Religion after Religion

Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos

Steven M. Wasserstrom
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 354
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    Religion after Religion
    Book Description:

    By the end of World War II, religion appeared to be on the decline throughout the United States and Europe. Recent world events had cast doubt on the relevance of religious belief, and modernizing trends made religious rituals look out of place. It was in this atmosphere that the careers of Scholem, Eliade, and Corbin--the twentieth century's legendary scholars in the respective fields of Judaism, History of Religions, and Islam--converged and ultimately revolutionized how people thought about religion. Between 1949 and 1978, all three lectured to Carl Jung's famous Eranos circle in Ascona, Switzerland, where each in his own way came to identify the symbolism of mystical experience as a central element of his monotheistic tradition. In this, the first book ever to compare the paths taken by these thinkers, Steven Wasserstrom explores how they overturned traditional approaches to studying religion by de-emphasizing law, ritual, and social history and by extolling the role of myth and mysticism. The most controversial aspect of their theory of religion, Wasserstrom argues, is that it minimized the binding character of moral law associated with monotheism.

    The author focuses on the lectures delivered by Scholem, Eliade, and Corbin to the Eranos participants, but also shows how these scholars generated broader interest in their ideas through radio talks, poetry, novels, short stories, autobiographies, and interviews. He analyzes their conception of religion from a broadly integrated, comparative perspective, sets their distinctive thinking into historical and intellectual context, and interprets the striking success of their approaches.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2317-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Author’s Note
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    The greatest scholars require the closest study. During the postwar period, the critical study of religion in North America was significantly altered under the impact of the discipline known as History of Religions, especially as it was formulated by Romanian emigré comparativist Mircea Eliade (1907–1986). Eliade was one of a group of scholars of religion who met regularly at a chateau in Ascona, Switzerland. Beginning in 1933 these annual meetings, inspired by the Swiss psychotherapist Carl G. Jung, were held under the designation ofEranos.The papers presented in Ascona (often two hours or more in length) were published...

  6. PART I: Religion after Religion
    • CHAPTER 1 Eranos and the “History of Religions”
      (pp. 23-36)

      Joseph Dan, a student and colleague of Gershom Scholem and the first Gershom Scholem Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University,recently noted:

      The crucial context for understanding Scholem’s concept of mysticism in general and the position of Jewish mysticism within the wider framework of the humanities, as well as his methodological approach to the study of the subject, is that ofhis long-standing, though submerged and, to a very large extent, hidden confrontation with the Jung-Eliade school of thought, which culminated in the 1950s and 1960s. This chapter in Scholem’s life is also meaningful for the understanding of his...

    • CHAPTER 2 Toward the Origins of History of Religions: Christian Kabbalah as Inspiration and as Initiation
      (pp. 37-51)

      “In my bookMitul Reintegrării (The Myth of Reintegration)I traced the opposites that are found together in primitive rites, myths, and metaphysics. We shall have to return to these problems later on.”¹ Eliade described the background to his writingMitul Reintegrăriiin an essay eventually published in English under the title “Mephistopheles and the Androgyne.”² In another essay extracted fromThe Myth of Reintegration, he spoke directly to the concept of “reintegration.”

      We meet here one of the dominants of the whole spiritual life of “primitives”: the desire to be integrated into the all … the reintegration of man...

    • CHAPTER 3 Tautegorical Sublime: Gershom Scholem and Henry Corbin in Conversation
      (pp. 52-66)

      Gershom scholem was almost certainly the leading Judaist of this century. Henry Corbin was one of the world’s most influential Islamicists during the same years.¹ Each was the leading authority on the esoteric traditions of their respective monotheistic tradition. They were also acquainted for fully fifty years, and friends for over thirty years.² After World War II, from 1949 to 1978, they met together almost every August at Eranos meetings. They cited each other in their scholarship and eventually contributed to each other’sFestschriften.Both were subsidized by the Bollingen Foundation. They even, at times, shared the same translator.³


    • CHAPTER 4 Coincidentia Oppositorum: An Essay
      (pp. 67-82)

      Mircea Eliade showcased thecoincidentia oppositorum(coincidence of opposites) as both the title (Two and the One) and alternate title (Mephistopheles and the Androgyne) he assigned to one of his most popular essay collections. This collection was then reprinted under a title taken from the essay forming its core, “Mephistopheles and the Androgyneorthe Mystery of the Whole.” Eliade, in fact, claimed thecoincidentia oppositorumto be so central to his understanding of the sacred and the profane, and evoked it so often, that his conception of it has drawn ample study. It hardly seems necessary, therefore, to recapitulate...

