Utopian Landscapes and Ecstatic Journeys: Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, and Mircea Eliade on the Terror of Modernity

In: Numen
Kocku von Stuckrad University of Groningen, Department of Religious Studies Oude Boteringestraat 38, 9712 GK Groningen, The Netherlands, Email:

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Against the background of fascism and the disasters of two world wars, during the first decades of the twentieth century many European intellectuals were formulating negative responses to “modernity” and to what they regarded as the decline of human civilization. Often, these intellectuals sought for alternatives to the modern conditio humana and looked for solutions in religion, art, or philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche’s conceptualization of the Dionysian and the Orphic is of particular importance for such a discourse of modernity. After introducing Nietzsche’s contribution as a referential framework, the article compares two representatives of this intellectual discourse: Hermann Hesse and Mircea Eliade. At first glance, Hesse, the writer and poet, does not seem to have much in common with Eliade, the scholar of religion and writer of novels. Upon closer examination, however, there are remarkable similarities in their work and their evaluation of the modern human condition. For Hesse, it was art, music, and literature that provided the antidote against the predicaments of modern culture. Eliade shared Hesse’s search for an alternative to the modern condition and found it in the pure religion outside of time and space, in the illud tempus of the homo religiosus. For him, it was shamanism in particular that provided a model for a contact with the absolute world of truth untouched by the “terror of history.” The article argues that these dialectical responses are part and parcel of the project of European “modernity” itself, rather than representing an “anti-modern” claim.

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