The Religious A Priori in Otto and its Kantian Origins

In Heinrich Assel, Christine Helmer & Bruce McCormack (eds.), Luther, Barth, and Movements of Theological Renewal 1918-1833. De Gruyter (forthcoming)
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This paper provides an analysis of Rudolph Otto's understanding of the structures of human consciousness making possible the appropriation of revelation. Already in his dissertation on Luther's understanding of the Holy Spirit, Otto was preoccupied with how the " outer " of revelation could be united to these inner structures. Later, in his groundbreaking Idea of the Holy, Otto would explore the category of the numinous, an element of religious experience tied to the irrational element of the holy. This paper first provides a brief account of Otto's account of the holy, especially its numinous, irrational elements. Second, the paper analyzes Otto's understanding of the structures of consciousness grounding the experience of the numinous and allowing the irrational element to be " schematized " by the rational element. Otto's exposition of these structures is heavily influenced by his reception of Kant's analysis of the two stems of human cognition, namely understanding and sensibility, and their possible relation to a common root, which Otto identified with what the mystics called the ground of the soul. Yet it is in Otto's reception of Kant's Critique of Judgment that all of these ideas find their completion, and it is here where we must look to understand the relation between the religious a priori and Otto's category of the numinous. Kant's aesthetic idea is a singular representation given in intuition; it is infinitely saturated and as such intimates the ideas of God, the soul, and the world as a whole. I show how Otto appropriates Kant's aesthetic idea and its relation to ideas of reason in order to make sense of how an empirically given revelation, for instance, an experience of the numinous, can connect with the inner structures of consciousness and thereby have the singular import that it does.
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