vol. II: 1937 – 1960 XXIIII begin to discover America… Chicago, December 10, 1984. For a whole fifteen minutes I have been standing by my window, staring blankly out into the street, without even understanding why. I got up from my desk because I thought it had started snowing. And then I just couldn't bring myself to go away from the window, although it was quite some time since I had seen a single snow flake. Last night, at Palmer House, in a hall which has been turned into a restaurant and was full to capacity (more than eight hundred guests, I was told), the American Association of Religious Studies celebrated 75 years of existence. Speeches, evocations, applause. And in the end, my celebration: a short conference given by Charles Long (it was supposed to be Joe Kitagawa, but he is still in poor health), Frank Burch's admirable musical piece, Ritual Compass (piano and string quartet) performed by five young university professors, and the gift from the Academy: a sculpture, Eliade, made and presented by Isamu Noguchi. It was the first time that the AAR had ever honored "the most illustrious" (and probably, I would say, the oldest) specialist in religious studies. Just now, as I was daydreaming by the window, various memories kept racing through my head: meetings, people, perfectly unconnected happenings. But ever more persistently there loomed the same question: will I be able to write the Autobiography up to the "celebration" of December 9, 1984? I discontinued it last summer, in Paris. The last chapter ended on the morning of our arrival in Chicago. Since then I haven't had the time – or the desire – to resume work on the manuscript. Fatigue, aggravated by the effects of the weekly shots with colloidal gold. I had difficulties writing because my right wrist had swollen again and I could hardly hold the pen. Moreover, for a few months I have been suffering from a tendonitis in my right ankle, which forced me to use a walking stick. And there are still so many things to do: first of all, I have to classify the reference materials (manuscripts, The Diary, notebooks, correspondence); to decide what I am going to donate to the "Private Collection" of the University Library, and what I am going to send to Paris… It seems to become clearer why I grew so emotional looking out of the window. Right across the street, just a few meters away, there descended the wooden stairs of the house where we lived during our first year here, from October 1956 to May 1957. Next door, on the top floor (the second), my eyes fell on the terrace of the apartment we rented some twenty years ago. I believe I guessed correctly: I understood why I was so fascinated with these two adjoining houses, with their purple-painted stairs going down into the same garden, which up to a few years ago had been almost completely shaded by the old trees; in a way, they represent at once the beginning and the end of our stay in Chicago. For, some five or six months from now we are going to leave the apartment in 5711 Woodlawn Avenue and settle for good (after 27 years) in Paris…I heard knocking on the door. I do not usually open unless I am waiting for somebody. But today I hurried to get the door. With the occasion of the AAR Congress (this time, I was told, some 7000 members attended) many of my former students had come to town, most of them professors at American and Canadian universities, teaching the history of religions. Indeed, almost a dozen of them stopped by to see me. As usual, before they even sat down, they used to look in awe at the shelves and chairs laden with files, magazines and books. They reminded them of their youth, of the working afternoons, fifteen or twenty years before, when they would come to me to take counsel with me, to talk about their Ph.D. papers they were working on. One of them, I had recently heard, had become a grandfather…But this time the person I found standing on the doorstep was my colleague and neighbor, whose office was right opposite to mine and who, as usual, had left the door wide open. He had come to congratulate me on the "great honor". Listening to him, I was looking out of the window that gave on to 57th Avenue and I suddenly found myself smiling: across the street I could catch a glimpse of the so-called "Coach House", the all so picturesque little house where we had lived between 1959 and 1961. It suddenly dawned on me that over the last 27 years we had spent a large part of our lives in Chicago within the same hundred yards… * On that morning of October 1, 1956, the taxi dropped us in front of the University Club, the Quadrangle Club, where two large adjoining rooms had been booked for us. After lunch Joseph Kitagawa, whom we had met in Ascona, and his wife Evelyn came to pick us up to show us around the downtown, the Loop. We were impressed with the wild grandeur of Lake Michigan, which the highway skirted. You could not see its shores, and the bluish-gray color and the high waves reminded me of the Black Sea. The campus was some ten