Numinous Experience and Religious Language

Religious Studies 28 (4):533-551 (1992)
Abstract
The purpose of this article is to evaluate Rudolf Otto's account of the relationship between numinous experience and religious language in The Idea of the Holy, and this will inevitably also involve some more general discussion of the relationship between all religious experience and discursive reason. In The Idea of the Holy Otto makes a number of controversial claims about the nature of numinous experience and the problems which it creates for anyone wishing to speak about it. Numinous experience, Otto asserts, is qualitatively quite unlike any other experience. It is a religious feeling providing a unique form of religious knowledge inaccessible to our ordinary rational understanding. It is frequently spoken of as ineffable. Moreover because it resists literal description, it must be approached, if at all, then indirectly through analogy. At the heart of this collection of claims about numinous experience is an epistemological assumption about the distance separating religious language and experience. Otto believes that the parameters of numinous experience extend beyond the parameters of religious language, and consequently that it is possible to compare religious experience with language about it in a straightforward way. Indeed, much of The Idea of the Holy is devoted to the struggle of religious experience to cast off what Otto sees as its imprisonment by inadequate religious language.
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DOI 10.1017/S0034412500021910
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