Rudolf Otto

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Rudolf Otto

Rudolf Otto , born as Karl Louis Rudolph Otto (born September 25, 1869 in Peine , † March 6, 1937 in Marburg ) was a German religious scholar and Protestant theologian .


Rudolf Otto was the son of a malt manufacturer who died in 1882. After graduating from high school in Easter 1888, Otto started studying theology at the humanistic high school Andreanum in Hildesheim in May 1888 at the University of Erlangen and later moved to the University of Göttingen . In 1898, he was with a thesis on the spirit and word at Luther to Lic. Theol. PhD. A doctorate to Dr. phil. followed in 1905 in Tübingen (dissertation: Naturalistic and religious worldview ). In 1906, after eight years as a private lecturer, he took up a position as an associate professor in Göttingen. In 1913 Otto was elected to the Prussian House of Representatives as a member of the National Liberal Party after several previous unsuccessful candidacies in the Göttingen constituency. In 1915 he became a professor of systematic theology in Breslau and in 1917 moved to the University of Marburg . In May 1918 he resigned from the faction of his party because of his rejection of three-class voting rights with some like-minded people. Like most of the other members of the left wing of the National Liberals, Otto joined the German Democratic Party and represented it in the Prussian state assembly in 1919 .

Although he received several appointments at other universities, he kept the Marburg chair for the rest of his academic life. In 1924 he held the Haskell lectures at Oberlin College on Western and Eastern mysticism and in 1926 the Olaus Petri lectures at Uppsala University on India's religion of grace and Christianity. In 1927 he founded the religious studies collection at the University of Marburg . In 1929 he retired early due to health problems. Little is known about his views at the time of National Socialism . At first he seems to have hoped for a new awakening of the German-Christian religious spirit.

Rudolf Otto died of pneumonia in 1937 after a long hospital stay after he had been seriously injured in October 1936 in Staufenberg (Hesse) when he fell from a tower 20 meters high. According to persistent, but never confirmed, rumors, the fall was an attempted suicide. He is buried in the Marburg city cemetery.


Travels to India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, the Middle East, and Africa sparked Otto's interest in the world's religions, particularly Hinduism .

The Holy (1917)

In his main work ( Das Heilige , 1917) he deals with the experience of the sacred . This includes his opinion insofar irrational moments one, as related feelings, the rational conceptualization of escape and only indicative ideograms or interpretative terms shown may be. He describes the irreducible moments of this experience as mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans .

In the first-mentioned feeling (mysterium tremendum = "aweful mystery") God reveals himself as an overwhelming power before which the creature shudders and which, as the completely different, transcends human reason. However, the sacred is not perceived as the absolutely uncanny , because inseparable from this aspect is the fascinating, exhilarating experience of the divine. Otto characterizes the irreducibility of the moments of shuddering and trust by defining the sacred as numinoses (he translates the Latin numen as “supernatural being without a precise idea”).

The feeling of the tremendum ("the shivering") has at the highest level as an accompanying reflex in the sense of self the feeling of creature, which is explained in the 3rd chapter. The religious-phenomenological profile of Das Heilige becomes clear in Chapter 3, among other things. It begins with an invitation to remember a religious experience:

“We ask you to reflect on a moment of strong and possibly one-sided religious excitement. If you can't do that or if you don't have such moments at all, please stop reading. "

Friedrich Schleiermacher described one of these experiences as a feeling of dependence. Otto chooses the term "creature feeling" for this, to make it clear that the feeling is qualitatively different from other feelings of dependency: It is about sinking into nothing in the face of "what is above all creatures". This feeling is related to the shyness and the devaluation of one's own subject. The prerequisite for my feeling of dependency is "a feeling of an 'absolute superiority (and inappropriateness)' of himself". The feeling of superiority is referred to as the moment of the overwhelming ("majestas"), while the feeling of utter independence is the summary of the moment of the tremendum.

In addition to tremendum and majestas , there is a third moment: the moment of the energetic (energicum). It is expressed in liveliness, passion, activity, urge, etc. It activates people to be zealous, such as B. in asceticism against the world and flesh. The energetic is in contradiction to the philosophical god found in rational speculations and definitions.

