Numinous Experience Overview

An overview of numinous experience with ideas from Rudolf Otto and Martin Buber.

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Numinous Experience
A numinous experience can be defined as `an experience of wonder in the presence of God' and is
often described as an experience that `makes a person aware of their relative insignificance as a
human being'.
Rudolf Otto
`It is an experience of being acted upon by something outside of ourselves, a `Wholly other'. It
makes us aware that we are creatures of an almighty God. This contrasts with a `mystical
experience' which tends to seek the unity of all things'.
Otto referred to religious experience as `mysterium tremendum' because it is mysterious, beyond
description and involves a feeling of awe or terror at the presence of this `wholly other' almighty
The numinous religious experience reveals something about God, but is ineffable and so cannot be
described using human language as the whole experience is at an emotional level. It is only after
the experience, when the person is able to reflect on what has happened, that intellectual
thoughts and ideas are formed.
`There is no religion in which it (religious experience) does not live as the innermost core and
without it no religion would be worthy of the name'.
According to Otto, during a numinous experience, God and the believer remain entirely distinct
and so there is no idea of unity with God through religious experience.
Martin Buber
Buber's ideas contrast with Otto's in that he claims that there are two types of relations; I-thou
and I-it.
I-It relations describe when we stand in relation to something as an object which is
entirely separate from us (eg. An observation; a doctor examining a patient)
I-thou relations are a shared personal relationship or mutual interaction (eg. Deep
friendships, viewing nature, religious experiences of God)


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