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Christian Theology and World Religions


Mircea Eliade was a philosopher and a historian of religion, whose book “A History of Religious Ideas” in three volumes outlines the key periods in human history in relation to religious traditions people practiced at a specific time. Religion in the context of human history has been a part of people’s existence for many centuries, for some, gods were the creators of the word and its masters, while others, such as Buddhists, focused on human actions and sufferings caused by them. Due to these differences, one can assume that all religions emerged independently and as separate phenomena, having no similarities or connection to human nature.

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However, Eliade argued that all people are religious, and his ideas are based on the similarities of different religious traditions, which can be regarded as myths that resurface in different religions. Eliade’s argument is convincing because all religions demonstrate similarities in their structure and teachings, more specifically, religious traditions of the Stone Age, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Indo-European traditions, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, emphasize the cultivation of certain virtues in an individual through different rituals.

Eliade’s Opinion on Religion

For most people, the notion of being religious refers mainly to the idea of belonging to a certain religious tradition or lack of such belonging. According to Eliade, “to be-or rather, to become-a man, signifies being “religious” (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” xiii). This quote suggests that Eliade argues that religion is beyond a specific tradition and is rather an innate part of human existence and experience. Every action performed by a human is thus a religious experience because it is sacred. Religion then can be viewed as a manifestation of these innate beliefs, which provides structure and understanding to some elements of human life, for example, suffering, which is a common theme in many cultures.

In Eliade’s view, all religions shared many similarities, beginning with the Stone Age to the great Mystics of Islam. He outlined the key characteristics that one can trace in the majority of religions, which will be explained more in-depth in the following paragraphs of this paper, although there are some key differences in the way these religions emerged and were practiced. Witzel supports this opinion by posing a question of whether myths originate from one center and are diffused through a variety of historic events, such as conquests or colonizations of one nation by the other, or do they emerge independently (1).

In the latter case, are the similarities of different religious traditions a result of some innate human characteristics that predispose people to try to explain the world around them and different phenomena in a similar manner, creating a set of archetypes that can be traced in different cultures? By finding answers to this question, one can determine why Eliade considered all people religious, since, regardless of whether one practices a particular tradition or considers themselves an atheist, the worldviews of this person are still based on similar principles that are used by religious people.

Although it is impossible to establish which of the two views on the origins of myths and their manifestation in religions is true, it is possible that a combination of two factors, such as the existence of the original myth and the innate characteristics of people allowed for widespread adoption of different religions. Several specifics help understand how Eliade developed his views on religion and the connection between different religious teachings.

In his book, Eliade argues that it is challenging to imagine “how consciousness could appear without conferring meaning on men’s impulses and experiences” (1, xiii). Eliade continues by arguing that the concept of sacredness is an inseparable part of human consciousness (xiii). According to Eliade’s assumptions, the main argument supporting the possibility that all people are religious is the connection between the sacred and conscious understanding of the world.

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In his examinations, specifically those of technology used by ancient people and its sacred meaning, Eliade mainly based his conclusions using the example of modern-day tribes. This can be problematic since it is difficult to establish the similarities and differences between a modern-day tribe member and the one who lived during the Stone Age, which can be used as an argument again Eliade’s views. However, in many cases, this is the only reference point available for scholars, although it is possible to assume that people did not assign as much sacred meaning to the objects they used during ancient times.

Religion and Technology

Technology, in Eliade’s work, mainly refers to the tools and instruments that people used over the course of history. For example, a notable change in the way individuals could obtain food was the development of stone-based instruments during the Stone Age. At this time, humans were able to use instruments to create tools for hunting, an important distinction from other animals (Eliade, 7). Before that, people in varied parts of the world learned how to use fire, preserve it, and apply it when necessary, which is another distinction between humans of the Stone Age and animals. This suggests that technology had an important meaning for humanity and that people living during the Stone Age possessed the creativity and consciousness to be able to create and use different tools and natural phenomena.

