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The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  6,527 ratings  ·  265 reviews
In the classic text The Sacred and the Profane, famed historian of religion Mircea Eliade observes that even moderns who proclaim themselves residents of a completely profane world are still unconsciously nourished by the memory of the sacred. Eliade traces manifestations of the sacred from primitive to modern times in terms of space, time, nature, and the cosmos. In doing ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 23rd 1968 by Mariner Books (first published 1956)
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Riku Sayuj

This Ontological Thirst

More a survey of sacred practices than an insightful deconstruction, Eliade’s work gets repetitive beyond a point as it keeps on multiplying examples, never coming to conclusions that go past a premise that is interesting but is also a truism, by construction.

Eliade’s primary objective is to define the fundamental opposition between sacred and profane. This is done by showcasing the very perception of human mind towards the sacred and by categorizing the human mind/soc
Michael Brady
Mar 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The atheist is probably right, but homo religiosus has all the fun. Me, I find indulging my agnosticism - by way of a deep interest in the history and philosophy of religion - more interesting that being an angry anti-theist. In that pursuit I am indebted to historians, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians of the 20th century. Useful guides in this territory have included Tillich, Otto, James, Jung, Campbell, and several times now, Eliade.

“The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religi
Erik Graff
Feb 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: religion fans
Recommended to Erik by: Robert Neale
Shelves: religion
Eliade was frequently assigned for seminary classes. As a consequence I came to perceive him as redundant, each book repeating many of the points made by others previously read. This book is a bit different in that he consciously works off Otto's Idea of the Holy, a book I'd read in college. What struck me as original at the time was Eliade's treatment of the axis mundi, whereby all is oriented.

Eliade's personal history was unknown to me at the time of reading his books. Since then, thanks to a
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Every new initiate to any religion eventually finds themselves at a point when they're no longer satisfied by "Because God said so!" as the only answer to every question they ask. This book was recommended to me at a point when I was struggling to advance past the neophyte stage in my faith. It was incredibly frustrating that all the books I could find regarding the subject were written for absolute beginners, and I latched onto this book the way a drowning person would latch onto a lifesaver.
Kelly Bryson
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm learning lots of new words! This very scholarly work is a look into the archetypal symbols that differentiate the sacred and the profane- from mythology to architecture, even the way we experience time. But since, as Eliade purports, archetypes cannot be changed, only added upon, it's very helpful to this writer to have a more conscious understanding of what symbols I invoke.

Lots of interesting thoughts after reading this- is there one way to approach God of are the symbols all pointing in
Jay D
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
A great work on comparative religion. Eliade is a master - knowledgable of all traditions, and able to collate and analyze them, yet not in a dry, rational way. The chief thesis here is that traditional man understood the entire cosmos, as well as time, as sacred. Modern man, due to materialism and naturalism, has rejected this aspect and thus lost his soul. Esotericists and liturgists will have to read this.
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
If my history is right, i believe it was Durkheim who first established the sacred/profane dichotomy. Eliade puts it to good use. And though it is unclear to me at present which of the 4 primary interpretations of Husserl Eliade adopts, his analysis of a religious intentionally seems to me altogether accurate. Eliade's story of the phenomenologically universal makeup of people's sacred/profane categories, and their manifestations in sentimentality does not make an appearance here--so far as i ca ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting read, as long as you interpret it as a philosophy text, not as the "history of religion" text it pretends to be. There is no systematic or consistent historical analysis here. Instead, claims of a mostly speculative philosophical nature are made, and random examples from various cultures are thrown in ad hoc to lend these claims credence. I'm no expert in anthropology, but I couldn't help noticing how some ideas were corroborated mostly by Middle Eastern traditions, while others excl ...more
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mythology
Well, I hope to one day read the whole book. For now, one section was assigned for reading in my "Ritual" course at Pacifica.
I loved it!
"Sacred Space and Making the World Sacred."
Eliade demonstrates how whenever we make something, a home, a city, a church, we are re-enacting the form of creation, and, as religious individuals, are seeking union with God. He discusses the sacredness of "transforming [any] dwelling place" (52).
My favorite passage:
"Exactly like the city of the sanctuary, the house
Nov 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
Sort of boring--

