Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version

Spring 4-21-2021

Thesis Advisor

Jim Sykes


religion, numinous, wonder, awe, ritual, collective effervescence


This project seeks to understand experiences of religious wonder and awe. While such experiences are subjective, as discussed here they are those which elicit sensations of mystery and transcendence, and are directly attributed to one’s God and/or religion. This project will attempt to answer the question: What does wonder do? That is, what are the concrete, real-world effects for oneself and others among individuals who have encountered transcendence? My methodology involves extensive anthropological research into literature on the numinous, ritual, and wonder, as well as ten semi-structured interviews with Penn students. My target population is members of four religious groups on Penn’s campus: the Hindu/Jain Association, the Muslim Student Association, Penn Hillel, and the Christian Union. Ultimately, I will theorize four related effects of religious wonder and awe, with each expanding into and shaping the next. These effects are a sense of purpose through reformed self-conceptualization, a feeling of interconnection with one’s community, the better treatment of others, and the choice to do good on a broad scale. In this way, I will prove that wonder is a driving force in shaping the way that religious persons understand themselves, their community, and their place in it.



Date Posted: 26 August 2021


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