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Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade suggests that while the sacred or holy is at the root of our religious experience, the starting point for an investigation of religion is not the psychological or emotional reaction to the sacred, but rather the contrast between the sacred and profane.  While Otto begins with the psychological experience of the sacred, Mircea Eliade focuses on the the sacred as reality.  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 (religious) 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 mode of being 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. 

Eliade's point is that the essence of religion is not necessarily a psychological or emotional experience with power, but an abiding belief in an underlying reality that "provides absolute and objective authority to an otherwise relative and subjective existence."  This reality thus provides authority and meaning that provides a model for ordering life in the profane realm


Even though it is a reality distinct from the ordinary, the sacred does make itself known in the world of human experience.  Appearances or manifestations of the sacred are called hierophanies. The sacred can make itself known through persons, places, objects and times. Although these means through which the sacred appears may be quite ordinary, they are made extraordinary because they share or participate in the sacred realm. 
Hierophanies are thus like doorways or points of contact between the ordinary world and the sacred. A hierophany can make it possible for the sacred to enter the ordinary and, at the same time, for the ordinary to enter into and participate in the sacred realm.