Ioan Petru Culianu

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Ioan Petru Culianu

Ioan Petru Culianu or Couliano (5 January 1950 – 21 May 1991) was a Romanian historian of religion, culture, and ideas, a philosopher and political essayist, and a short story writer. He served as professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago from 1988 to his death, and had previously taught the history of Romanian culture at the University of Groningen.

An expert in gnosticism and Renaissance magic, he was encouraged and befriended by Mircea Eliade, though he gradually distanced himself from his mentor. Culianu published seminal work on the interrelation of the occult, Eros, magic, physics, and history.[1]

Culianu was murdered in 1991. It has been much speculated his murder was in consequence of his critical view of Romanian national politics.[1][2] Some factions of the Romanian political right openly celebrated his murder.[1] The Romanian Securitate, which he once lambasted as a force "of epochal stupidity", has also been suspected of involvement and of using puppet fronts on the right as cover.[1]



Culianu was born in Iaşi. He studied at the University of Bucharest, then traveled to Italy where he was granted political asylum while attending lectures in Perugia in July 1972. He later graduated from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan.[1] He lived briefly in France and the Netherlands, before leaving Europe for Chicago, in the United States. There, after a stint as visiting professor, he became a professor at the University of Chicago. He took a Ph.D. at the University of Paris IV in January 1987, with the thesis Recherches sur les dualismes d'Occident. Analyse de leurs principaux mythes ("Research into Western Dualisms. An Analysis of their Major Myths"), coordinated by Michel Meslin.

Having completed three doctorates and being proficient in six languages, Culianu specialized in Renaissance magic and mysticism. He became a friend, and later the literary executor, of Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions. He also wrote fiction and political articles.

Culianu had divorced his first wife, and at the time of his death was engaged to Hillary Wiesner, a 27-year-old graduate student at Harvard University.


On Tuesday, May 21, 1991, at noon, just minutes after concluding a conversation with his doctoral student, Alexander Argüelles, on a day when the building was teeming with visitors to a book sale, Culianu was murdered in the bathroom of the divinity school, Swift Hall, of the University of Chicago. He was shot once in the back of the head. The identity of the killer and the motive are still unknown.

Speculation arose that he had been killed by former Securitate agents, due to political articles in which he attacked the Communist regime. The murder occurred a year and a half after the Romanian Revolution and Nicolae Ceauşescu's death.

Before being killed, he had published a number of articles and interviews that heavily criticized the Ion Iliescu post-Revolution regime, making Culianu one of the government's most vocal adversaries. Several theories link his murder with Romanian Intelligence, which was widely perceived as the successor of the Securitate;[1] several pages of Culianu's Securitate files are inexplicably missing. Some reports suggest that Culianu had been threatened by anonymous phone calls in the days leading up to his killing.[1]

Ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist involvement, as part of an Iron Guard revival in connection with the nationalist discourse of the late years of Ceauşescu's rule and the rise of the Vatra Românească and România Mare parties, was not itself excluded from the scenario;[3] according to Vladimir Tismăneanu: "[Culianu] gave the most devastating indictment of the new union of far left and far right in Romania".[4] As part of his criticism of the Iron Guard, Culianu had come to expose Mircea Eliade's connections with the latter movement during the interwar years (because of this, relations between the two academics had soured for the final years of Eliade's life).[1]


Scholarly works[edit]

