Curious about what “numinous” means? Want to know more about your hosts? Interested in what we mean when we say “religion”? Check out our first episode featuring Steph, Jacqueline, and Rachel!
Hello everyone and welcome to the Nearly Numinous, which is a podcast that aims to bridge the gap between the academic understanding of religion and the real world lived experiences of everyday people in our community. This podcast is hosted by Steph,
You can also hear us every Monday from 3 to 4 pm on CFRC 101.9 FM in Kingston.
For those outside of Religious Studies, the word “numinous” may be unfamiliar. “Numinous” is from the Latin word “numen,” which refers to the spirit or divine power, residing over a thing or a place. The term numinous was popularized by the German theologian Rudolf Otto in his 1917 German book “Das Heilige” which in English was translated as “The Idea of the Holy.”
Thanks. For Otto, the numinous was a mystery before which humanity both trembles and is fascinated, is both repelled and attracted. So one might experience a feeling of fear, terror, or awe towards the numinous or even sense one’s own nothingness in contrast to the numinous. However, despite this trembling or repulsion, a person would still ultimately be fascinated and attracted towards this mystery. An example of this would be the feeling you have after climbing a mountain, and you’re looking down at the world below you, maybe you’re afraid of heights, and of falling off the edge of the mountain. But there’s also this feeling of amazement about how beautiful the view is, how big the world is, and how small you are in comparison, so though maybe it may be frightening, we’re often drawn to these sort of experiences. These sorts of experiences are what Otto believed to exist in all religion.
On Nearly Numinous, we’ll be focusing on both experiences of the numinous — practitioner experiences of religion and spirituality — as well as the academic study of religion and spirituality through interviews with academics. We’ll be inviting guests from Queen’s and the larger Kingston community, and we’ll be looking into a variety of topics relating to specific religions, but also religion and spirituality broadly, such as how they’re portrayed in popular culture. Though we’re going to be interviewing practitioners our approach as hosts will be non-confessional. This means that whatever our own beliefs may be, we are first and foremost scholars. In the field of religious studies, it is important to make an effort to keep an open mind and to keep our own biases in check. This allows us to learn about different religions or practices without first making judgments about them. So while we will be bringing guests on the show with a variety of beliefs, positions and worldviews, they may not reflect the views of the podcast. We invite our listeners to keep an open mind while listening to give you the opportunity to learn something new.
So you’re probably wondering about who we are. And so we thought we’d give you a little bit of an overview. I’m Steph, my research and interests kind of center on understanding religious experience, especially in conjunction with music and dance. And I think that’s why I’m so interested in having this podcast. My most recent work for my Masters included diving deep into the Dionysian cults in ancient Greece and understanding how perception of the music and dance in those cults affected early Christian music, which has been shown to have lasting impact.
I’m Jacqueline and my research focused on Christian theologies of sacred space and disability, and how historically people with disabilities have been excluded from sacred spaces, both in ancient Israelite communities as well as in some Christian communities So historically, in historical and contemporary Christian communities. My research also looked at how some contemporary Christian based disability advocacy groups have been working to break down barriers to the full participation of people with disabilities and faith communities. And on a totally different note, I’m also interested in folklore and myth development, and the part they play in the development of a group’s identity. In the past, I’ve looked at the stories of Celtic saints in Ireland and am also interested in stories about the supernatural, which you may hear about later.
I’m Rachel and I have always been very interested in climate change and environmental activism. Fun fact, I used to watch The Weather Channel for fun when I was a child. So I was always very fun at parties. So a lot of my research tends to revolve around ecology, nature religions and activist movements associated with them. My master’s research specifically focused on the development of eco-spirituality as a product of reflexive modernization.
So Rachel, what was your favourite part about the Weather Channel?
The music, honestly. I don’t know if you guys ever watched The Weather Channel for fun but… *laughs* Jacqueline’s mouthing, “No,” at me… The music is classic you can look it up on YouTube.
Okay, I will. *laughs*
I told you, I was very fun at parties.