Eliade compares the invention of stone tools and their use to the instruments used in different cultures that continue to live in accordance with the hunter-gatherer principle and have little contact with the modern world, in rituals (10). These tools are believed to have sacred power, and thus it is possible that the invention and the creativity involved in the creation of such things are inevitably connected to religiousness.

In Chapter 9, titled “Work, Technology, and Imaginary Worlds,” Eliade explores the question of religion in relation to technology. Eliade argues that the discovery of technology, mainly the one pertaining to agriculture, has dramatically changed the human experience because “it proved to be as frail and ephemeral as the life of plants” (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 116).

Here, during the stone age, the perception of cyclicity and death has changed, and people began using symbols such as burial chambers or stones as a reference to being strong. This association between strength, death, and human experience is important as similar themes emerge in other traditions as well. People since ancient times used religion and myths to create a framework for explaining the world around them, and technology aided in advancing civilization.

Religious Traditions, Their Similarities, and Differences

Eliade’s work on the A History of religion and the development of different religious traditions helps understand the similarities of the different religious views. This, in its turn, results in a question regarding the origins of the religious traditions. More specifically, why people in different times and areas of the world had a similar outlook on life, divine and human things, as well as similar mystical traditions.

According to Witzel, different religions have a similar view of the origins of the earth, as something that emerged from chaos, the themes of universe, great waters or haven, and earth not existing prior to the creation of our world (2). These themes can be traced to Mesopotamian, Polynesian, Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, Greek, and other cultures. Moreover, there are systematic similarities in the way the stories unfold in different religious traditions, from the creation of the earth to its inevitable death. In Witzel’s opinion, this is an attempt to answer key questions such as why people exist and what is the purpose of their life (3).

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Eliade expresses similar ideas in his assessment of religious traditions. However, his view is mainly associated with religion being an innate part of consciousness (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” xiii). Hence, people have created myths, and religious traditions emerged as a result of a conscious need to explain the phenomena of life.

The main difference between the ancient religions and megalithic ones is the view of the soul and life. Eliade describes these beliefs as “not only confidence in the soul’s survival, but above all, confidence in the power of the ancestors and hope that they will protect the living” (116). The religious traditions of Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Greeks, Hittites, and some other traditions differed since they considered the dead as pitiful and not powerful. Hence, the main difference between prehistoric and megalithic religious traditions is the approach to viewing the death or afterlife and the way they choose to treat their ancestors.

Many parallels can be drawn between Islamic and Christian traditions. Mainly, both focus on the experience of god, with an emphasis on a person’s ability to “hear” god directly and be guided by his word. Similarities in the way a tradition guides a person and their actions towards enlightenment can also be seen in Buddhism and Christian traditions. In ancient religions, this is manifested through the beliefs in the afterlife. Eliade’s arguments that all people are religious in some way are convincing because all religions that existed over time from the Stone Age and until the mystics of Islam share similarities.

Monotheism and polytheism is important characteristic of a religion. This is among the key differences that persist in distinguishing religions since traditions such as Christianity and Islam have a single god, while others, such as Hinduism, Indo-European traditions, a religion of Ancient Egypt, have a variety of gods and divine creatures.

It is possible that all religious traditions emerged from one prehistoric tradition, in which people created myths that later became archetypes and were diffused across the world and adopted or adapted by different cultures. If so, it is plausible that the myths were transformed over time, based on the context of events that specific individuals experience, creating distinct religious traditions (Witzel, 112). To determine if this is true, one must begin by exploring the early religious traditions of the Stone Age.

Stone Age

The main characteristic of this historical period is the use of a stone instrument, mainly as a means of obtaining food. Eliade refers to the religious beliefs of this time as “the mythology of polished stone” (52). The Stone Age’s religious and mythological beliefs can be studied through the examination of the paintings or sculpture that was preserved over the years and discovered by archaeologists.

Unfortunately, no other evidence of the rituals that people adhered to at that time can be recovered as they do not exist. Hence important proof such as songs, texts, or other types of documents that would clearly outline the traditions of the Stone Age is available (Witzer, 261). Hence, the majority of the interpretations in relation to religion and myth of the Stone Age are made based on images and sculptures and the symbols that correlate with others found in different traditions and cultures.

