Rudolf Otto was a highly influential figure in the history of Religious Studies, but whether that influence was for good or not is a debatable issue. His ideas about the sui generis nature of the religious experience and of an irreductible numinous or sacred foreshadow the work of scholars such as Eliade, but proved highly divisive for scholars and practitioners alike.

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

About this episode

Rudolf Otto was a highly influential figure in the history of Religious Studies, but whether that influence was for good or not is a debatable issue. His ideas about the sui generis nature of the religious experience and of an irreductible numinous or sacred foreshadow the work of scholars such as Eliade, but proved highly divisive for scholars and practitioners alike.

In this interview with Jonathan, Robert Orsi talks us through who Otto was, and why his ideas proved controversial. They then discuss whether scholars should still be paying attention to Otto – do his ideas still matter today?

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Robert Orsi is the first holder of the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies. Before coming to Northwestern, he taught at Fordham University at Lincoln Center from 1981 to 1988; Indiana University from 1988 to 2001; and Harvard Divinity School and Harvard University from 2001 to 2007, where he was Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (2003-2007). In 2002-2003, he was president of the American Academy of Religion. Professor Orsi studies America religious history and contemporary practice; American Catholicism in both historical and ethnographic perspective; and he is widely recognized also for his work on theory and method for the study of religion.

In 2004 Robert Orsi published Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them which received an Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion from the American Academy of Religion and was one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005. More recently he published The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred

Podcast

Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of "religion" be overcome by changing our focus instead to "the sacred"? Jay Demerath tells Chris why we should define religion substantively - that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas - but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures.
Editors’ Picks 3: Jay Demerath on Functionalist Religion and the Substantive Sacred

Podcast

Week three of our Editors' Picks. Chris tells us why he (and his fiancée) liked Jay Demerath's interview on substantive and functionalist definitions of religion. Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”?

Responses to this episode

Why should we keep paying attention to Otto?

"Is it necessary, helpful even, to only study religion if you are not religious? Does the secular scholar of, say Hinduism, stand to be a better scholar than another with the same training but who happens to personally be Hindu? Does having a personal involvement in the group that one is studying assist one in understanding Otto’s numinous?" In this interview with Robert Orsi, Religious Studies Professor from Northwestern University, Jonathon and Dr. Orsi discuss the seemingly evergreen writer Rudolf Otto.

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Material Religion

Podcast

In this episode, Chris Cotter talks to David Morgan about the fast-growing sub-field of material religion.
The Sacred

Podcast

Religion and the Sacred, the Sacred and religion. Two words that seemingly go together like hand in glove but just how accurate is that? When we talk about religion it’s very hard not to talk about the Sacred but when we talk about the Sacred does this mean we have to talk about religion? What does the Sacred even mean? This introduction began with “Sacred” but it may well be more appropriate to write “sacred”.
Emile Durkheim

Podcast

"...a vital tradition of the study of religion is the Durkheimian intellectual tradition. Generally dismissed by many in the study of religion because of its supposedly narrow "sociological" bent, the school of scholarship represented by Émile Durkheim, Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss, Louis Dumont, Roger Caillois, Georges Bataille and others is, ...
‘Religion is Natural and Science is Not’

Podcast

Communicating with your favorite God or gods, forest spirit, or Jinn - easy. Postulating that the entire universe is held together by theorizing the process of quantum entanglement, informed from a personal commitment to philosophical a priories, which are based on measurements of the physical properties of said universe – harder.
Researching Radicalisation

Podcast

We discuss what we mean by 'radicalisation', and what its connections to socialisation, terrorism, and 'religion' might be. We take on the methodological question of how one might go about researching such a contested topic, and look specifically at some of Matthew's findings relating to the causes of radicalisation, and the neo-Durkheimian 'sacred'.
New Horizons in the Sociology of Religion: Beyond Secularization?

Podcast

In this longer-than-usual episode, Chris and David provide an interlinking narrative between Grace Davie, Joe Webster, Carole Cusack, Jonathan Jong, Paul-Francois Tremlett, Linda Woodhead and Kim Knott, reflecting on current or future developments in the sociology of religion which challenge the ubiquity of the secularization thesis, ...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).