Ioan Petru Culianu

Ioan Petru Culianu or Couliano (January 5, 1950, Iaşi – May 21, 1991, Chicago) was a Romanian historian of religion, culture, and ideas, a philosopher and political essayist, and a short story writer, and an expert in gnosticism and Medieval magic. He long served as professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, and also taught the history of Romanian culture at the University of Groningen.

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. 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.

Minutes after concluding a conversation with one of his doctoral students, at noon 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. Ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist involvement, as part of an Iron Guard revival in connection on 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; according to Vladimir Tismăneanu: "[Culianu] gave the most devastating indictment of the new union of far left and far right in Romania". 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). The FBI also investigated the possibility of an occult group having been involved in the killing, owing to Culianu's work in that field.

An erudite with a special interest in the occult, parallel universes and the construction of the real, Professor Ioan Culianu shared with his mentor Mircea Eliade the capacity for overarching works in the history of religions. Unlike Eliade however, Culianu's love of academia combined with unrestrained political views about Romanians and their 20th century history. "He castigated not only Securitate but the Iron Guard, cultist nationalism, the Orthodox Church, and Romanian culture. He called for investigation of Romania's genocide of Jews. Any one of these could provoke reprisal in a country that has never confronted its recent past".

Adapted after Wikipedia and other minor sources.