Among other characteristics of this era, hunting as the main mean of obtaining food should be mentioned (Witzer, 261). This, together with shamans, or individuals reaching an altered state of mind to connect to spirits are the distinct features of the Stone Age religion. Shamanism is also present in later religious traditions, and this practice is often connected to sacrifices or other rituals that aim to connect humans to spiritual beings. Eliade explains that “primitive hunters regard animals as similar to men but endowed with supernatural powers” (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 7).

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The spirits of these animals can have a different meaning, for instance, they can serve as guardians. These mystical beliefs are connected to traditions that developed later, for instance, in Buddhism, animals are viewed as enlightened creatures, while humans are regarded as creatures seeking enlightenment.

Later on, during the Mesolithic and Palaeolithic eras, similar examples of worshipping animals and shamanism can be seen. However, this period is notable because it marks the change in the way people obtained food – a transition from hunting to hunting to agriculture (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 29). This was mainly a result of climate change, which affected the availability of food and resulted in mass resettlements of the people.

Such change had an impact on approaching the rituals as well. Eliade cites the example of archaeological findings of several deers with stones in their bodies as a sacrifice ritual (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 29). It is hypothesized that this is a first-fruit gift for the Lord of Wild Beasts. Thus, the main characteristics of this period are the belief in a divine force and spirits and regard of animals as sacred creatures.


Sumerians practiced their religion mainly by believing that the divines are responsible for all the things, such as natural and social matters. Mainly, the people believed that divine creators created everything around them, such as water, which was created by Nammu or An, which was the sky. Eliade described the symbolism of a bull, which was a sacred being for the Sumerian people (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2,” 100). The Sumerian religious tradition transformed over time, with people believing a triad of Gods initially, which later were transformed into planetary deities.

With the Sumerian religious traditions, an important element of specific behavior that a person should adhere to emerged. Eliade explains this as humans aiming to imitate the behavior of their gods and ensuring that their behavior corresponds to a set of specific standards (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 10). Other aspects of religious beliefs, such as temples for worship and the concept of death and the afterlife also present in this tradition, connecting it to others.

The connection between this region and further traditions that developed afterward is the presence of a divine force, which was responsible for the world order. When comparing this tradition to the Western religions, such as Christianity or Islam, where God or Allah were the main divinities, one can see a similar approach regarding the world order. The divinities in both cases created the world, although Sumerian people made clear distinctions between different domains such as water, sun, or the sky and corresponding divinities. Many parallels can be drawn between how the Sumerian people saw the world and described it through myths and religious texts that emerged later.


The religious tradition of Ancient Egypt is monotheistic, meaning that the people believed in many gods. Eliade suggests that the development of religious beliefs in Ancient Egypt is associated with Sumerian traditions (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 200). More specifically, the Egyptians used the Sumerian system of writing, which helped them advance as a civilization and affected their religious practices. Notably, a Pharao’s image was connected to the divinities, which allowed them to rule the state (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 200). The afterlife was an important element of this tradition, with a variety of rituals and preparations that were necessary to ensure that an individual’s spirit has a good afterlife.

The evidence of these rituals persists to this day, with the Pyramids being the most evident example of these burial practices. Here, a theme of the afterlife, which can be viewed as the idea of spirits existing, can be seen, which is also present in religions that emerge afterward. With the religious traditions of Ancient Egypt, one can argue that the theory of dissemination of myths is more applicable than that of the sacred, supported by Eliade. This is because Egypt was largely influenced by Sumerians.


Israelite religion draws many of its practices from the Bronze age, with characteristics such as having many gods, building worshipping temples, and rituals being dominant in this tradition. This religious tradition is characterized by polytheism, although people chose their primary deities instead of worshipping all (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 320). Similar to other traditions, the spirits were worshipped by the people. In this tradition, special attention was dedicated to the spirits of ancestors, as they were viewed as a sacred force, and also, it is possible that in this way, people acknowledged their lineage.