  • Mircea Eliade, Assisi, Cittadella Editrice, 1978; Roma, Settimo Sigillo, 2008(2); Mircea Eliade, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1995, 1998(2); Iaşi, Polirom, 2004(3)
  • Iter in Silvis: Saggi scelti sulla gnosi e altri studi, Gnosis, no. 2, Messina, EDAS, 1981
  • Religione e accrescimento del potere, in G. Romanato, M. Lombardo, I.P. Culianu, Religione e potere, Torino, Marietti, 1981
  • Psychanodia: A Survey of the Evidence Concerning the Ascension of the Soul and Its Relevance, Leiden, Brill, 1983
  • Eros et magie a la Renaissance. 1484, Paris, Flammarion, 1984
  • Expériences de l'extase: Extase, ascension et récit visionnaire de l'hellénisme au Moyen Age, Paris, Payot, 1984; Experienze dell'estasi dall'Ellenismo al Medioevo, Bari, Laterza, 1986
  • Gnosticismo e pensiero moderno: Hans Jonas, Roma, L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1985
  • Éros et Magie à la Renaissance. 1484, Paris, Flammarion, 1984; Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987; Eros e magia nel Rinascimento: La congiunzione astrologica del 1484, Milano, Il Saggiatore - A. Mondadori, 1987; Eros şi magie în Renaştere. 1484, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1994, 1999(2); Iaşi, Polirom, 2003(3), 2011, 2015; Eros y magia en el Renacimiento. 1484, Madrid, Ediciones Siruela, 1999
  • Recherches sur les dualismes d'Occident: Analyse de leurs principaux mythes, Lille, Lille-Thèses, 1986; I miti dei dualismi occidentali, Milano, Jaca Book, 1989
  • Les Gnoses dualistes d'Occident: Histoire et mythes, Paris, Plon, 1990; The Tree of Gnosis, New York, HarperCollins, 1992; Gnozele dualiste ale Occidentului. Istorie si mituri, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1995; Iaşi, Polirom, 2002(2), 2013
  • Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein, Boston, Shambhala, 1991; Mas alla de este mundo, Barcelona, Paidos Orientalia, 1993; Călătorii in lumea de dincolo, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1994, 1999(2); Iaşi, Polirom, 2003(3), 2007, 2015; Jenseits dieser Welt, Munchen, Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1995
  • I viaggi dell'anima, Milano, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1991
  • The Tree of Gnosis : Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism, San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1992; Arborele gnozei. Mitologia gnostică de la creştinismul timpuriu la nihilismul modern, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1999; Iasi, Polirom, 2005, 2015
  • Experiences del extasis, Barcelona, Paidos Orientalia, 1994; Experienţe ale extazului, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1997; Iaşi, Polirom, 2004(2)
  • Religie şi putere, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1996; Iași, Polirom, 2005
  • Psihanodia, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1997, Iași, Polirom, 2006
  • Păcatul împotriva spiritului. Scrieri politice, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1999; Iași, Polirom, 2005, 2013
  • Studii româneşti I. Fantasmele nihilismului. Secretul Doctorului Eliade, Bucureşti, Nemira, 2000; Iași, Polirom, 2006
  • "Studii românești II. Soarele și Luna. Otrăvurile admirației", Iași, Polirom, 2009
  • "Iter in silvis I. Eseuri despre gnoză și alte studii", Iași, Polirom, 2012
  • "Iter in silvis II. Gnoză și magie", Iași, Polirom, 2013
  • Jocurile minţii. Istoria ideilor, teoria culturii, epistemologie, Iaşi, Polirom, 2002
  • Iocari serio. Ştiinţa şi arta în gîndirea Renaşterii, Iaşi, Polirom, 2003
  • Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor, Iaşi, Polirom, 2003
  • ``Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) si problemele platonismului in Renastere, Iasi, Polirom, 2015
  • ``Dialoguri intrerupte. Corespondenta Mircea Eliade-Ioan Petru Culianu, Iasi, Polirom, 2004, 2013 (2)


  • With Mircea Eliade and H.S. Wiesner: Dictionnaire des Religions, Avec la collaboration de H.S. Wiesner. Paris, Plon, 1990, 1992(2); The Eliade Guide to World Religions, Harper, San Francisco, 1991 ; Handbuch der Religionen, Zürich und München, Artemis-Winkler-Verlag, 1991; Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch, 1995; Diccionario de las religiones Barcelona, Paidos Orientalia, 1993; Dicţionarul religiilor, Bucureşti, Humanitas, 1993, 1996(2);Iași, Polirom, 2007
  • The Encyclopedia of Religion, Collier Macmillan, New York, 1987
  • The HarperCollins Concise Guide to World Religions, Harper, San Francisco, 2000


  • La collezione di smeraldi. Racconti, Milano, Jaca Book, 1989
  • Hesperus, Bucureşti, Univers, 1992; Bucureşti, Nemira, 1998(2); Iaşi, Polirom, 2003(3)
  • Pergamentul diafan. Povestiri, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1994
  • Pergamentul diafan. Ultimele povestiri, Bucureşti, Nemira, 1996(2); Iaşi, Polirom, 2002(3)
  • Arta fugii. Povestiri, Iaşi, Polirom, 2002
  • Jocul de smarald, Iaşi, Polirom, 2005, 2011(2)
  • "Tozgrec, Iași, Polirom, 2010


  • Dialoguri întrerupte. Corespondenţa Mircea Eliade - Ioan Petru Culianu, Iaşi, Polirom, 2004

Works about Culianu[edit]

A biography and an analysis of his death was published by Ted Anton under the title Eros, Magic, and the Death of Professor Culianu (alluding to Culianu's most influential work, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance). See also: Elemire Zolla, Ioan Petru Culianu, Alberto Tallone Editore, 1994; Umberto Eco, Murder in Chicago, in The New York Review of Books, April 10, 1997; Sorin Antohi (ed.), Religion, Fiction, and History. Essays in Memory of Ioan Petru Culianu, Volumes I-II, Bucharest, Nemira, 2001; Sorin Antohi (coordinator), Ioan Petru Culianu. Omul şi opera, Iaşi, Polirom, 2003; Matei Calinescu, Despre Ioan Petru Culianu si Mircea Eliade. Amintiri, lecturi, reflectii, Iasi, Polirom, 2002, 2005(2); and Andrei Oişteanu, Religie, politică şi mit. Texte despre Mircea Eliade şi Ioan Petru Culianu, Polirom, Iaşi, 2007 (editia a doua, revazuta, adaugita si ilustrata, Polirom, iasi, 2014); Marcello De Martino, Mircea Eliade esoterico. Ioan Petru Culianu e i "non detti", Roma, Settimo Sigillo, 2008; Olga Gorshunova, Terra Incognita of Ioan Culianu, in Etnograficheskoye obozreniye, 2008 № 6:94-110. ISSN 0869-5415


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Anton, Ted. "The Killing of Professor Culianu", in Lingua Franca, Volume 2, No. 6 - September/October 1992
  2. ^ Eros, magic, & the murder of Professor Culianu Ted Anton page 23
  3. ^ Antohi; Savin; Tismăneanu, "Cei pe care..."
  4. ^ Tismăneanu, in Anton


External links[edit]