Notice that he definition for religious experience
in this chapter is confined to what a religious experience does; it does
not attempt to define what a religious experience actually is.
The unspoken assumption behind all of the religious
experiences described in this chapter is that each individual sees, hears,
experiences, or simply knows something that is not immediately evident
to others. In other words, the St. Teresa, Gandhi and Moses are
experiencing “ a reality of an entirely different order" than the
apparent order of this world. Scholars of religion often identify this
reality as "the sacred."
individual who was most influential in developing the concept of the
sacred was the Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade. His starting point is
the contrast between the sacred and profane.
"The first possible definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite
of the profane." This simple statement actually suggests a profound interpretation of reality. Eliade maintains that there are actually two modes of being in the
world: the sacred and the profane. The term profane literally means "in front of" or
"outside of" (pro) the temple (fanum) "
| In ancient
Rome, sacred actions were performed within the temple (fanum in Latin) while
other, non-sacred acts were performed in front of the temple. The profane thus
indicates the realm of the ordinary. It is the chaotic, ever changing
world of human activity. In contrast, there is another reality known as
the sacred. The sacred is the realm of the supernatural; that is, the sacred is
the realm of the extraordinary, memorable, momentous, eternal. It is the
realm of ultimate reality. Unlike the profane, the sacred is the sphere of
order and perfection.
|The sacred is thus the reality that "provides absolute and objective
authority to an otherwise relative and subjective existence." In The Sacred
and the Profane (pp 12-13), Eliade writes:
is equivalent to a power, and in the
last analysis, to reality. The
sacred is saturated with being.
Sacred power means reality and at the same time enduringness and efficacy . . .
. Thus it is easy to understand that religious man deeply desires to
be, to participate in reality, to
be saturated with power.”
|It should be noted that Eliade does not
necessarily insist in the existence of an entirely different order.
What cannot be denied, however, is that across time and place,
individuals have experienced what Eliade calls "a reality of an entirely
different order than those of this world."
If there is a reality that is not readily apparent in the ordinary
world, how do individuals experience this sacred realm? Eliade
argues that many types of objects, people, places, events, etc. can
disclose the sacred. The act or
event or object that manifests the sacred is known as a hierophany
(from Greek hiero- "sacred," and
phainein, "to show").