Religion and the sublime

Andrew Chignell, Matthew C. Halteman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


And the LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard the whisper, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. 1 Kings 19:11–13 Saying this, Krishna the great lord of discipline revealed to Arjuna the true majesty of his form. It was a multiform, wondrous vision, with countless mouths and eyes and celestial ornaments, brandishing many divine weapons. Everywhere was boundless divinity containing all astonishing things, wearing divine garlands and garments, anointed with divine perfume. If the light of a thousand suns were to rise in the sky at once it would be like the light of that great spirit. Arjuna saw all the universe in its many ways and parts, standing as one in the body of the god of gods. Then filled with astonishment, his hair bristling on his flesh, Arjuna bowed his head to the god. Bhagavad-Gita 11.12–14 INTRODUCTION The relationship between the religious and aesthetic domains in human life is deep, complicated, and hard to describe in philosophical prose. Characterizing it is all the more challenging when the proposed point of intersection is the sublime, which by its very definition runs up to (“sub”) the limit (“limen”) of conceptual analysis and phenomenological description. As a result of the elusiveness of the topic – as well as the vastness of the historical territory here – scholarly work on the relationship between religion and the sublime has tended to focus on a specific period or set of figures, with few attempts to provide a theoretical template for the whole. Our goal here, however, is to do precisely that. We begin with some conceptual ground clearing before briefly highlighting some undernoticed connections between religion and the sublime in two central eighteenth-century authors, Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant. We then devote the bulk of the chapter to a fourfold taxonomy of what we call the theistic sublime, the spiritualistic sublime, the dymythologistic sublime, and the nontheistic sublime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Sublime
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Antiquity to the Present
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780511978920
ISBN (Print)9780521194372
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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