Unlike the other thinkers we have reviewed so far, Mircea Eliade was a religious person himself. Perhaps for this reason his sympathetic approach to religion has been extremely well accepted by Mormon scholars. When reading his books for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel a strong kinship with him, as if his interpretation of religion was written about Mormonism itself. I once advocated in an EQ lesson that Eliade was essential reading for all Mormons.
While Frazer, Tylor, Freud, Durkhiem, and Marx have sought reductionist and functionalist solutions to explain religion, Eliade forcefully rejected such notions and sought to explain religion on its own terms. Its meaning could not be discerned through psychology or sociology. In doing so, some of his major insights include the relationship between the divine and earthly realm, or more precisely, the sacred and the profane. He noted that the earthly realm was often patterned after the divine, in order to make it sacred. An obvious place for this is in temples, which reflect the heavenly spheres in their design (the parallel to LDS temples should be obvious here). His understanding and articulation of sacred space has been widely accepted by LDS scholars, especially in explaining the temple. It illuminates even the geographical layout of SLC, with the SL temple as the central reference point for the city.
While in the other posts I have sought to rescue the theorists from criticism and explore how they might be helpful, the eager acceptance of Eliade by LDS causes me to want to be more critical of him here. In contemporary scholarship, he is criticized for being essentially a theologian picking out evidence from other religions to back up his claims. Additionally, his broad comparative approach often takes myths out of context and reinterprets them in his own theoretical categories. Does anyone find Eliade just a tad too convenient? Or, if Eliade fails at an explanation for all of religion, does he still succeed in explaining aspects of Mormonism, such as temples?