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.

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.

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

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

Related Resources

Religion, Neoliberalism and Consumer Culture

Podcast

According to Gauthier, it is important to note is that religious activity of the day is not haphazard or random pick-and-choose at all. Instead, it is following a new kind of logic, that of consumerism. Marketization and commodification among other phenomena are affecting the field of religion - and vice versa. Listen and find out more!
The Changing Nature of Religion

Podcast

In the 1960s, most sociologists consciously or unconsciously bought into idea of the 'death of god' - religion became effectively invisible to academia. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a number of events - most notably the 'Satanic Verses' controversy - dramatically increased the 'visibility' of religion: it became a political problem. Now, in the 21st century, ...
David Voas on Quantitative Research

Podcast

Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country – relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses.

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

When Islam Is Not a Religion

Podcast

Asma Uddin is the author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom. In this book, Uddin examines an alarming trend to redefine Islam as a political ideology, not a religion. In our conversation, we track the history of this movement to redefine Islam and its implications for the rights of Muslims. We discuss the widespread presumption among American progressives that courts tend to protect religious freedom for Christians, but not for Muslims, and we examine particular stories that support and problematize that narrative. In particular, Uddin provides vivid examples of how American courts have reacted to arguments that Islam is not a religion.
Kitchens and Constructions of Religious Subjectivity in Black Atlantic Traditions

Podcast

In this episode we discuss Elizabeth Perez's award-winning book *Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions*. Listen in to learn more about how religious subjectivity is constructed around the process of preparing ritual meals in the Lucumí tradition.
Religious Literacy is Social Justice

Podcast

Is Religious Literacy social justice? In this week's podcast with Professor Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, she discusses the University of Vermont’s new “Religious Literacy for Professionals” certificate and why religious studies does vital work for the academy.
Religion, Spirituality and Health

Podcast

Religion, spiritualty and health – oh my! In this day and age, we might be inclined to ask if these three words, when combined, can contribute anything resembling a positive health outcome. In other words, can being religious or spiritual actually contribute to an individual’s overall health? Dr. Koenig answers the questions with a resounding yes!
Gurdjieff and the Study of Contemporary Religion

Podcast

David Robertson speaks to two remarkable scholars, Carole Cusack and Steven Sutcliffe, on the significance of G. I. Gurdjieff to the study of religion. How do we approach figures like Gurdjieff whose legacies (and archives) are tightly controlled by their followers, and who often aren't seen as worthy of study by the academy and publishers?
Understanding the Secular

Podcast

Making their own contributions to the discourse, Shook and Zuckerman briefly discuss the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Secularism they are co-editing, the growing field of secular studies, what it might mean to ’be secular‘, different secularisms, and offer up two different views of the relationship between categories such as ’religion‘ and ’secular‘.

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).