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Book: The Holy in a Pluralistic World

Chapter: 5. Rudolf Otto and the Problem of Categories

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30388


When scholars of religions think about Otto at all, they think of him as embracing simplistic, essentializing views of religion and religious categories. In this chapter I try to demonstrate a more sophisticated and nuanced relationship Otto has with religious categories, starting with the category of “religion” itself, showing how he used this concept not to isolate a distinct essence or unity to all religion, but in part to preserve religion’s diversity. Though Otto had substantially less access to Indian sources as we do now, he was ahead of his time in thinking through “Hinduism’s” diversity. He also insisted that we acknowledge the diversity of experiences under the banner of “mysticism,” and his own mysterium tremendum. At the end I bring to bear contemporary philosophy of language onto our consideration of Otto, encouraging us to read him with a bit more nuance.

Chapter Contributors

  • Gregory Alles ( - galles) 'McDaniel College'