Born March 9, 1907, Bucharest, Romania.
Historian of religions and man of letters, distinguished for his researches in the symbolic language used by various religious traditions and for his attempt to reduce their meaning to underlying primordial myths that provide the basis for mystical phenomena.
Eliade took an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Bucharest in 1928. He studied Sanskrit and Indian philosophy at the University of Calcutta (1928-31) and then lived for six months in the Ashram (hermitage) of Rishikesh, Himalaya. Returning to Romania, he earned his Ph.D. in 1933 with the dissertation Yoga: Essai sur les origines de la mystique indienne ("Yoga: Essay on the Origins of Indian Mysticism") and was named assistant professor at Bucharest, where he taught the history of religions and Indian philosophy (1933-39). In 1945 he went to Paris as a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études of the Sorbonne. In 1956 he became professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, where he remained. In 1961 he founded the journal History of Religions.
Fundamentally, Eliade considered religious experience in traditional and contemporary societies as credible phenomena that he termed hierophanies (i.e., manifestations of the sacred in the world). His researches traced the forms that these hierophanies have taken throughout the world and through time. Eliade's essential interpretation of traditional religious cultures and his analysis of the forms of mystical experience characterize his major works: Traité d'histoire des religions (1949; Patterns of Comparative Religion), Le Mythe de l'éternel retour (1949; The Myth of the Eternal Return), and Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l'extase (1951; Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy). He also expressed his views in works of fiction, notably the novels Forêt interdite (1955; The Forbidden Forest) and The Old Man and the Bureaucrats (1979). Among his later works are two collections of essays, The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (1969) and Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashion: Essays in Comparative Religion (1976). He also wrote a three-volume work entitled A History of Religious Ideas (1978-85) and was editor-in-chief of the 16-volume Encyclopedia of Religion.
Mircea Eliade was the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago where he remained and taught until his death on April 22 in the year 1986.