The Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions closed in June 2016. This web site will not be updated, and remains online as part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s public archive.
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“The Holy in a Pluralistic World:
Rudolf Otto’s Legacy in the Twenty-First Century”

Wednesday, November 5 and
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pyle Center, Room DE335
702 Langdon St.
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Rudolf Otto, author of the classic The Idea of the Holy (org. 1917; Eng. trans., 1923), is best known today for his analysis of numinous experience — he coined the word “numinous” — as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. He was also one of the most important and sophisticated European thinkers of the last century to broach topics of religious diversity. This conference will examine Otto’s theoretical and practical legacy with regard to religious pluralism, with special emphasis on Abrahamic religions, a topic relatively neglected in Otto studies. Our goals are both to understand Otto in his context and to examine his potential significance today for interreligious relations as well as the academic understanding of religions.

The conference will consist of an evening keynote address, five panels (three or four papers in each session plus extensive discussion), and a concluding discussion. It is collaboratively organized by Prof. Gregory Alles, McDaniel College, and Dr. Ulrich Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin–Madison. The plenary address will be given by Prof. Robert Orsi, Northwestern University: “The Problem of the Holy in a World of Religious Pluralism.”

Interested in attending?

Please contact Dr. Ulrich Rosenhagen (;+1 608-890-1665) for information on how you can be a part of the conference audience. The presenters list is closed; this is not a call for papers. But if this topic is of interest to you, please join us in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin.

There is no charge for attending the conference. The University of Wisconsin–Madison does not cover the costs of travel, lodging, or meals for anyone coming solely as an audience member. After contacting Dr. Rosenhagen, Lubar Institute staff will help guide you to nearby hotels, etc., to simplify your travel planning.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

9:00 am–9:15 am | Welcome by Prof. Charles L. Cohen, Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, University of Wisconsin–Madison

9:15 am–11:15 am | Panel 1: Philosophical and Theological Foundations

1:15 pm–3:15 pm | Panel 2: Contextual and Historical Considerations

3:30 pm–5:30 pm | Panel 3: Reception within Abrahamic Religions

7:30 pm–9:00 pm (Gale VandeBerg Auditorium, Pyle Center)
Plenary address by Prof. Robert Orsi, Professor of Religious Studies and History, Northwestern University:
“The Problem of the Holy in a World of Religious Pluralism”
The revival of interest in Rudolf Otto and the holy is one of the great improbabilities of contemporary scholarship in religion. For years Otto has been reviled in the study of religion for proposing an approach to religious experience that lifted it out of history and culture. Yet recent scholars, rereading Otto though various contemporary theoretical lenses, find precisely in his concept of the holy a powerful opening towards new approaches to the study of religion, within particular times and places. How is this? Offering an Otto read in relation to Catholic sacramental theology and contemporary object-relations theory, this lecture explores an encounter with the holy in dreadful circumstances at the borders of cultures and languages and its enduring aftermath.

Thursday, November 6

9:15 am–11:45 am | Panel 4: Reception within Indigenous and Dharmic Traditions

1:15 pm–3:45 pm | Panel 5: Possibilities and Influences

4:00 pm–5:30 pm | Concluding discussion (organizational session for the conference publication)