miles from the center. But, we learnt, Chicago spread also southwards, where the University was, and northwards. Luckily the train passed close to the campus and the end of the line was right in the Loop. The same evening, the Kitagawas invited us to a Chinese restaurant. I was really touched to recognize the "style" I had met twenty-five years before in China Town in Calcutta, so different from that of Chinese restaurants in Paris.That night, despite the weariness, we had difficulties going to sleep. We could hear the wind whistling: at times the gusts were so strong that we feared they might tear the windows from the hinges. Later we learnt that Chicago had been nicknamed "The Windy City".The next day, accompanied by Joseph Kitagawa, our first visit to Divinity School. We crossed University Avenue, under the shadow of the gorgeous, tall trees: the leaves were just barely touched with yellow. Joe showed me the building of the famous Oriental Institute; we passed between the two tennis courts, to meet yet more trees that seemed even more beautiful, behind which there rose the buildings of the different faculties and laboratories. We went into Swift Hall (named after the millionaire who financed the construction). The Dean, Jerry Brauer, was waiting for me in his office, smiling affectionately. Unexpectedly young: he did not look more than thirty-two or thirty-three. After introducing me to Weaver, Dean of Students, he showed Joe Kitagawa and me to the large conference hall where I was going to give my "Haskell Lectures". Finally we took the lift to the third floor; visited the library's reading room, then we passed into the secretariat. Here the Dean introduced me to the staff and to some colleagues, among whom Jaroslav Pelikan, who taught the history of Christian theologies and Robert Grant, the specialist in gnosticism and patristics.[i]We had lunch at Quadrangle Club, at the Dean's invitation. Then Christinel and I retired to our room. We were both tired and Christinel was a little depressed: although she had learnt English and she could read fluently, she could not always understand what people told her, while the interlocutor could not understand the few sentences she dared to utter because (somebody later explained to me) of her "French-British" accent. We cheered one another up: the eight months of lectures were going to pass like a charm. The salary (1,000 dollars a month) would allow us to pay back the sum Ionel Perlea had lent us for the journey and the first weeks here. Also, we hoped that we could save enough money to be able to live one year in Val d'Or.A few days later the University found a small apartment for us in one of the houses belonging to the faculty, more precisely to the Unitarian Theological Institute (Meadville).[ii] It was a rather modest apartment: a small study, a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The windows gave on to the garden at the back and from the wooden porch the stairs went down directly to the shadow of the trees. The writing table was tiny and unsteady, but happily I only used it at night. During the day I worked in a spacious office that the faculty had provided for me at Meadville. * I gave the six conferences in Swift Commons. A good many colleagues attended them and also some professors from other faculties who were familiar with The Myth of the Eternal Return and even with some books that had not been translated into English. I did not realize that my pronunciation (not greatly improved by the months I spent in London and Oxford, between 1940-41) hindered the comprehension of a text that was rather difficult in itself.[iii] The hall, hardly capacious enough at first, was only three-quarters full by the last two conferences. I understood later that among other obstacles was the "French accent" with which I pronounced the names of familiar deities (Isis and Osiris, for example, and, with only rare exceptions, the whole Greek-Latin pantheon). When I asked one of the top students to what extent she had been able to follow my speeches, she answered: fifty percent. I should have appreciated earlier the importance of these apparent "phonetic trifles"; better still, I should have asked some student to read the text aloud for me beforehand, so I could write down the correct pronunciation on the manuscript. What confused me above all was the variety and complexity of the "American language"; I seemed incapable of learning the specific pronunciation of this vast Mid-Western melting pot. At times I had the impression there were some phonetic nuances which my ear simply could not grasp; there were words I said which my colleagues and my students understood, but which were wholly unintelligible to, say, a taxi driver or even the salespersons in certain shops. Fortunately, some of my American colleagues reassured me that it often happened to them, as well…The seminar, which I started soon after the inauguration of the series of "Haskell Lectures", did not require a lot of preparation. Only about