by Mircea Eliade. I also liked "The Myth of the Eternal Return" a marvellous book. Eliade becomes somewhat repetitive in his oeuvre and tends to disgress into lengthly examples of points he seeks to make but overall very interesting reading. If you like this kind of stuff, do also check out the members of the so called "Traditionalist School", such as Seyyed H Nasr, René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings and Wolfgang Smith.
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on 12 March 2015
An easy read full of interesting titbits.
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10 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 1998
Wonderful academic study that left me thirsting for a fundamental revelation. Well written but without the emotive force of "The Autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth and the Missing Years" by Richard G. Patton. Patton delivers the same basic information in a more attractive and digestible form. This book is great for winning academic debate, but left me feeling hungry for the main course.
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6 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2001
With full of insight, Eliade shows how the diverse culture in this world has been influenced by mythical elements with or without intention. The book focuses more on sacred cord. Sacred time and myth are repetitive leading us to live our daily life with strong existence. It offers easy and overviewed explanation about what is sacred and how human interprets and adopts it.
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3 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2001
With full of insight, shows Eliade how diverse culture of the world is influeced by mythical elements both with or without intention. It focuses on more the sacred cord which leads us to live daily life with realization of our existence in mythical level that still has enourmous power.
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5 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2008
I must refrain from using "profane" language to describe this book and will try and summarize my reasons for ripping the book in half and throwing it into my bin.

-The first 40 pages could be condensed to a single paragraph.
Eliade unnecessarily complicates his introduction by regurgitating a seemingly endless list of permutations of what the book is about and what it is not about. He is overly dichotomous in describing "the religious man" and the "non religious man" saying there is a gaping abyss dividing the two which is ridiculous!!! In my opinion there IS the black and there is the white but there are also endless shades of gray. But he rambles on and on with overly complex language about the homologous hierophany of "real and real-ly space" and his illogical tautology is very irritating to me as I believe in getting to the point. He basks in his own self-implied superior knowledge and comes across as arrogant. he repeatedly uses the phrase "in short, history"

basically I'm not going to waste anymore time getting frustrated over this. It was satisfying to rip it in half as i believe it is a contrived endless ball of string with many knots and if I did bother to untangle it all I'd have is an endless length of string. I am interested in the subject area of this book and have ordered a copy of "the discoverers" by Daniel J. Boorstin, who in my opinion is much more qualified and capable of tackling this vast and consuming subject than Eliade and more to the point Boorstin is not a native of France.
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0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2010
Even by 2nd hand standards this book was in poor condition, ripped and defaced and took a long time to arrive.
Minimal packaging.

The book itself is written in a pompous and annoying manner. This title was recommended to me but after just a chapter I've already grown to dislike it. I cannot give it a full review as the opinionated author with his foundationless statements irritates me and I wont read anymore. Pure drivel.
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