Thursday, 22 November 2012

Numinous

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Numinous (play /ˈnjuːmɨnəs/) is an English adjective, taken from the Latin Numen, and used to describe the power or presence of a divinity. The word was popularised in the early twentieth century by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his influential book Das Heilige (1917; translated into English as The Idea of the Holy, 1923). According to Otto, the numinous experience has in addition to the tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, a quality of fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. The numinous experience also has a personal quality, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly other. The numinous experience can lead in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy and/or the transcendent.

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[edit] Etymology

The word numinous is derivative from the Classical Latin word numen.

[edit] Rudolf Otto

Otto's use of the term as referring to a characteristic of religious experience was influential among intellectuals of the subsequent generation. For example, numinous as understood by Otto was a frequently quoted concept in the writings of Carl Jung and C. S. Lewis. The notion of the numinous and the wholly other were also central to the religious studies of Mircea Eliade.
Mysterium tremendum is described in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley in the following terms:
The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God.[1]

[edit] Non-religious usage

The idea is not necessarily a religious one: noted atheists Carl Sagan,[2] Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have discussed the importance of separating the numinous from the religious.[3]

[edit] Notes

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