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Book: The Holy in a Pluralistic World

Chapter: 9. The Idea of the Holy in African Religions

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30392


In this chapter I discuss the relationship between Rudolf Otto’s concept of numinous experience and certain African religious traditions, relying primarily on my field research among the Diola of West Africa’s Upper Guinea Coast. Accounts of Diola religious life offer clear evidence of the experience of the wholly other that both evokes awe and simultaneously draws people into intimate connection and more normalized communication with the supreme being, in which It ceases to be “wholly other” or incomprehensible. In this way, I argue that African religious traditions both support Otto’s description of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and would have strengthened it as well, making it more inclusive of the wide array of the world’s religious experiences. My analysis also challenges those areas of Otto’s (or anyone’s) theory of religion where he allows evolutionary schemas to creep in and relegate African religious life to the “pre-religious” or “primitive.”

Chapter Contributors

  • Robert M. Baum ( - book-auth-695) 'Dartmouth College'