9. The Idea of the Holy in African Religions

The Holy in a Pluralistic World - Rudolf Otto's Legacy in the 21st Century - Ulrich Rosenhagen

Robert M. Baum [+-]
Dartmouth College
Robert M. Baum is Associate Professor of Religion and African and African-American Studies at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He focuses his research on the history of African religions. Baum is the author of the award-winning Shrines of the Slave Trade: Diola Religion and Society in Precolonial Senegambia (Oxford, 1999) and West African Women of God: Alinesitoue and the Diola Prophetic Tradition (Indiana, 2015). For seven years he served as Executive Editor of the Journal of Religion in Africa. He is currently completing the first volume of a planned three volume continent-wide history of African religions.


In this chapter I discuss the relationship between Rudolf Otto’s concept of numinous experience and certain African religious traditions, relying primarily on my field research among the Diola of West Africa’s Upper Guinea Coast. Accounts of Diola religious life offer clear evidence of the experience of the wholly other that both evokes awe and simultaneously draws people into intimate connection and more normalized communication with the supreme being, in which It ceases to be “wholly other” or incomprehensible. In this way, I argue that African religious traditions both support Otto’s description of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and would have strengthened it as well, making it more inclusive of the wide array of the world’s religious experiences. My analysis also challenges those areas of Otto’s (or anyone’s) theory of religion where he allows evolutionary schemas to creep in and relegate African religious life to the “pre-religious” or “primitive.”

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Baum, Robert M. . 9. The Idea of the Holy in African Religions. The Holy in a Pluralistic World - Rudolf Otto's Legacy in the 21st Century. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Jun 2022. ISBN 9781781794906. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=30392. Date accessed: 19 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30392. Jun 2022

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