Ioan Culianu (b. January 5, 1950, d. May 21, 1991) was a Romanian-born professor of divinity at the University of Chicago.
Culianu's erudition led to his acquisition of three doctorates, proficiency in six languages, and a multiplicity of synergizing identities (professor, ritual magician, geomancer, occultist, and political activist).
Described by Andrei Codrescu (of Exquisite Corpse fame) as a man "so interesting no novelist could have invented him", Culianu's fame as a Renaissance historian has, unfortunately, been surpassed by his infamous manner of death - an unsolved locked-door murder in a UC bathroom.
Details of his life and death can be found in the Ted Anton's biography of Culianu titled Eros, Magic, and the Death of Professor Culianu. The title of the biography alludes in part to Culianu's most influential work, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.
While it is widely thought that Professor Culianu was assassinated by Romanian operatives in order to silence his criticism of the Ceausescu regime, there are some in his field who suspect agents of a different nature - agents directed by forces with motivations occult and conspiratorial, a la the bad guys in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.
The week before his death, Culianu sponsored an international conference entitled Other Realms: Death, Ecstasy, and Otherworldly Journeys in Recent Scholarship. The conference featured titles such as "The Ascent of the Visionary" and "Transcendence of Death." Culianu also had a multi-volume encyclopedia of magic in contract negotiations with Oxford University Press, the first to be completed since the seminal work of Lynn Thorndike.
His willingness to work outside of all the boxes held sacred by his peers and colleagues in his various areas of influence - for the occultists, secrecy and the sacred nature of initiation; for the academics, elitism and the dessication of creativity in favor of rigor (mortis) and overspecialization; and for the political activists, a certain degree of going along to get along - made him a potent figure in 20th century intellectual life. It also led to one of the most bizarre murders, and some of the most baroque conspiracy theories, ever to arise directly from the sub-sub-basement of the ivory tower.