Otto tries to solve the problem of the sacred as incommensurable and quite different in its relationship to concepts, moral principles and positive religion by referring to Kant's idea of schematization . According to Otto, numinous experience is reminiscent of concepts and principles such as love, superiority and goodness, so that the numinous is not described, but is connected with thinking and acting. As a result of this schematisation the holy as complex created a priori - value category .

Criticism of this representation of the sacred as an a priori category objects that with Kant experiences are only possible because a priori categories are present, while Otto creates a priori categories from experiences in order to describe religious experience as sui generis and thus to preserve what is valid.

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In his main religious studies, The Grace Religion of India and Christianity and Western Eastern Mysticism , Otto compares Hinduism with Christianity under the aspects of religious piety and mysticism . He examines Bhakti and Advaita Vedanta and depicts the famous philosopher of Vishnuism , Ramanuja , and the Shivaite founder of Advaita Vedanta, Shankara . Otto explains similarities between Hinduism and Christianity, but comes to the conclusion that the mysticism of Christianity is that of Vedanta consider.

Otto's influence on theology, philosophy of religion and religious studies in the 20th century was considerable: The evangelical theologian Paul Tillich was influenced by him, as was the Romanian religious scholar Mircea Eliade and the most important Otto student in the German-speaking area, Gustav Mensching , but also Kurt Goldammer and religious phenomenologists like Gerardus van der Leeuw . The phenomenological philosopher Hermann Schmitz extended Otto's approach to a theory of numinous feelings.


Otto also found special importance in the context of (religious) psychology. Particularly noteworthy is the reception of the term numinous by the depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung as well as its acceptance and critical appreciation by the transpersonal psychology in its various forms (e.g. Karlfried Graf Dürckheim ). In the USA, in contrast to German religious psychology, Rudolf Otto is still considered to be of central importance in terms of his impact.

Otto's views are no longer recognized as generally valid in religious studies and the theory of religion, but his work still has an impact today, for example with Asian theologians and religious philosophers. Rudolf Otto and his pupil Gustav Mensching have been rediscovered as pioneers in practical religious studies ( Udo Tworuschka ) in recent years .


Otto was awarded an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1932 .

Works (selection)

  • Luther's view of holy spirits : a historical-dogmatic investigation. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht , Göttingen 1898 ( online ).
  • The historical-critical view of the life and work of Jesus: 6 lectures, held in Hanover in March 1901 ... Göttingen 1901. 3rd edition as: Life and work of Jesus according to historical-critical view: lectures. Göttingen 1902 ( 4th edition 1905 online ).
  • Kantisch- Friesian philosophy of religion and its application to theology: as an introduction to the doctrine of the faith for students of theology . JCB Mohr, Tübingen 1909 ( online ).
  • The sacred: About the irrational in the idea of ​​the divine and its relation to the rational. Trewendt & Granier, Breslau 1917 ( 4th edition 1920 online ). Reprint: Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51091-4 .
  • Vischnu - Nârâyana : Texts on the Indian mysticism of God , I, 1917.
  • Siddhânta des Râmânuja : Texts on the Indian mysticism of God , II, 1917.
  • Essays: The Numinose Concerning , 1923.
  • The religion of grace of India and Christianity: comparison and distinction , 1930.
  • West-Eastern mysticism: comparison and distinction for the interpretation of essence. Leopold Klotz, Gotha 1926 ( online ).
  • The feeling of the transcendent: Sensus Numinis [Articles], 1931 ( online ).


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. see Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg (HStAMR), Best. 915 No. 5750, p. 213 ( digitized version ).
  2. ^ Uwe Wolff : Rudolf Otto. 2007/2011. In:
  3. Lindsay Jones (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Religion: Second Edition . Thomson Gale, Farmington Hills (Minnesota) 2005, ISBN 0-02-865743-8 , p. 6926.
  4. Rudolf Otto: The Holy . Text from 1936 edition. CH Beck, Munich 2014, p. 8 .
  5. See Udo Tworuschka: Religionswissenschaft. Trailblazers and classics . UTB, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-8252-3492-8 , pp. 111-130.