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Rudolf Otto (September 25 1869–6 March 1937) was an eminent German protestant theologian and scholar of comparative religion.


Born in Peine near Hanover, Otto attended the Gymnasium Andreanum in Hildesheim and studied at the universities of Erlangen and Göttingen, from where he received both his doctorate (with a dissertation on Luther) and habilitation on Kant. In 1906, he became extraordinary professor (see professor), and in 1910 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Giessen. In 1915, he became ordinary professor at the University of Breslau, and in 1917, at the University of Marburg's Divinity School, then one of the most famous Protestant seminaries in the world. Although he received several other calls, he remained in Marburg for the rest of his life. He retired in 1929 and died eight years later, probably as a consequence of a malaria infection he had caught on one of his many expeditions. He is buried in Marburg cemetery.

The HolyEdit

Otto's most famous work, The Idea of the Holy (published first in 1917 as Das Heilige), is one of the most successful German theological books of the 20th century. It has never been out of print and is now available in about 20 languages. The book defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous. Otto explained the numinous as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self". He coined this new term based on the Latin numen (deity). This expression is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant's noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things. The numinous is a mystery (Latin: mysterium) that is both terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans) at the same time. It also sets a paradigm for the study of religion that focuses on the need to realize the religious as a non-reducible, original category in its own right. This paradigm was under much attack between approximately 1950 and 1990 but has made a strong comeback since then, after its phenomenological aspects have become more apparent.


It is more difficult to say who, in theology and philosophy of religion in the first half of the 20th century, was not influenced by Otto than who was. German-American theologian Paul Tillich acknowledged Otto's influence on him, as did Romanian-American anthropologist Mircea Eliade. Eliade used the concepts from The Idea of the Holy as the starting point for his own 1957 book, The Sacred and the Profane. Others to acknowledge Otto were, for instance, Martin Heidegger, Leo Strauss, Hans-Georg Gadamer (critical in his youth, respectful in his old age), Max Scheler, Ernst Jünger, Joseph Needham and Hans Jonas.

Books available in EnglishEdit

  • Naturalism and Religion (1907), London: Williams and Norgate, Full text online at Google Books
  • The Life and Ministry of Jesus, According to the Critical Method (1908), Chicago: Open Court, ISBN 0-8370-4648-3. Full text online at Google Books
  • The Idea of the Holy (1923), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500210-5
  • Christianity and the Indian Religion of Grace, Madras 1928
  • India's Religion of Grace and Christianity Compared and Contrasted, New York 1930
  • The philosophy of religion based on Kant and Fries, London 1931
  • Religious essays: A supplement to The Idea of the Holy, London 1931
  • Mysticism east and west: A comparative analysis of the nature of mysticism, New York 1932
  • The original Gita: The song of the Supreme Exalted One, London 1939
  • The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man: A Study in the History of Religion, Boston 1943
  • Autobiographical and Social Essays (1996), Berlin:Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-014518-9

Books about OttoEdit

  • Gooch, Todd A. (2000). The Numinous and Modernity: An Interpretation of Rudolf Otto's Philosophy of Religion. Preface by Otto Kaiser and Wolfgang Drechsler. Berlin - New York: de Gruyter.

Other translationsEdit

The Idea of the Holy has been translated into Persian by Prof. Homayoun Hemmati under title of Mafhoome Amre Ghodsi, Tehran, 2001.

External linksEdit

es:Rudolf Otto id:Rudolf Ottonl:Rudolf Ottopt:Rudolf Otto sk:Rudolf Otto

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