Original Research - Special Collection: Major Theorists of Religion

COVID-19 as archetype rather than event: Thinking COVID-19 in the light of Eliade’s ‘terror of history’

Auwais Rafudeen
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 2 | a6702 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i2.6702 | © 2021 Auwais Rafudeen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 April 2021 | Published: 15 July 2021

About the author(s)

Auwais Rafudeen, Department of Religious Studies and Arabic, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

Abstract

For Eliade, linear time constitutes the metaphysical substrate of modernity. Consequently, the modern subject experiences time as an irreversible series of events occurring within an absolutised history. It is this subject that ‘makes’ that history. By extension, this time, and the history it valorises, cannot be transcended. This sets up the modern view against a premodern one where temporality is seen in multiple ways, allowing history to be transcended by archetypes. Eliade mourns the alternative ways of being and meaning cultivated by the premodern self that have been lost to hegemonic modernity and its associated, often precarious, subjectivity. He believes that these archetypal modes need to be recovered to counter the damage caused by modernity’s desire to ‘make history’. I reflect on this Eliadean thesis in the light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, drawing on an example from the Islamic tradition to show what an archetypal, rather than event-centred, approach to the crisis might look like. Specifically, I examine the thoughts of British Muslim theologian, Abdal Hakim Murad, on COVID-19, who reflects on the phenomenon both in the light of the archetypal Islamic concept of the divine names and the event-centred capitalism of late modernity.

Contribution: Through an examination of Eliade’s important text, the article continues the decolonial interrogation of modernity’s foundations and its implications for being and acting in the world as distinct from premodern approaches. By highlighting time in both approaches, Eliade shows modernity’s foundations to be just as ‘theological’ as those of religion.


Keywords

Mircea Eliade; archetypal time; terror of history; COVID-19; late modernity; Abdal Hakim Murad; divine names

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