1. After Reading my E-lecture on “The Sacred and the Holy”
2. Complete Cornell notes on the lecture, and submit
E-Lecture: The Sacred and the Holy
E-Lecture: The Sacred and the Holy
Interest in the root nature of religion is of concern for scholars of religion today.
Gerardus van der Leeuw claimed that the religion was rooted in sacred power. Thus, the distinction between the sacred and profane (non-sacred) is the power that is associated with the sacred.
Sacred power evokes mixed responses. One can both fear and be in awe of sacred power, but in modern life sacred power is usually thought of as benign and benevolent.
Roger Caillois claimed that religion is rooted in both the quest to acquire purity and the task of eliminating defilement. However, purity cannot be maintained forever and all human life must come into contact with non-sacred, or a profane world. For example, upon leaving a sacred space many people disrobe of sacred garments, or take a ritual bath, or perform some type of ritual that signifies that they are leaving sacred space and going back into profane space. In some communities, holy persons are kept from others in an attempt to make sure that they are not exposed to defilement.
Rudolf Otto believed that the holy was an experience that was unique to religion. He claimed that the holy was a nonrational part of human experience, often portrayed in myths and doctrines of religion. Otto used the term numinous to describe a unique religious phenomenon that evokes a “creature-feeling” within a person when they come into contact with the numinous.
The numinous stirs human emotions and evokes mysterium tremendum, which refers to an extraordinary reality that is mysterious and beyond comprehension and thus evokes awe and dread, or holy wrath and “energy.”
The numinous also produces fascinans for humans, which provokes joyful thanksgiving, praise and adoration.
Both Isaiah’s vision of the Lord God in the Temple of Jerusalem and the vision that Arjuna, the Hindu warrior-hero saw (recorded in the Bhagavad-Gita) are examples of numinous visions which inspired unique feelings.
Mircea Eliade looked at how the sacred was manifested in the history of religions by looking at the contrast between the sacred and the profane.
These are two different modes: the sacred always manifests itself as something non-ordinary while the profane is always common. Anything can be deemed sacred (rocks, trees, human artifacts, etc.) and can go from being an object of common use to something sacred. When something manifests itself as sacred, Eliade called it a hierophany, which means that the sacred appeared or that there is an opening to the holy or divine.
Sacred and profane space are also marked as different. The break between sacred space and non-sacred space is what actually establishes a sacred world. For example, when you enter a church doorway from the street the doorway marks the break between the sacred (church) and the profane (street).
Sacred space implies a hierophany, where communication with the sacred is made possible. Sacred space acts as an axis mundi or as the center of the world. Symbolically, the world is thought to revolve around the sacred space.
Designating a space as sacred is the equivalent to founding a world, according to Eliade. He refers to this as forming a cosmos out of chaos. Whether the sacred space is simple or elaborate, it represents an “opening” to heaven and is also a reproduction (on a human scale) of the cosmos or Creation. This is called an imago mundi, an image of the original world order. The symbolism on the alter or temple (or sacred space) is often an explicit replica of the cosmogony, or a mirror of the original act of Creation, a miniature prototype of God’s or the gods work.
For Jews the center of the world is Mount Zion, Jerusalem. For most Christians the center of the world is the mount at Golgotha. For Muslims, the followers of Islam, the center of the world is the Great Mosque of Mecca that houses the sacred Black Stone.
Sacred space denotes where the “true world” lies- and it is always at the center, connecting heaven and earth.
The Buddhist Stupa and Pagoda are examples of sacred space, as is Mount Zion for Jews.
Sacred space establishes a world, a cosmos, a fixed point in profane or chaotic space. Communication and passage are thereby opened between heaven and earth, a passage from one mode of being to another.
A sacred world is not necessarily supernatural, but a world that exists within the natural world which has been consecrated as holy by special times and places.