fifteen students had registered, plus Charles (Chuck) Long, my voluntary assistant, a young and intelligent black minister. Chuck was one of the last students of Joachim Wach's, and he was writing his doctoral thesis on the history of religions; the topic he had chosen was the concept of "demonic" as interpreted by Paul Tillich. Despite the age difference between us, we soon became friends. A little later, Chuck Long was to be appointed Dean of Students. Even before he obtained his Ph.D. he was allowed to teach an introductory course of lectures on the history and methodology of the discipline.We had decided to approach in the seminars, which extended over the three terms, part of the reference material and the issues discussed in Traité d'histoire des religions. We had the manuscript of the English translation (which came out the following year as Patterns of Comparative Religions) and at times I would read out passages from it, making sure every time to write on the blackboard all the names and technical terms I came across. Long after that I still remembered with nostalgia this seminar, which I thought to be the first of a series that was going to last until the end of spring. But destiny had something different in store…Nasser had recently occupied the Suez Canal area. Roger Godel had written to us in a letter that the SuezCompanyHospital, where he had been working for many years, had been nationalized and so they had to go back to France and live in the apartment in Val d'Or. Still, we hoped that the money we were saving in Chicago could suffice to rent a small apartment in Paris. We were counting on Sibylle's initiative and the connections she had. For the time being, though, Alice Godel had asked her to clear the library and the manuscripts I had left in Val d'Or and she had got down to it… * At first we hardly had any time to leave the campus. By mid-October we had learnt how to decline politely some dinner invitations. That autumn was of an unparalleled beauty. Every day, in the late after-noon, we would go for a walk. We would go down to the lake; it was a little more than a mile away. We would rest on a bench, watching mesmerized the waves rolling menacingly and finally breaking and spilling through the rocks. Or, we would set out along Woodlawn Avenue, strolling under the beeches and the elms lined up on both its sides, past that strange Rockefeller Chapel (a Gothic cathedral built by the Aztecs, as I used to call it), across the famous Midway, and so walk until late in the night. Sometimes we would go up Midway until we passed the University hospital and clinic, and walk in that miniature park.On describing to the Grants one day the "geography" of our promenades – from dusk to nightfall – we were surprised at their astonishment. They found it incredible that we had walked the Midway so many times without being mugged. They begged us not to be so reckless ever again and we heeded their advice, though halfheartedly. In fact, it is only over the last few years that the whole Midway network (despite all the illumination) has turned into a really dangerous neighborhood. At night, we only ventured across it in groups.Even from the first weeks we had discovered the FieldMuseum and the Art Institute, and we visited them every time we had a chance (more exactly every time one or another of my colleagues offered us a ride downtown). I was particularly interested in the FieldMuseum, whose publications I had long been familiar with. In Calcutta, at the Asia Society library, I had read almost all the contributions by the famous orientalist and ethnologist Berthold Laufer, one of the directors of the FieldMuseum. As for the Art Institute, it took me a quite a few years to discover its treasures. * For a long time I did not feel up to passing judgments on the educational system in American universities. It seemed at once simpler and more complex than the tradition of European universities, as I had known it in my youth, in Romania and Italy and later, after the War, in France. I was a little nervous about the number of lectures and seminars, not to mention the talks with the students and the written assignments each of them had to submit by the end of the term. The course instructor had to read these fifteen to twenty page long term papers with the pen in hand and, if not make comments on them in writing, at least discuss them with their authors. For the research and drafting of their own papers, the professors had only their vacations. As long as the famous formula publish or perish! was still valid, the amount of time devoted to purely didactic activities seemed if not a calamity, at least a heavy burden.