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Book: The Holy in a Pluralistic World

Chapter: 12. Rudolf Otto and the Study of Religion and Violence: Preserving the Numinous

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30395


Through the example of ISIS and its religiously-justified violence, this chapter examines the relevance of Rudolf Otto’s work on the study of religion and violence. Psychologists have long dismissed any psychopathology as an explanation for why people commit religious terrorism or religiously justified violence. Rather, it is about people’s individual experiences and rationales. It is in this way that Otto’s focus on the religious experience provides insights into the relationship between religion and violence. Particularly, Otto’s focus on religion’s nonrational component, the emotional dimension of the numinous, and people’s reactions to the perceived view of the numinous in a state of deterioration elucidates instances of religiously-justified violence. This chapter concludes with the placement of Otto’s perspective within the larger discourse of other theorists in order to better understand the lure of ISIS’ recruitment.

Chapter Contributors

  • Michael Jerryson ( - mjerryson)