The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology

by Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa (eds.)

Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest in 1907 and began teaching in the field the history of religions in 1946 at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was a member of the University of Chicago faculty from 1957 until his death in 1986. His many books include: Cosmos and History (1959), The Sacred and the Profane (1959), Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1960), Images and Symbols (1969), and Myths and Reality (1963).

Published by University of Chicago Press, 1959. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) These essays in methodology are concerned with the need to establish the history of religion and comparative religion as a leading scholarly activity at the modern university. There is a danger that the history of religion and comparative religion will be totally absorbed by certain other fields (philosophy of religion, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history and theology). This book demonstrates that it is not merely ancillary to these other studies but is a discipline in its own right, drawing upon, yet making unique additions to, these areas of knowledge.


  • Preface by Jerald C. Brauer

    Western man cannot understand or appreciate the Asian peoples unless he has some knowledge and understanding of their religions. This in itself puts history of religions on a new footing in the modern university.

  • The History of Religions in America by Joseph M. Kitagawa

    Undergraduate colleges, graduate institutions, theological schools and seminaries have raised questions concerning the nature of the discipline of the history of religions. This essay discusses such questions.

  • Comparative Religion: Whither — and Why? by Wilfred Cantwell Smith

    Exciting new frontiers of inquiry and of challenge lie at a new and higher level than in the immediate past. I. The study of religion is the study of persons. II. The researcher must overcome the Western concept of the detachment of the investigator. III. The writer and the subject need a more personal relationship. IV. This relationship provides a larger sense of community.

  • The Supreme Being: Phenomenological Structure and Historical Development by Raffaele Pettazzoni

    Primitive people think of the Supreme Being as the Celestial Supreme Being. This essay shows that there exists various distinct forms of the Supreme Being and that the Celestial Being is just one of them.

  • Phenomenology of Religions and Philosophy of Religion by Jean Daniélou

    This essay evaluates Henry Duméry’s position (Critique et Religion; Philosophie de la Religion; Le Problème de Dieu) in which an attempt is made to bring to the phenomenolgy of religions the philosophical justification which it lacked.

  • Methodological Remarks on the Study of Religion’s Symbolism by Mircea Eliade

    An attempt to show how we can envisage the study of religious symbolism in the perspective of the science of religions, and what the results of this procedure can be. Interest in symbolism has increased in recent times. Many attempts have been made to show the symbolic character of much of the human enterprise, from rite and myth to art and science. Since man has a “symbol-forming power,” all that he produces is symbolic.

  • The Notion of "Real Elite" in Sociology and in History by Louis Massignon

    There is an inequality among men; a minority exists in every epoch and in every group. The cohesion of this minority has been sustained in a lasting and almost magnetic fashion by its "historical basis of reaction," its social vitality and action of persuasion.

  • On Understanding Non-Christian Religions by Ernst Benz

    In Western Christian thinking God is personal; monotheistic, and differentiated from His creation. These concepts differ in other religions. The Eastern religions are totally "other" from the concept of Christianity. The author believes that through the eons of development our "religious" thought was begun probably in a similar way to that of the present Eastern religious thought.

  • The History of Religions as a Preparation for the Co-operation of Religions by Friedrich Heiler

    A new era will dawn upon mankind when the religions will rise to true tolerance and co-operation in behalf of mankind. To assist in preparing the way for this era is one of the finest hopes of the scientific study of religion.