Det hellige og det sublime

  • Kirsten Hastrup
Nøgleord: Det hellige, Det sublime


The article explores the notion of the sacred in human experience and in scholarship. By an investigation of the sacred as a social category, as first established in the social sciences by Durkheim in 1915, it is argued that this method does not take us near the sacred as it is experienced. Instead, it leaves us with the study of what is at best transfigured representations of the sacre, in texts, rites or cults. By treating the sacred as a social fact, we are bound to remain within a language that cannot capture the experimental nature of the sacred. With reference to Bateson it is argues that the sacred by its nature defies language and retreats to a site of secrecy, which we can only represent as shadows in language. It is suggested that the experience of the sacred is close to the experience of the sublime, as we know it from art. Ritual is compared to theatre, and their relative power in making participants experience a possible world byond the known is discussed.

The general point is that ontologically, the sacred is not in the things that represent it, such as texts, rites or chcurches, but in human experience of it. Therefore, the issue whether the sacred can be put to political use is wrong; only the representations and their doorkeepers can be put to such use. The sacred defies it. By way of conclusion it is argued, with reference to Charles Taylor, that the traditional view of theory in the human and social sciences as 'designative' should now give way to a view of theory as 'ecpressive'. Theories must do more than 'mirror' nature, i.e. describe the sacred by its representations in the landscape, they must also realize in their own terms what is not readily seen, and what is not expressed anywhere but in the theory itself, such as for instance the sublime nature of scared experiences.

Hastrup, K. (1996). Det hellige og det sublime. Religionsvidenskabeligt Tidsskrift, (29).