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Talking Dialogue: Rudolf Otto and the Religioeser Menschheitsbund (1921-1937) of Verena Kozmann

5 October 2014

Having prepared my archival research on the interreligious and intercultural organization Religioeser Menschheitsbund (RMB), focusing on the founding moment from 1920-1922, for several months, I was excited to fly over from Boston to Frankfurt and finally reach Marburg in order to start my archival work in the archives of the University of Marburg.

 Thanks to Prof. Dr. Karl Pinggera Professor for Church history at the Philipps-University, my arrival to Marburg, an architectural pearl in the midst of Germany, was not only a smooth introduction to Marburg’s lively university but also to the historical old quarter of the town, the so-called ‘Oberstadt’. Shortly after my arrival, I was welcomed in the university’s library by the librarians Carolina Dorndorf and Dr. Bernd Reifenberg, who kindly helped me find my way through the archives and supported my research in various practical ways: like offering me convenient working spaces as well as providing me with access to the university’s online system. So, it became part of my daily routine to walk through the busy ‘Oberstadt’ and climb up the incredibly steep and narrow alleys of the historical old part of the town in order to reach my desk at the institute of religious sciences located on the third floor in one of the historical buildings close to Marburg’s castle.

Shortly after getting acquainted with the people and with the place, I started delving into Rudolf Otto’s archive, which is also the ‘home’ of my research subject, the RMB. Founded shortly after, and under the shadow of the First World War, the RMB was an interreligious and intercultural organization focusing on bringing together representatives of world religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism and others to collaborate and work on moral questions. The intention was to evoke a pan-national ‘Weltgewissen’, (roughly translated as ‘world-conscience’); a concept very similar to the more recent concept ‘Weltethos’, introduced by Hans Kueng.

“The story of the RMB is inextricably linked with Rudolf Otto.” This is what I heard, at the very beginning of our first meeting, from Prof. Dr. Martin Kraatz, the Rudolf Otto expert and the former long-standing director of the institute of religious sciences and its ‘religionskundliche’ collection at the university of Marburg. Prof. Dr. Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), a German, Lutheran, traveler, professor of systematic theology, pioneer in the field of science of religion, and the founder of the RMB, as well as the predecessor of Martin Kraatz, is well known to an international audience through his opus The Idea of the Holy which was first published in 1917. Otto, according to Kraatz and other experts on Rudolf Otto and the RMB, is arguably the most important figure in the history of the RMB. I personally discovered the truth of this conviction as I immersed myself in collecting data on the RMB’s history. Studying the founding story of the RMB in Marburg means automatically studying Rudolf Otto and the historical and intellectual context of his life and career.

In the course of several meetings in the institute of religious sciences, right across from Rudolf Otto’s still-extant desk, Martin Kraatz kindly shared with me some of his broad knowledge on Rudolf Otto the person, and Otto the theologian and philosopher of religion. Kraatz worked together with his wife and research partner, Margot Kraatz, for several decades on Rudolf Otto’s legacy; collecting and transcribing together large portions of Rudolf Otto’s correspondence. I am grateful for the readiness with which Kraatz met with me several times during my research in Marburg and for his generous offer to let me study his unpublished transcript collection. This was definitely a great privilege and one of the highlights of my research. The enriching and stimulating conversations with Martin Kraatz helped me understand better the historical context and the circumstances under which the RMB was founded.

Verena Kozmann is an Austrian graduate student from the University of Vienna who, as part of KAICIID’s “Talking Dialogue” project, has been conducting archival work in Marburg, Germany. Kozmann’s research has focused on the Religioeser Menschheitsbund (RMB), an interfaith organisation founded in 1921 following the tragedy of the First World War. The RMB was notable for its attempt in bringing together representatives of the world religions in order to build together the ‘Weltgewissen’ (World conciousness).