Yeah, I’m gonna let you DJ my next party.
Before we dive into some of our future episodes, we wanted to set the stage on what we talk about when we talk about religion. Many people have preconceived ideas about what constitutes a religion and we refer to this as the “World Religions paradigm.” So the World Religions paradigm, according to Christopher Cotter, and David Robertson is a particular way of thinking about religions which organizes them into a set of discrete traditions with a supposedly global import.
Usually, when we hear “World Religion” we tend to think about five main ones: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, and sometimes more recently, but less often other religions are tacked on such as Taoism, Confucianism and indigenous spiritualities. The paradigm has a history and colonialism which has influenced our understanding of what religion is and means. For instance, the whole notion of religion is based off of a Protestant Christian understanding, such that religion is typically associated with monotheism, scriptural adherents, and often patriarchy, to the detriment of other manifestations of religiosity and spirituality, which seemed to fall short of this ideal archetype.
Looking at the World Religions paradigm it seems like we associate World Religions with power and numbers. These factors legitimize religions and deem them worthy of being included in the term religion. By that logic, though, to paraphrase Jonathan Z. Smith, from the point of view of power, indigenous religions, newer spiritualities and minority religions are invisible. I think this is especially harmful when indigenous religions are not considered part of the paradigm, or if they are included, the various indigenous ways of being and knowing around the entire world are lumped together under one label, which is “indigenous religions.” It’s continued to erasure and violence via a colonial framework of categorizing peoples and cultures.
Continuing on the note of indigenous traditions, I remember in my first-year World Religions textbook, there’s a section that focused just on circles. The textbook implied that circles were important to all indigenous religions, but only gave one or two examples of this being true. One of these examples was a picture of children playing a circle game, which I have definitely done as a child and was not related to my religion. This chapter was about all indigenous religions in North America, Africa, Australia, other places. While certainly there will be commonalities due to indigenous traditions tending to be more closely linked to land than many, “Western religions.” It is problematic to speak of such a large group of traditions without providing sufficient case studies to make these claims, which this textbook did not do. So while generalizations about religion are always important to avoid — even institutionalized religions, like Christianity have diversity in their many denominations — it is especially important to be aware of the tendency to generalize, and the implications it has due to the power dynamics of colonialism. Because many of the religions or traditions that are peripheral in religious studies and marginalized in our textbooks tend to be religions and traditions that are marginalized generally, in our Western society.
While the paradigm is good for providing people with a snapshot of different religions and also providing an effective starting place for new scholars of religious studies, it is based largely in generalization. If students aren’t introduced to the fact that there is nuance in a tradition or that there are other traditions not covered by the paradigm, they may assume they know everything about a religion. However, in person to person relationships, which is where we all generally interact with religion on a daily basis, this can unintentionally cause conflict if we approach each other with assumption rather than curiosity, which is a good life rule in general.
Very true. And also creates this idea that there are right and wrong ways to do religion, like if you are a strict adherent to the authoritative holy text in the tradition, or you’ve cobbled together a bunch of facets of spirituality which speak to you or maybe you follow a localized religious tradition that may be an offshoot or completely different from the main ones in your culture, you may be seen as not properly religious or faithful or committed. So it basically delegitimizes the real diversity that exists in the different ways of doing religion around the world. When you only explore snapshots of a few popular religions.
I think although the World Religions paradigm is something that we could talk about for hours, I hope that you’ve gotten a bit of an idea of what we mean when we talk about religion, but also kind of laying the groundwork for how we’re going to approach this podcast. So this means that on the Nearly Numinous show, you’ll hear about religions that make up the World Religions paradigm, as well as those religious traditions and belief systems that exist beyond our common classifications. But furthermore, we’ll also be talking about ideologies and groups that do not always come up when we think about religion as a category. This means we’ll be doing deep dives into non-religious fandoms like sports or Star Trek as well as general pop culture theories which will tie into different theories on religion. Ultimately experience is at the heart of this podcast and we hope to explore all facets of it.