Goblet d'Alviella, Eugène

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GOBLET D'ALVIELLA, EUGÈNE (18461925), was a Belgian historian of religions, jurist, politician, and grand master of Freemasonry (which means, in Belgium, that one is anticlerical). Count Goblet d'Alviella was the first professor of history of religions at the Université Libre (i.e., "free thinking") of Brussels, of which he was rector from 1896 to 1898. He was militant as a freethinker in trying to have the teaching of religion in schools replaced by that of the science of religion.

Goblet d'Alviella divided the study of religions into three disciplines: "hierography," "hierology," and "hierosophy." Hierography describes the development of each of the known religions. Hierology, by comparing religions, tries to formulate laws of evolution of religious phenomena; it thus "makes up for the paucity of information, in any given race or society, about the history of a belief or an institution, by appealing to the environment or period." Hierology is purely factual, while hierosophy is a philosophical attempt at classifying the various conceptions of humanity's relations with "superhuman beings."

Although lacking special philological training, Goblet d'Alviella studied, in hierography, various domains: Egyptian religion, Mithraism, Greek religion, Christianity, and Hinduism. In hierology, his most notable work was La migration des symboles (1891), in which he studied the forms, meanings, and migrations of such religious symbols as the swastika, the sacred tree, and the winged disk. The winged disk, for instance, originated in Egypt as a symbol of the sun and was adopted by the Syrians, the Hittites, the Assyrians, and the Persians, with additions and transformations in both form and meaning. In hierosophy Goblet d'Alviella studied Rationalist churches, the belief in immortality, the Buddhist catechism, progress, syncretism, and the crisis of religion.


A large number of Goblet d'Alviella's articles are reprinted in book form under the title Croyances, rites, institutions, 3 vols. (Paris, 1911). Three of his works exist in English translation: Contemporary Evolution of Religious Thought in England, America, and India (New York, 1886); The Migration of Symbols (London, 1894); and his Hibbert Lectures of 1891, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of the Conception of God as Illustrated by Anthropology and History (London, 1892). A good summary of Goblet d'Alviella's work can be found in the article by Julien Ries in the Dictionnaire des religions (Paris, 1984).

New Sources

Dierkens, Alain, ed. Eugene Goblet d'Alviella, Historien et Franc-Maçon. Brussels, 1995.

Mollier, Pierre. "La Réécriture du Grade Maçonnique de Chevalier du Soleil par Eugène Goblet d'Alviella: Sources, Enjeux et Sens." In Eugene Goblet d'Alviella, Historien et Franc-Maçon. Brussels, 1995.

Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin (1987)

Revised Bibliography