[iv]On the other hand, the American university tradition stressed the intrinsic value of the instructor, rather than the "originality" of each of his lectures. The scientific merit and the "creativity" of a new member of the Department were assessed by the Faculty Board before he was even hired. For the younger ones, the "evaluation" was repeated after five years and again after ten years, when he was promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and finally to Full Professor.Unlike in the traditional system of European universities – where professors had at least the moral obligation to "bring something new" with every lecture – American professors were free to repeat certain lectures. They had the liberty to introduce and discuss certain topics without any pretense of "originality". All that was required of them was to master the subject and "l'état des questions" and to present them in a competent and comprehensible manner. Thus, in fact, professors were at liberty to bring forward information compiled by other scholars and summarize their interpretations, and this lack of "originality" in no way affected their scientific prestige. "Originality" was verified first and foremost by their publications.In view of all this, the two or three lectures a week, the seminars and the meetings with the students no longer represented, as it looked at first sight, a fatal obstacle to any attempt to "original creation". Especially since the tradition of private universities (like Harvard or Chicago) allowed professors to choose their curriculum and organize their lectures according to the needs of the Department, without disregarding their personal interests either. My colleagues were able to write many of their books precisely thanks to certain lectures that they gave and then repeated over the years. * Towards the end of winter the Dean of the Faculty, Jerry Brauer, invited me to Quadrangle Club to a private lunch. He asked me about Christinel, how she was getting along in Chicago, if she liked the "American academic environment". I did not dare to tell him the whole truth – that Christinel was still feeling as if she were in exile – but I confessed that what most discouraged her was the "American language"."But her English is quite good," interrupted Jerry. "In a few more months she won't have any difficulties."Then he went on to ask me what I thought of our university and I gave him a very straight answer:"All very good."The Dean turned suddenly exuberant:"Then let me ask you another question: would you accept a position as a Full Professor? Only for ten years, for now. The whole department is in favor…""You understand," I replied, "that I must talk it over with Christinel."Jerry agreed immediately. He knew, from others as well as from his own experience, that if the wife was not wholly content the respective professor would not stay long in that university..."But anyway," I went on, "I would not dare to make a ten year commitment. I still have some things I need to round off. Let us start with a four year arrangement."Christinel was not particularly enthusiastic, but she resigned herself to the thought of coming back to Chicago, especially after I assured her that, should we be unable to endure such a long stay, I could always terminate the agreement after two years, evidently with prior notice to the faculty, so that they could find a substitute.A few days later I communicated my decision to Jerry Brauer: I accepted the position as a Full Professor and Head of the Department of History of Religions. For the first two terms I was to give three lectures a week and a two-hour seminar. In the spring term I was not however to give any lectures or seminars, although I remained available to the students, especially those preparing their doctoral theses on the history of religions. The Dean agreed to my conditions and I maintained these privileges until 1983, when I became emeritus… * During the winter term I gave a course of lectures on yoga. As I expected, the hall was full to capacity. I had received from Willard Trask the proofs of the book Yoga: Immortality and Freedom and, in the first classes, I read out certain passages, making sure to add some comments of my own every time I felt the text to be too dense. Soon, however, I gave up this routine and I contented myself to reducing the exposition of the doctrine to a minimum and insisting rather on the different yoga practices. The largest part of the audience consisted of students from the College and other faculties. To my surprise, most of them attended the whole series of lectures. It is true that over the last few years American students had grown more and more fascinated with India and particularly with yoga.Conversely, the lectures on shamanism that I gave during the spring term did not attract more than a small group of students. Few people were interested in this topic, at the time familiar only to anthropologists. (Not until 1970-75 was shamanism to enjoy a certain popularity.) Besides, the students in the Department of History of Religions had exams coming up and they had hardly any time (or curiosity) for a presentation of shamanic practices. I was feeling rather tired myself; apart from duties at the university, I was working seven or eight hours a day to get the text of the "Haskell" conferences ready for print.It was only in