I don't know, I was fascinated by the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Although lucidly written, the book didn't engage me throughout. He has interesting things to say and makes interesting comments about the religious man and the modern man, but most of his arguments were buried under anthropological examples. Granted, it is an anthropological study on the phenomenology of the religious man. It might be that the time was not right for me to read it. My interest le
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Jeez, what an amazing read. Made me analyze what truly defines the spiritual or the sacred in my life and put that into the context of space and time. "The homogeneity of time and space" is the truth of the profane. Eliade shows exactly how this breaks down in human activity.
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Eliade (1907-1986), a Romanian novelist and historian/philosopher of religion, is one of the world's most celebrated experts on religion and a must read for anyone interested in the topic. Nic describes him as an academic much like his predecessors in that he believes Christianity to be the highest from or religious thought, but who arrived at this conclusion through secular and widespread study rather than a simple Bible-bashing and brainwashing train of thought. He was in a unique position, be ...more
Despite not being religious at all, or perhaps because of that, I found this incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking a read. In it Eliade demonstrates in an easy-to-read and concise manner the basic phenomenological processes that not only are common to all religions, but also how these are dictated by the social and existential purpose of religious belief.

Where it gets *really* interesting for an unbeliever like me is when the author explains how the same structures of the religious worldvie
Scriptor Ignotus
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
It is in the nature of man as a conscious being to create--as Eliade puts it--a cosmos out of chaos. The inescapable human distinction between sacred and profane occurs when man attempts to ground himself in his world, to recognize both his own subjectivity and the subjective importance of the physical and temporal spaces he inhabits. Where the profane rules, there is chaos. In a profane universe, there are no values, no distinctions. The notion of the sacred emerges with consciousness itself; w ...more
Mohammed Hindash
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Even though it took awhile for me to finish this book, it certainly added some new aspects of the whole idea of how religion developed across time ever since pre-monotheistic religions. Which showed how gradually according to the 'pagan' religion that everytime a new religion got made, people got further away from the concept of God.
I think that the whole idea of spirituality is misunderstood, but that is just my humble opinion.
Suyash Mishra
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the book provides a great structural framework for comprehending the common thread between various religious symbolism and pyschological structutres that delevop as a result of eco-cultural processes
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Eliade paints a picture of the religious world as different in quality from the nonreligious, profane world. Whereas the latter is homogeneous, inert, and mute, its ontology 'flat', the former is studded with sacred places and times. Here a higher, transcendent plane of existence seems to break into the world, forms a center for the religious to orient themselves in the world. The sacred can take form as nearly anything, from stones and trees in animist religions, to temples, or the house where ...more
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
The way in which human beings started to develop their understanding of what is sacred had once been attributed to what we conceive as divine. By divine, I mean something which is beyond our reach, unattainable and unintelligible, a force from above that awakened various religious patterns of behaviour. Mircea Eliade suggests that one of the sacred things are the fundamental and basic elements of history: Space, Time and Nature. In his book, he offers several examples of these elements which cha ...more
Z. J. Pandolfino
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Mircea Eliade was one of the twentieth century’s foremost historians of religion. His influence on the study of religion from a myriad of different perspectives—historical, philosophical, anthropological, and otherwise—has been extensive, and The Sacred and the Profane, an introduction of sorts to Eliade’s most important theses, is considered a classic, if rather flawed, text. Eliade’s primary aim is to identify and differentiate “two modalities of experience,” the sacred and the profane, “two e ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Haters gonna hate, but this is an extraordinary book, love it or hate it. I happen to largely agree with the not-altogether-hidden thesis that human beings become truly human (only?) through the work, even agency, of religious symbols, by which the person-in-community is oriented in time, space, the life-world, and the life-course; thus also that the ultimate task of the student of religion is to render the data understandable, more than to render them explicable (that is, into terms of another ...more
Jul 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I just came back to my apartment from the Royal park in Oslo, where I finished reading this book. Much clearer and more accessible than some of his other books, and fascinating! Probably good as an introduction to Eliade's other works. I think the following quote can stand as a summary of Eliade's ideas and approach to religion: "... try to understand how the world presents itself to the eyes of religious man — or, more precisely, how sacrality is revealed through the very structures of the worl ...more
Jul 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
David Withun
Nov 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Denisa Ciubotaru
My head is spinning from so many different religions/beliefs/ideas...Make it a 2.5 rating.
Timothy Ball
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
" Symbols awaken individual experience and transmute it into a spiritual act into metaphysical comprehension of the world."
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book compares what is sacred to what is opposite of it, taking into account some well known marks, like vision on time, space, environment and existence. The perspective is that of a historian of religions, though there are no chronological dates involved. Up until a large portion of the book, I thought the "religious human" was closer to us time wise, but it is nothing like that. The religious human belongs to really ancient times, impossible to know for sure or imagine in present days. El ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A short introduction to a huge subject.

Analyses and gives examples of the religious division of the world into Sacred and Profane, Cosmos and Chaos (from Durkheim). Gives concrete examples of various sacred Weltanschauungen and objects and practices throughout human history that have been held up to be sacred: sacred space (axis mundi), sacred time, mystical transcendence, eternal return (which Judaism was one of the first religions to effectively overcome), infinite cycle of birth and rebirth,
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mircea Eliade was a “must read” for those interested in comparative religion and history of religions in the mid-to-late 20th century. Having recently re-read The Sacred and the Profane, this work has, in my opinion, stood the test of time. Eliade’s longitudinal cross-sections of religious practices and their meeting may not be as respected today with vertical specialization at its apex within academia, but it is still helpful to be aware of similarities and differences within the beliefs of soc ...more
Danielle Aleixo
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Easy to read, but very profound in its insights. Before reading this book, I did not think of myself as a religious person. This little book however challenged my views. I may not belong to any specific creed, but I often feel mesmerized by nature, I take my home as a sanctuary, food as a gift, traveling as a liberation (and also as a sort of pilgrimage to find other meanings to my life) and sex as a powerful ritual. Well, guess what, based on the author, I have all elements of a homo religious. ...more
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
The writing is complex, which I appreciate; I don't enjoy super simplified style unless it's Hemingway. Certain topics are meant to be written in this style, it's not a straight-forward topic (Carl Jung's work for example).

I will revise this book at a different stage in my life, its only just scratching the surfaces of a field which hold so much more depths. Essentially it's a good introduction piece to anthropology, you get a little sample of different subjects. Would definitely recommend it fo
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Romanian-born historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, professor at the University of Chicago, and one of the pre-eminent interpreters of world religion in this century. Eliade was an intensely prolific author of fiction and non-fiction alike, publishing over 1,300 pieces over 60 years. He earned international fame with LE MYTHE DE L'ÉTERNAL RETOUR (1949, The Myth of the Eternal Return) ...more

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There's something great about a paperback book: They're perfect book club choices, you can throw them in your bag and go, and they've been out in...
17 likes · 3 comments
“It was lunar symbolism that enabled man to relate and connect such heterogeneous things as: birth, becoming, death, and ressurection; the waters, plants, woman, fecundity, and immortality; the cosmic darkness, prenatal existence, and life after death, followed by the rebirth of the lunar type ("light coming out of darkness"); weaving, the symbol of the "thread of life," fate, temporality, and death; and yet others. In general most of the ideas of cycle, dualism, polarity, opposition, conflict, but also of reconciliation of contraries, of coincidentia oppositorum, were either discovered or clarified by virtue of lunar symbolism. We may even speak of a metaphysics of the moon, in the sense of a consistent system of "truths" relating to the mode of being peculiar to living creatures, to everything in the cosmos that shares in life, that is, in becoming, growth and waning, death and ressurrection.” 78 likes
“Mircea Eliade Obviously Has Never Been To The Light, Making It Profane For Him To Talk About Light, Or The Sacred in A True Light. - Matthew Edward Hall” 55 likes
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