  7. PART II: Poetics
    • CHAPTER 5 On Symbols and Symbolizing
      (pp. 85-99)

      R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, a student and associate both of Scholem and of Jung, recalled that “Jung once remarked, in one of his most profound sayings, that a symbol could never be defined but only translated—into another symbol.”¹ Along somewhat the same lines, Joseph Campbell, one of the leading popularizers of Jung and of Eranos, delivered a lecture titled “The Symbol without Meaning,” at Eranos in 1957.² And Scholem composed a poem on the uncanny painting by Paul Klee, “Angelus Novas,” which included the following strophes.³

      “The symbol signifies nothing and communicates nothing, but makes something transparent which is...

    • CHAPTER 6 Aesthetic Solutions
      (pp. 100-111)

      As writers, the Historians of Religions presented readers with a model impossible to copy. That is, while their creations were “about” religion, neither their writings nor the forms of religion they described were, in any direct sense, replicable by the reader. This irreproducibility, I suggest, echoes their very modernity as writers. The History of Religions, in form and in content, positioned itself to be unparalleled, unique, autonomous, a species of one—just as did modern art and the modern artist. This parallel is particularly significant because it was on this basis that the foundational claim for the autonomy of religion...

    • CHAPTER 7 A Rustling in the Woods: The Turn to Myth in Weimar Jewish Thought
      (pp. 112-124)

      The most influential and brilliant students of Hermann Cohen (1842—1918), the neo-Kantian Jewish philosopher of Marburg, largely rejected one of his fundamental views on Judaism. Opposing his characterization of Judaism as the religion definitively opposed to myth—Judaism as virtually identical with a demythologized Enlightenment rationality—these post-Cohenian thinkers turned to a view of myth as a creative and living force. At least three Cohen students, Franz Rosenzweig, Ernst Bloch, and Ernst Cassirer, wrote revolutionary works that innovatively reassessed the relations between myth, the History of Religions, and Judaism. These figures were joined by a much larger cohort in...

  8. PART III: Politics
    • CHAPTER 8 Collective Renovatio
      (pp. 127-144)

      In 1949, the first year of the Cold War and the year that Corbin and Scholem first spoke at Eranos, Eliade publishedCosmos and History, with its heartfelt chapter on “The Terror of History.”¹ It seems almost trite to observe, at century’s end, that the History of Religions was born in a time of crisis. Still, at the risk of this banality, it is perhaps worthwhile to recall that that birth didnottake place during the height of wartime crises, from 1914 to 1945. Rather, it occurred during its anxiously quiescent aftermath, at the beginning of the long stretch...

    • CHAPTER 9 The Idea of Incognito: Authority and Its Occultation According to Henry Corbin
      (pp. 145-156)

      Henry Corbin produced scholarship prolifically for nearly fifty years. But his voluminous corpus is that rarity, one whose breadth easily is matched by its depth. My intention in this chapter, therefore, cannnot be to provide a comprehensive review of this vast and subtle body of work. Rather, I want tentatively to explicate one aspect of his vision, the idea ofhidden authority. I want to suggest that the theory of discipleship espoused by Corbin, especially when understood in light of its historical and political contexts, is one we embrace at our own intellectual peril

      Before I begin my exposition proper,...

