Describe a situation you experienced which resulted in the feelings of "mysterium tremendum" as defined by Rudolf Otto. Describe a situation in which you experienced " the holy or sacred,"...


  1. Describe a situation you experienced which resulted in the feelings of "mysterium tremendum" as defined by Rudolf Otto.
  2. Describe a situation in which you experienced " the holy or sacred," as defined by Mircea Eliade, in our secular world that was not the result of your association with a particular religion.
  3. Provide a specific example of how rationalism, determinism or materialism has come into play in your life experience. How might this experience have been different if it was influenced by the transcendent?
  4. Describe some of the religious people you know in terms of whether they are fideistic or open to rational discussions about religion. What do you think are contributing factors to their the fideistic or more open views on religion?
  5. How might a better understanding of the role of faith and reason help people to understand their faith more effectively?
Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since these questions demand the personal experiences of the student, this response can only endeavor to explicate and illustrate so that the student may reach into her own experiences and recall something similar to that which is discussed. (Please note, too, that these numerous questions extend beyond the scope of this format, so some may need to be re-posted.)

1. Rudolph Otto's term, mysterium tremendum, applies to a spiritual experience by an individual that is so elemental in his psyche that he cannot truly express it because it is set apart from the rational and is outside finite definitions. According to Otto, then, one can only employ close analogies in order to name his experience. Perhaps, then, an analogous experience to one that can rightly be termed mysterium tremendum includes the numinous, an emotional and spiritual condition in which he is "overwhelmed by own [his] nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures."

Accordingly, one is reminded of the Transcendentalists of America and the Romanticists of England who wrote of experiences in which they were transcended or felt the "sublime." For instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of the "wild delight" that he felt in the presence of nature, that element that wears "the colors of the spirit." He felt in harmony with nature, as the "currents of the Universal Being" circulated through him and he felt "part and particle of God." In nature, Emerson found "uncontained and immortal beauty." Similarly, in England, William Wordsworth's famous poem "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" expresses his "numinous" referred to by Romanticists as "sublime" while he contemplates the scene where he once has been five years ago. With the "sublime," the mind loses consciousness and the spirit is able to grasp--albeit only temporarily--the experience beyond measurable rational thought that arises from awe-inspiring natural phenomena. 

So, the student can then recall an experience in which she felt, rather than rationally analyzed, a phenomenon of some sort. Later, of course, words are given to this experience although they do not adequately describe it. 

2. One example that Mircea Eliade uses to illustrate the experience of the "sacred" is that of the burning bush of the Old Testament. Without knowing that it is Yahweh's manifestation of Himself, Moses automatically halts before this "burning bush" and removes his shoes. Eliade further elucidates the "sacred" as being described by myths which endeavor to explicate such experiences. So, the student may wish to reach into her experiences and recall something which happened that inspired awe in her, but that which also was difficult to put into words later in the effort to communicate her sensations and feelings; that is, one that only a myth could explain. In religious experiences, perhaps, what some people describe as their moment of "being saved" is something similar to "the sacred."

3. An example of determinism, a belief that events and human action are the result of causes external to individual will, is often found in certain religious sects such as the Dutch Reformed Church and the Baptist religion that are usually Fundamentalist. For instance, when a tornado strikes a town in a region of the U.S. where there are many Fundamentalists, residents will often attribute their not having been injured or killed as "it wasn't our time." Or, they will say that something has happened because "it was meant to be." So, the student can recall an incident when someone has attributed what has occurred as due to "fate" or some higher power outside his/her realm of control.
This experience would be scientifically explained by some, and in terms of the "transcendent," perhaps, the person having such an experience would describe the power of nature that his or her spirit felt at the time.

4. Rational discussions on religion usually occur with those who are not Fundamentalist. One discussion between a Christian and a Jew. for instance, involved the idea expressed in the New Testament in which one should "turn the other cheek" when one is injured in some way, whether physical or otherwise. The Jewish person contended that it did not make sense to allow someone to hurt one again by "turning the other cheek." "Why would you give that person another opportunity?" she reasoned.

5. It seems reasonable to conclude that one's religious beliefs and cultural environment determine one's perspectives. Since religious beliefs are usually matters of faith rather than rationality and cultural influences are often unconsciously absorbed, therefore, the beliefs inculcated into a personality usually affect whether or not people are open to certain views.