University of Leicester
2017JonesMCTBPhD.pdf (2.19 MB)

The Discourses of the Secular Sublime and the Concepts of the Numinous and Mysterium Tremendum in the Work of Rudolf Otto

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posted on 2017-12-20, 14:26 authored by Mary Catherine Theresa Bridget Jones
This thesis explores historical and postmodern ideas of the sublime and the numinous, and finds similarities and differences between the two concepts. Consideration is given to notions of the sublime, from its appearance in Longinus’s treatise Peri Hypsous, through to its historical development and reception by philosophers, theologians, and eighteenth-century theorists. The thesis discusses how the sublime is conceived in contemporary thought. Alongside this concept, and in order to examine similarities and differences between that and the numinous, Rudolf Otto’s work Das Heilige is used, in which the author argues for consideration of a non-rational element in religion and pleads for an original understanding of the holy. He shows how traditional representations of the deity lead to restrictions and limitations, and introduces his understanding of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans which, like the sublime, leads to awe and dread. Further analysing the sublime, the thesis discusses critical theories presented by John Dennis, Joseph Addison, John Baillie, Immanuel Kant, and Edmund Burke. I show how Otto was influenced by these writers, and how Friedrich Schleiermacher’s ideas on the essence of religion and the sensus numinis paved the way for Otto’s thinking. Otto’s understanding of the wholly other and its origins in the Hindu Upanishads is explored, and I explain how he distinguishes religion from anthropological and emotional morals. Additionally, I show how Emily Brady uses language of the numinous when referring to being overwhelmed, an effect shared by the sublime. Finally, the thesis focuses on ways in which the sublime and the numinous manifest themselves in our contemporary world, in what Gavin Hopps calls ‘a reawakened sense of mystery’. My original contribution to knowledge is that although the sublime and the numinous have similarities, they are distinct, and the sublime is a signpost towards the powerful concept of the numinous.



Shaw, Philip; North, Julian

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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