Thus, some similarities in the way people worshipped the afterlife can be seen in this religion and those that existed prior, such as the Egyptian afterlife belief or the views of Buddist on rebirth and enlightenment.


The Indo-European religious tradition developed on the territory of Asia and Europe, which explains the diversity of Indo-European beliefs. However, some common features include the deities that can be seen across different traditions, mainly the gods of the sky, earth, daws, storm, and others. These religions also include a myth about the god’s creation of the world about two brothers and a belief in another world that one can reach by crossing a river (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2”, 120). Here, parallels with the beliefs of Ancient Egypt and some connections to Christian views of the afterlife are present.

According to Eliade, the similarities between the European and Indian traditions manifested in the following – “fasting as a means of strengthening a judicial petition; the magico-religious value of truth; insertion of passages in verse into epic narrative prose, especially in dialogues; the importance of bards, and their relations with sovereigns” (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2”, 196). Thus, a notable factor with the Indo-European religion tradition is the similarities of myths despite the large distance between different cultures.


In many ways, Hinduism shares similarities with another religious tradition prevalent in Asia – Buddhism. The main focus in this religion, similarly to Buddhism, is on the daily actions and a person’s karma, which is the reflection of them. Here, a parallel with Eliade’s view of the sacred as a part of each action a person does and the ancient spiritual beliefs can be seen. Eliade explains the main principles of Hinduism in the following manner: “doctrines and speculations, together with methods of meditation and soteriological techniques, have their justification in this universal suffering, for they are without value save insofar as they deliver man from suffering.

According to Eliade, “human experience, no matter what its nature, engenders suffering” (66). And thus, religious teaching suggests that people want to escape this suffering or the celestial, terrestrial, and organic miseries. Similar to Buddhism, Hindu tradition suggests that people, unlike other creatures, possess the power to overcome these sufferings.


Buddhism, together with Hinduism and Jainism, is one of the three main religions in India. The name of this religious tradition is connected to Siddhārtha Gautama or Śākyamuni Buddha. Notably, Siddhārtha is a historical being, who actually lived in India approximately in 480-400 BCE (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2”, 10). This is an important factor because, as Eliade notes, some historians denied the existence of Buddha or viewed him as solely a divine being, denying his actual life.

The main goal is the “deliverance of mankind,” meaning that Buddhists recognize the sufferings of humans and aim to show of path of reviewing one from these sufferings (Eliade, 73). This, in some way, differs from the religions of the Ancient nations, because the focus is on enlightenment. However, one can draw parallels between this enlightenment and the themes of the afterlife present in Sumerian and Egyptian traditions.

The first connection between Buddhism and other religions is the actual name of Buddha and its meaning. Mainly, Buddha is a title that translates as “The Enlightened One.” Here, similarities with the Christian traditions emerge since the name of the Christ can be interpreted as “the Messiah.” However, as Eliade states, “Buddhism is the only religion, whose founder declares himself to be neither the prophet of the God nor his emissary, and who, in addition, rejects the idea of a God-Supreme being” (73). Hence, although Buddha is the “enlightened one,” the idea of God as the ultimate being and savior is rejected in this teaching. Instead, Buddha is viewed as the savior.

Some core beliefs of the Buddhists include the idea that one’s life is filled with suffering that a person causes to themselves. The endless cycle of reincarnations is the manifestation of these sufferings, to which Buddhists refer as “samsara.” These sufferings are caused by two factors – ignorance and the true nature of a human being, leading to actions that result in suffering. “Nirvana ” is, therefore, the state of relief from these sufferings, which is what most Buddhists seek. Based on Eliade’s assessment of Buddhism, one can conclude that there are some similarities of this religious teaching with Christianity and other traditions, such as Yoga or Jains.

