I have read approximately 100 pages of this book, and I hope to complete reading it by the end of the year.
Professor René Girard of Stanford University discusses themes of sacrifice, violence and the sacred
RENÉ GIRARD (1923-2015) was a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy. He wrote from the perspective of a wide variety of disciplines, including literary criticism, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, biblical hermeneutics and theology. Girard is best known for his “mimetic theory” in which he elaborated a sweeping anthropology of religion. Set out in his first major work, DECEIT, DESIRE AND THE NOVEL (1961), the theory holds that human beings learn by imitating those around them, wanting to have what others have. His fundamental ideas, which were developed throughout his career, were that all desire is mimetic (i.e., borrowed from other people); that all conflict originates in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry) which operates pervasively in all cultures, fomenting envy and rivalry; that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry; and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism. In VIOLENCE AND THE SACRED (1972), Girard showed how once scapegoats are sacrificed, often ritually, and peace returns, such sacrificial victims often become seen as “founding figures” of a society or religion, owing to the powerful mix of guilt and shame that remains in the collective memory. Girard described sacrificial violence as “the dark secret underpinning all human cultures” and the basis for many works of fiction and drama. In recent history this has been played out in the horrors of communism and fascism – and Islamist terrorism, a phenomenon Girard once described as “mimetic rivalry on a planetary scale”. He saw religion not as the cause of violence, but as an often desperate attempt to resolve it, with biblical texts representing the development of a new consciousness which rejected scapegoating as an answer to society’s ills. In THE SCAPEGOAT (1982), Girard developed the idea that the Christian scriptures inaugurated a long process of questioning this founding violence. Jesus’s sacrifice is presented not as a means of appeasing an offended deity, but as an example of a loving God offering human beings liberation from this destructive cycle. The resurrection of the forgiving victim offers human life new foundations.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
Girard develops a global theory of culture through the paradox of violence and exclusion serving a social function, Consider reading Chapter 4, Myth: The Invisibility of the Founding Murder, which concerns an act of murder which founds a civilization and its culture (e.g. the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible).
In The Scapegoat, Grard applies his approach to “texts of persecution,” documents that recount phenomena of collective violence from the standpoint of the persecutor―documents such as the medieval poet Guillaume de Machaut’s Judgement of the King of Navarre, which blames the Jews for the Black Death and describes their mass murder. (Amazon)
The Ideas of Rene Girard: An Anthropology of Religion and Violence
Edited by David Cayley
René Girard was a thinker who fits no category. His ideas fit no academic niche, but they attracted many followers during his long career as a teacher and writer. A large annual conference, “The Colloquium on Violence and Religion,” is devoted entirely to his ideas, as is a journal, Contagion. Those who participate in these conventions believe that Girard’s insights are an intellectual breakthrough. Within the growing circle of his readers and intellectual colleagues, René Girard is regarded as one of those fundamental thinkers who changed the way people look at the world.
In this Ideas volume, David Cayley and René Girard explore the whole body of Girard’s work. En route, they touch on literature, anthropology, the Bible, and the way Biblical revelation has shaped the modern world. (Amazon)