  9. PART IV: History
    • CHAPTER 10 Mystic Historicities
      (pp. 159-171)

      A stumbling block often encountered by new readers of Mircea Eliade is the discovery that the History of Religions oddly is defined by its opposition to history. Gershom Scholem’s version of History of Religions seemed to obviate this dilemma, inasmuch as he championed historical research and the historical method. Henry Corbin used a variety of terms, such as “imaginal” and “prophetic,” to characterize his stridently antihistoricist Islamic studies. But all three shared a developed interest in metahistory. Both Scholem and Corbin thus spoke of “historiosophy.” They also spoke of their own work in terms of a kind of “counter-history.”¹ Corbin...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Chiliastic Practice of Islamic Studies According to Henry Corbin
      (pp. 172-182)

      One must study the totality of Corbin’s published work to understand that this great Islamicist was something other than an Islamicist.¹ He wrote what he came to call “prophetic philosophy,” a kind of esoteric science complemented by the acceptable apparatus of footnotes.² Influences on this elaborate conception, however, have not yet been traced in full, though many of them are by now well known. Corbin’s esoterism blended medieval philosophy, occultism, History of Religions, Lutheran theology, Shi‘ite ideology, into a brilliantly polished, absolutely authentic, and utterly irreproducible mixture. It is my conviction that he may have been the most sophisticated and...

    • CHAPTER 12 Psychoanalysis in Reverse
      (pp. 183-200)

      Given the long-term participation by the Historians of Religion in the meetings inspired by Carl Jung, it seems virtually unavoidable that any study of their theories of religion must carefully assess their respective positions in relation to psychology. This, however, is a particularly vexatious area of research, inasmuch as each explicitly opposed the reduction of religious realities to psychological forces. On the other hand, each scholar, at the same time, was accustomed to employing psychological categories—of which archetypes are only the best known—to interpret religious materials.¹

      For Eliade, preeminently, the promise of his new History of Religions was...

  10. PART V: Ethics
    • CHAPTER 13 Uses of the Androgyne in the History of Religions
      (pp. 203-214)

      The most striking (and the most uncharacteristic) title of the many books published by Mircea Eliade wasMéphistophélès et l’androgyne.¹ This title had a long history.² It was the title of the longest essay in the collection; this article in turn had been his lecture at the Eranos meeting in Ascona, Switzerland, in 1958. Before that, this same material had originally constituted his studies in the late 1930s; they were published during the war, in Romanian, asThe Myth of Reintegration.³ The essay itself, in its final English version, alludes to this protracted history in its opening lines. “About twenty...

    • CHAPTER 14 Defeating Evil from Within: Comparative Perspectives on “Redemption through Sin”
      (pp. 215-224)

      The greatest scholarship requires the closest study. Gershom Scholem’s classic essay “Redemption through Sin” remains one of the most influential essays written not only in Jewish Studies but in the History of Religions more generally.¹ It was a tour de force, serving at once as programmatic seed, historiographic manifesto, research agenda, and transvaluational breakthrough. Even after many translations and republications, this essay remains positioned in Scholem’s corpus as a vital synthesis of his innovative creativity. But the paradoxical morality articulated by Scholem in “Redemption through Sin” only appears to be utterly novel. In fact, it emerges more and more clearly...

    • CHAPTER 15 On the Suspension of the Ethical
      (pp. 225-236)

      There is little explicit discussion of ethics in the work of Scholem, Corbin, and Eliade. For Eliade and Corbin theonticaleffectively replaced theethicalat the center of intellectual concern. Scholem certainly wrote more directly on ethics than did his two friends.¹ But to the extent that he replaced, in effect,mitzvot(commandments) andHalakha(Jewish law) with “the dialectics of continuity and revolt” as the driving force of Jewish history, he may be said to have deethicized Judaism.² If, as I have tried to show in the preceding chapters, the aesthetic was far more fully developed than the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 237-250)

    There are many contexts into which one can place the amazingly successful studies of religion authored by the Historians of Religions, over the course of careers spanning two generations, straddling the most dramatic decades of this century. I have only traced here a few of those contexts, the turn to myth in Weimar thought, Paris in the thirties, Christian Kabbalah, Heidegger, Jung, fictional androgynes, Nietzsche, Schelling, Goethe, Hamann, Kierkegaard, proud and tragic nationalisms, and so on. These influences were integrated distinctively each into their own system, none really quite resembling the others. Each was anindividuatedHistory of Religions, to...

  12. Abbreviations Used in the Notes
    (pp. 251-254)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-354)
  14. Index
    (pp. 355-368)