Mystics of Islam

Islam, unlike ancient religions, can be well-studied by scholars as many detailed texts explaining its origins and development exist. According to Eliade, “Muhammad is the only one of all the founders of universal religions for whom we have a detailed biography” (98). As Elide claims, the ability to have a detailed outlook on at least one of the creators of religion is essential because it provides an understanding of the power that religious traditions have. Isalm is typically grouped with other two religions – Christianity and Judaism, mainly because they all originate from Abraham. For Islam, the central figure is Muhammad, who was a prophet and received revelations later written in Quaran. This book is considered the central element of the Islamic tradition.

Despite there being other prophets, in Islam, Muhammad is considered the final prophet, and his words or the Quaran, are thus the definitive in determining the religious traditions. Notably, this tradition largely rejects any type of mystical or supernatural occurrences. Similar to the Yoga tradition, Islam has several determining characteristics, such as confessing to faith, praying each day, almsgiving, fasting, visiting mecca (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 3”, 130). The main distinctive feature of Islam, which connects it to other religious ideas, is the concept of stations or virtues that one cultivates in themselves. In general, there are eight stages that a person must go through, with the final one being the direct knowledge of God.

Discussion of Eliade’s View

Based on the assessment of religions presented in the previous paragraphs, one can conclude that they share distinct similarities in the way they treat human beings, their lives, and their work. According to Eliade, hierophanies are the basis of all religions with an origin in myths. These are the so-called “manifestations of the sacred,” and all religions contain these manifestations in some form (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” 1). The sacred is the ideal model, that when used in religion, provides an understanding of how things should be in order for them to have value.

Based on this overview, one can assume that the majority of them can be characterized by specific mystical traditions. This refers to different practices, such as shamanism, sacrifices, mediation, prayers, and others, which people use as a means of connecting with the sacred. As the discussion of different religious views suggests, despite distinct similarities, there are systematic themes and elements that connect all religions and the rituals they have.

The notion of divine and spirits, for example, can be traced from the ancient beliefs of the Stone Age, meaning that human consciousness creates myths based on the sacred because the latter is an inseparable element of it. Eliade’s arguments regarding the religiousness of all people appear to be valid since these similarities are undeniable, and thus religious traditions should be viewed not from a perspective of a single religion and its view of the world, but rather as part of all religious systems that existed for centuries.

The idea of sacredness is the main characteristic of Eliade’s approach to viewing religion and the religiousness of people. According to Eliade, “every manifestation of the sacred is important: every rite, every myth, every belief or divine figure reflects the experience of the sacred” (“A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,” xiii). Moreover, the sacred is manifested in all actions and is an inseparable part of human life. Religions serve as a means of explaining this sacredness, in different ways and using different symbols. They teach people how to manifest their best behavior, in accordance with the values of this sacredness.

Some arguments that oppose Eliade’s opinion should be discussed as well. The author argues that being human is ultimately connected to being religious because consciousness cannot exist without the understanding of the sacred (Eliade, “A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1,”, xiii). However, anti-religion beliefs reject the idea of divine beings and the existence of the sacred, for example, atheism or agnosticism. These approaches argue that god, regardless of a specific religious origin, does not exist, or that humans are incapable of understanding the divine. Although these ideas are present, they fail to explain the value of religious experiences and the persistence of myths in different times and in different regions of the world.


Overall, Eliade’s idea of all people being religious in some way is convincing because the author highlights the similarities and the mystical traditions that all religions from the stone age to Islam have in common. These similarities suggest that people have a particular approach to viewing their life, purpose, and meaning as well as the sacred and humane elements of it. For example, Indian religious traditions view the life of a person through the perspective of eternal suffering, which is supported by continuous reincarnations. The religious tradition is thus viewed as a way of saving oneself from these sufferings. Similarly, the Christian tradition and Islam require people to adhere to certain standards of behavior or to cultivate specific virtues that will help them relieve suffering.

Works Cited

Eliade, Mircea. A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

—. A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

—. A History of Religious Ideas, Volume 3: From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms. The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Witzel, Michael. The Origins of the World’s Mythologies. Oxford University Press, 2013.

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