- The Structure of Religious Knowing: Encountering the Sacred in Eliade and Lonergan
In 1968, the great historian of religions Mircea Eliade offered a series of lectures on 'the sacred' as an intrinsic part of the 'structure of human consciousness.' In the audience sat the Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan, who himself spent much of his career developing a theory of human consciousness as a foundation for Christian philosophy. John D. Dadosky calls this event a 'meeting of minds'; if so, it was a meeting of minds on the topic of the mind itself. Both Eliade and Lonergan appealed to some form of 'religious-mystical experience' as a universal component of all human knowing, and Dadosky sets out to illustrate that their disparate claims are, on a deep level, nicely complementary.
The study is, if nothing else, exceptionally well structured. In an oft-repeated image, Lonergan's theory of consciousness is employed as the '"upper blade" of a pair of scissors,' ideally drawn together with a 'lower blade' of historical and religious data to yield 'authentic interpretation.' The first two chapters of the book offer a broad context, situating Eliade and Lonergan within the wider disciplines of religious phenomenology and history of religions. A third chapter then outlines Lonergan's cognitional theory, the four levels of which structure what emerges as the heart of Dadosky's study: an extended reflection on that fundamental 'experience of the sacred' (chapter 4) which, though always mediated through the symbols of particular religious traditions (chapter 5), can nevertheless be defended as an inextricable, intelligible, and transformative dimension of all human living (chapters 6-7). At each point, the discussion goes beyond comparison towards what Lonergan termed 'dialectic,' illustrating how Eliade's thought can be clarified and corrected by Lonergan's philosophy. The sixth chapter is truly outstanding in this regard, first offering an exposition of Eliade's claims about the sacred as 'the Real,' then giving voice to those who accused him of an incipient Platonism because of such claims, and finally showing how Lonergan's notions of unrestricted 'being-in-love' and 'differentiations of consciousness' together preserve Eliade's essential insights while also answering his critics. Throughout, Dadosky's analysis is consistently systematic, well-reasoned, and persuasive, albeit a bit repetitive from one chapter to the next.
In treating his sources, Dadosky is the very soul of care; nevertheless, his two primary subjects are not dealt with as equals, by design. While a short final chapter does suggest some ways in which Eliade's research can fill out areas Lonergan did not fully develop, the overall thrust of the volume goes in the opposite direction. Ironically, this means that the various treatments of Eliade, which admit internal inconsistencies in his [End Page 379] own thought and conflicts among his interpreters, render him the more interesting of the two thinkers. With a few notable exceptions - especially the account of his intellectual development in chapter 2 - Lonergan floats above the analysis, largely immune to serious challenge or critique. Thus, although Dadosky does a reasonably good job explaining Lonergan's technical language and arguments for a broad scholarly audience, his somewhat narrow methodological approach may limit the value of the study for those not already invested in the Lonergan project.
Perhaps more importantly than its treatment of these two figures, however, this book also sets out an agenda for future study. Dadosky lingers on Robley Whitson's vision of a 'convergence of world religions,' often cited by Lonergan, and argues that such a convergence can and should start by taking religious experience seriously, including the experience of 'traditional peoples.' Such an approach cannot remain content with theory and generalization; it requires close attention to the actual data of particular religious traditions and practices, as exemplified by Eliade himself. Dadosky gives readers good reason to hope that, with an 'upper blade' now established, deeper explorations of the requisite 'lower blade' may soon follow. [End Page 380]
Reid Locklin, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto