Born in Bucharest, Rumania, Mircea Eliade studied at the University of Bucharest and, from 1928 to 1932, at the University of Calcutta with Surendranath Dasgupta. After taking his doctorate in 1933 with a dissertation on yoga, he taught at the University of Bucharest and, after the war, at the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1957, Eliade was a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago. He was at the same time a writer of fiction, known and appreciated especially in Western Europe, where several of his novels and volumes of short stories appeared in French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Two Tales of the Occult "to relate some yogic techniques, and particularly yogic folklore, to a series of events narrated in the genre of a mystery story." Both Nights of Serampore and The Secret of Dr. Honigberger evoke the mythical geography and time of India. Mythology, fantasy, and autobiography are skillfully combined in Eliade's tales.
Jonathan Z. Smith is perhaps the leading theorist working in the study of religions today; he is also a scholar who specializes in Hellenistic and late Antique religions. Trained at Yale University, where he wrote a thesis examining the methods employed in James G. Frazer's mammoth classic, The Golden Bough, Smith has been particularly interested in using the ideas and methods of sociology and anthropology to study religions. Through unrelenting criticism and detailed historical investigations, he has called into question many of the conclusions that an older generation of scholars had reached. His acumen has been directed particularly at the work of Mircea Eliade, who was for years Smith's colleague at the University of Chicago. His recent book, Drudgery Divine, aims to expose the sectarian purposes that led Protestant historians to isolate "primitive Christianity" from its contexts in ancient religions, an expose that Smith's own background in Judaism makes him ideally suited to carry out. As a theorist, Smith emphasizes the active role of intellection in all scholarly enterprises. He insists that the aim of religious studies is distinct from that of religions ("map is not territory"), that "religion" is a category "imagined" by Western scholars to accomplish certain academic purposes, and that theoretical questions and purposes should explicitly guide all investigations. For example, Smith states that when scholars compare religions, their immediate concern should not be with finding similarities that pervade a large body of data (cp. Eliade), nor should it be to determine who borrowed what from whom (historical diffusion). Instead, the purpose of comparison is to identify individual differences that assume significance because they elucidate specific theoretical issues. Smith's distinction between locative religions---religions that pertain to specific places---and utopian ones---religions that have broken their bonds with place---is especially helpful in considering the history of religions in the Hellenistic and late Antique periods. Smith's work is itself too recent to have been the subject of a scholarly monograph, but readers will find Smith's influence extending widely through the study of ancient religions. Those who want critical assessments may wish to consult book review indexes.