|The first aim of this study is to discuss and try to understand the relationship between the holy and
ethics, and more specifically how it can be understood, which is the critical question that I have
formulated, in Giorgio Agamben’s and Emmanuel Levinas’ philosophies. The second, more
constructive aim is to discuss whether the holy can be understood as something good or problematic
in relation to the society.
Rooted in philosophy of religion and ethics, I have first tried to discuss how the holy has been
understood in the philosophy of phenomenology and in the texts of Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade and
Espen Dahl. The holy has in the history been understood as something central in religions, and has
also not been connected to the idea of ethics. Recently it has also been critized – by Dahl – for not
being so pure as first thought of.
In Levinas texts the holy has been understood as something differentiated through his distiction,
in the Talmudic reading ”Desacralization and Disenchantment”, between the holy, which can be
seen as something pure, and the sacred which can been seen as something impure and a form of
degenerated holiness. In Levinas’ other texts Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than being the holy
has not been the central theme but has in the essay been, for instance, formulated as the Other as the
trace of the holy.
In Agambens texts the holy has been more univocal, much because it has been the central theme
in his later works, in the series ”Homo Sacer”. Homo sacer (a life that cannot be sacrificed and yet
may be killed), the state of exception, the idea of messianism and messianic time, the idea of Levi’s
paradox and profanation have formulated an critic of ethics, as a means without ends and an ethics
outside the law which is pure, profane and free; as a striving for a realization of a real state of
exception, which is open to the possibility to act and think in free regin.
I have seen and drawn some similarities between Agamben’s and Levinas’ understanding of the
holy, concerning the holy as a position that is exposed, and also as something central in their ideas.
There are also dissimilarities concerning their views on ethics, and their view of religion and God.
The holy can be seen as both something good and problematic in relation to the society.