the spring of 1957 that I could really say I had got to know the merits and flaws of American students. On the one hand, with only rare exceptions, very young students – those from the College and the freshmen from the university – seemed less educated than their French counterparts; they lacked the "experience of the Baccalaureate" and, more importantly, the basics of a culture of the humanities. On the other hand – although often unsystematically – they had knowledge of certain cultural creations which a European would have found surprising at the time (around 1955-60). For instance, as early as High School they studied Faulkner or Camus for a whole term (although they had never read Balzac or Tolstoy); they were familiar with En attendant Godot or O'Neill's Electra (but none of Shakespeare's plays). In College they attended classes on Freud or Sartre, or modern art. Later, I came to understand the significance and usefulness of this curriculum: most students were not going to pursue their education past High School or College (tuition fees in American universities are quite high and not everyone manages to get a scholarship). So it was preferable that the student be initiated at least in a few issues and creations specific to modern culture, such as psychoanalysis, existentialism, contemporary novel and drama.In the university, however, in order to obtain a degree (Master of Arts), students needed to enrich, at least partly, their "basic culture". Still, only when they have started preparing for a Ph.D. in a humanities discipline and have come to master two European languages, or the Classical languages, or one – if not more – Oriental languages, can American students be compared to European students as they were up to the 1960's. Obviously, the students whom I got to know better were those from the restricted circle that attended the seminars on the history of religions. Some of them had quite a solid education, others not so. But they all shared the same preoccupation: how to familiarize themselves, as quickly as possible, with the methodology and problematic of the discipline. In time I came to realize that this passion for "methodology" was somehow part of the "American tradition". It was not seldom that some student would ask me in a solemn, if excited, tone:"What is the best method of studying and understanding the history of religions?"It seemed to me I could recognize in them the descendants of the first waves of pioneers, eager to conquer and cultivate the huge space beyond the "frontiers". They shared the same fundamental conviction: if we wield the best tools, we shall make this land a paradise; if I employ the best method, I shall understand the history of religions in all its complexity and I shall be capable to discover what no one has yet fathomed… * On the first days of June all the students and professors in the Department, with the wives, gathered for the traditional picnic which was held every year by the Lake, at Dune. The wife of the geography professor, Harriet Platt, a woman with a passion for "the mystique of the Orient", had a house there in which we could all take shelter if need be. This occasion allowed me a better comprehension of the spontaneity of these festive meetings between the families of the professors and the students. The university was indeed a community and every faculty, every department was a real family.More than a quarter of a century has passed since that picnic of June 1957. Almost all the students have long since become professors and the children we watched playing by the lake shore back then are preparing for their graduation exams or writing their doctoral theses, or have scattered over four continents carrying out research or promoting the interests of their employers. Many years after we left Chicago our former students continued to stay in touch with us – at least by a long circular letter on New Year's Eve – informing us of the latest academic novelties (publications, promotions, etc.) or personal news (we would learn, for instance, the name of the youngest son's fiancée…) * Several days later we took the train to New York, where Ionel and Lisette Perlea were waiting for us. But soon Ionel had to go: he had accepted, among other things, to conduct a number of concerts at the festival in Aix-en-Provence. We stayed on until July 13 when together with Lisette, we got on board the steamer Liberty.I still had the two "Eranos" conferences to write, as well as a presentation I was to give at the Orientalists' Congress in Munich. I knew that in Paris I would not find the peace and quiet I needed, in fact not even a good writing-table, while here, in New York, I could use Ionel's room: well-lit, spacious, with windows giving on to the neighboring gardens. The summer heat did not bother me there and the silence was only occasionally broken by the cries and curses of a demented old woman.I had brought along some books and almost all the files with notes and quotations about the "inner-light" experience. I