Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy

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Mircea Eliade starts off The Sacred & the Profane (1957) with a few paragraphs on Rudolf Otto's Das Heilige (1917), translated from the German as The Idea of the Holy. Eliade offers a perspective on Otto which suits his own purposes but ignores a large part of what Otto has to say. [1]

My Summary provides a reasonably comprehensive account of Otto's work. I deal in some detail with that aspect of Otto which was of interest to Eliade, his analysis of the nature of religious experience. However, I am equally be concerned with that aspect of Otto which Eliade and others have significantly chosen to ignore, his account of the history of religious experience.

My Comments on Otto's ideas are made in a separate article.


1 Eliade

In fact, Eliade's reference to Otto is a red herring. It diverts attention away from Emile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912), in which the sacred - profane dichotomy is a central theme. Any truly serious scholar introducing a book entitled The Sacred & the Profane would have surely have referred to the most important previous authority on the subject, Durkheim, rather to mention an authority of merely tangential relevance, Otto. Eliade was certainly aware of the key work of this founding father of sociology: it is listed in his bibliography and dismissed in a single misleading sentence on p 231.

It seems impossible to supply Eliade with any creditable motive for ignoring Durkheim. For example, when you have chapters on sacred space and sacred time, how can you ignore the authority who has discussed these notions 45 years previously, as far as I am aware introducing them? [Back to Article]