The Reality of the Eternal Return

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 | Jeff Olick

Jefferson Statue

          The modern world, which sociology was conceived to study, is supposedly all about time’s arrow: things move continuously forward, always changing, and progress is our highest God.  And yet, in its midst, there are still moments and places where time’s cycle takes over.  As Mircea Eliade argued, marking these moments is how we renew our sense of the sacredness of our community.  For all our efforts to advance our mission, move ourselves forward, make progress in our research and as a department, then, there is something important about the fact that we members of the university community, more than many other people in many other places, get to start over again and again, at least for a while.  To be sure, we never step in the same river twice, but there is something nonetheless cleansing and salutary about our return every year.  Perhaps we don’t quite want to pledge our eternity, but the cyclical rituals of the academic calendar are, at least for me, a foundation for optimism: maybe this time we’ll get it right! If not, there’s always next year.  Welcome back!