had gathered this material over the last years, since I had decided to probe into this kind of mystical experience from the point of view of the history of religions. I had long been familiar with the Indian, Iranian and Chinese documents, but I had recently discovered a number of examples referring to "spontaneous experiences" of inner light – which means experiences not preceded by previous ascetic-religious training. I found it interesting that in different religious traditions, just like with "spontaneous experiences", inner light always expressed an epiphany of the Spirit. Such experiences projected the subject into a universe different from that of day-to-day existence, changing radically its ontological status and opening it towards the values of the Spirit. The significance of inner light was revealed directly to the one who experienced it. But, on the other hand, this significance made sense only within the religious ideology that the subject was familiar with. Although the experience of "mystical light" seemed to be the same in different cultures – from the "primitives" to Vedic India, Buddhism and Christian monasticism – its meaning and spiritual value varied from one religious tradition to another. I was interested in such comparative analyses because they highlighted both the common basis of certain religious experiences and the variety of signification that they achieved in different traditions and which gave evidence, once more, of the creativity of the Spirit.[v]During those summer weeks I came to feel the charm of this "last European city in America", as the most recent immigrants used to call New York. Also, I had the opportunity to visit the MetropolitanMuseum several times a week and to talk at length with my friends Brutus and Tantzi Coste, Ion Vardala, N. Caramfil and others. * We only stayed in Paris a few days. We could hardly wait to see Ascona and Lago Maggiore again. Olga Froebe had invited Stella and Henry Corbin over and "Villa Gabriela" was now alive with our long conversations, which extended at times until late into the night. Henry, like other French friends and colleagues of mine, found it regretful that I had accepted to prolong my arrangement with ChicagoUniversity by four more years but they admitted that, at least for the time being, I had no other option. Quite to the contrary, our friends from the "Bollingen Foundation", John Barrett and Vaun Gillmor, were delighted. What we lacked, they said, were not so much European professors settling in the United States who came back every five or six years to visit their country, as intellectuals who accepted to commute annually over the ocean. It was, of course, exhausting and financially extravagant ("You will not manage to save any money!" they predicted). But such cultural activities, carried out simultaneously on both shores of the Atlantic, could add to a deeper and more genuine mutual knowledge of the traditions and cultural creations on the two continents.The whole summer there struck one storm after the other, so that we rarely had any chance to bathe in the lake or go for a stroll on the nearby hills. I managed to round off the text for the "Eranos" conferences I was going to give at the Orientalists' Congress in Munich, between August 28 and September 4. The examples I quoted and discussed in "Expériences de la Lumière mystique" enjoyed an interested audience. Long afterwards I still remembered the passionate talks I had with Scholem, Ernst Benz, Henry Corbin and others.I arrived in Munich in time for the opening of the Congress and, apart from so many friends and fellow orientalists, I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Joseph Needham (who confessed his admiration for Forgerons et alchimistes), Walter Reuben, Dominik Schröder, A.L. Basham, Franz Babinger, etc. On September 2 I gave a short presentation: Remarques sur le miracle de la corde. I had long been interested in this topic: not as much the fabulous rope trick of the fakirs, as all the metaphysical experiences, mythologies and speculations connected with the threads and ropes which signify both the human condition and the structure of the Universe.[vi]From Munich we left for Florence and then, by bus, to Siena, Assisi and Rome (cf. Fragments d'un Journal, I, pp. 246 sq.). Both Christinel and I longed for Italy in early autumn. I was aware of the risks I was taking by going into cathedrals and museums and haunting the libraries and second-hand bookshops – but I knew what was waiting for me: a hotel room in Paris. Since July I had become a wandering scholar, who worked and lived – except for the weeks I spent at "Villa Gabriella" – in hotel rooms.In early October we came back to Paris and checked in for two months at Hôtel Pas-de-Calais. The greatest joy was, naturally, seeing our friends again (with the members of the family – Mamy, Sibylle, Lisette, Ionel and Oani – we had met in July in Ascona). But in the second half of November I set out again, this time alone, for Uppsala