In the Beginning was Violence: Emmanuel Levinas on Religion and Violence

Ruud Welten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


It is the aim of this contribution to question the two conceptions of violence in the later Levinas. One of the face, the other the violence that must be overcome by the face. The article argues that this cannot be understood fully without taking into account Levinas’ Talmudic philosophy. By focusing on the notion of trauma in the later work of Levinas, it is argued that Levinas’ idea of the human subject is understood as radical vulnerability. This idea is evaluated on the basis of short comparisons with the thinking of Lacan, Žižek and Camus. The claim is made that to Levinas, violence is not a phenomenon to be eliminated by rational ethics, but one that forms the very notion of humanity itself. This is elaborated by showing how the Bible takes on a central role in Levinas’ thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355–370
JournalContinental Philosophy Review
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Levinas
  • religion
  • violence


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