The Resurgence of René Girard

René Girard is popping up in the most interesting places.  Among others:

In fact, Jones quotes Alison in his book:

The most recent major player on the scene of atonement theories is one developed by an anthropologist/literary critic who is still alive: René Girard and the Scapegoat theory. But before getting to his take on the atonement, here’s a brief background on Girard’s thought. René Girard is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and one of only 40 members, or immortels, of the Académie Française, France’s highest intellectual honor. Girard’s breakthrough, according to James Alison, is this:

Professor Girard has made what he takes to be an authentic anthropological discovery…, to wit: that human desire is triangular and mimetic. It is mimetic in that it is to do with imitation; it is triangular in that the transaction is three-cornered: the source (model) which stimulates the desire, the respondent (disciple) in whom the desire is implanted, and the thing (object) then desired.[15]

Jones, Tony (2012-03-18). A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin (Kindle Locations 520-527). The JoPa Group. Kindle Edition.

But there is something that I can just not figure out: why is the resurgence of René Girard happening now?

I first encountered René Girard in Graham Ward’s edited text “The Postmodern God: a Theological Reader” and I 100% get the appeal of Girard.
I get the the whole thing about how we mimic and are socialized by mimicry.
I get how this morphs into social groups who use violence to justify sacrifice.
I get how these social groups look for ‘scape goats’.
I get how this applies to Jesus’ crucifixion.

What I need help with is understanding why this is coming to prominence now.

To what do we owe the resurgence of René Girard?

SO Deacons – can you help me out? I am not a historical theologian. I am not a systematic theologian.I am not a philosophical theologian.  I am just a lowly practical theologian : what am I missing?

Don’t get me wrong – I really like René Girard!  I think that the theories are fascinating.

But why is his prominence coming now? Is this a reaction to the retrenchment of folks like the Gospel Coalition and Radical Orthodoxy? Is this a response to the decline of the Mainline voices? Is this just a matter of a thinker ‘before his time’ ?

I have the odd sense that I am missing something important  – and I am hoping that someone can provide the insight that I lack on the subject.

Does this have something to do with “Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross” by S. Mark Heim ?

Or  “The Nonviolent Atonement” by J. Denny Weaver ?

I like René Girard. In fact I think that he brings several important elements to the table. My question is to why we are seeing a resurgence of his ideas now?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.  -Bo

 

 

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33 comments
gibby127
gibby127

A cruel, angry and violent god makes cruel, angry and violent men/women.....mimetic reality

Tony Bouwmeester
Tony Bouwmeester

I hope this article will be of some help.

Peace Cannot be the Ultimate Goal of War

By: Rev. Canon Tony W. Bouwmeester.

At the ripe old age of fifteen, growing up during the post war in The Netherlands, I blissfully fell head over heels in love with a neighbor girl.Sort of like Charlie Brown and the little Red Haired girl.When my father found out about it he warned me to be careful about my feelings and “who” in particular I liked.It went something like this’ “You really like her don’t you?”“Well, yes” I answered.My father followed up with, “You better be careful her parents buy bread from the wrong baker.”There were four Church denominations and four bakers in our town!My first love found its demise in dogmatic denominational differences and I hated it.

A most interesting fact is that during the Second World War occupation the Dutch population experienced the largest amount of interdenominational marriages of all time.The most likely cause at the time was said to be that collectively the country was overshadowed by a larger problem than their individual denominational and cultural differences.Witness how quickly things went back to the same old same old immediately after the war.Be careful!Don’t buy bread from the wrong baker!

Over the years it has occurred to me that this micro cosmic example of my youth might be symptomatic of worldwide macro cosmic proportions.

In the last century, up until about 1991, during the two World Wars and the Cold War, the world population had a greater common problem of war of nation against nation than local cultural differences.As soon as the Cold War, and the era of interstate conflicts subsided the tide turned with an influx of inter tribal, transnational ethnic and religious strife.Today’s conflicts are by and large about identity, as well as historic wrongs, outright myths, legends, and religious fanaticism: they are neither new in history nor about reasons of state.These conflicts are simply the same as buying bread from the wrong baker.

There will always be conflict in the world.The good news is that statistically there is less conflict today than there was in the 1990’s.World conflicts peaked in 1992 when nearly thirty percent of countries with a population of 500,000 or more experienced some form of armed conflict, dropping to just over thirteen percent in 2010, and increasing again in 2011 to sixteen percent, due to unrest in the Middle East.

Having just celebrated Christmas with its slogan, “Peace on Earth, and New Year with its well wishing, we must ask, “Will there ever be peace on earth?”I think the great coach Yogi Berra had it right when he said, “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”However, this article is not about futuristic prediction but about our behavior today.Now in the relative calm of conflict is the time for us to be challenged for change.

Could we possibly learn from Scrooge in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come when he saw his gravestone and said, "Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be, only...? Man's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!" Scrooge clearly learns that if we depart from the disastrous courses we are on-the consequences will change.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this world, he made a specific promise to his gathered disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27).The New living translation states this saying as, “I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.”Theologically peace is a gift the world does not know how to give.

In a recent article Dr. Colin Gray, Professor of International Politics and Strategic Studies, at the University of Reading, England writes, “War is about the peace that will follow; it is not a self-validating occurrence.”To state it in an oxymoron, “For the world the ultimate goal of war is peace.”Opposed to this my own way of thinking for a long time has been, “You cannot bomb the hell out of anybody: least of all your enemy.”What then is the answer as today we live what Dr. Gray calls this “Interwar period?”

Scrooge seems to know the answer, “Man's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”To say the ultimate goal of war is peace is a course from which we must depart.

The peace the world gives comes at the high price of war, is preserved at the high price of law and military security, and is proven by world history to be uncertain and insecure.  It is in diametric opposition to the gift of peace of which Jesus speaks, for this peace is simply gift with no strings attached. The peace this world gives is won at great cost, great suffering and bloodshed.  Rather than wage war we must learn to simply give the gift of peace to our families, our neighbors, and yes our enemies.May today this gift be yours to give away. “Peace be with you.”

Rev. Canon Tony W. Bouwmeester serves as Pastor to the Anglican Parish of Long Point Bay Ontario Canada.

HeidiLN
HeidiLN

I think people are struggling with the idea that communities are built to maintain boundaries, and usually upon some catastrophe or hatred. I never wanted to believe Girard's theories, but the right wing has convinced me.


ShannonMullen
ShannonMullen

Three reasons I see:

1 The Gospel of "mercy not sacrifice" is transforming the culture. As Girard predicts, the Gospel working in the culture to reveal the scapegoating of violent cultural structures indeed flattens hierarchies and breaks down divisions. As people reeling in shock in this rapidly changing post-modern world cast about for a way to understand what is happening, they stumble onto Girard and have "aha!" moments.

2 The institutions championed by the religious right are completely shot through with substitutionary atonement. And they use it to rationalize and justify their divisive, angry stance on social issues, warfare, excessive capitalism, etc. If God demands retribution from those whose sin God hates, then I can demand retribution too. If God sends those who don't respond in faith to hell, then I can too. In response, those who react negatively to this image of God, thinking 'Jesus could not have meant that,' and go searching for something, find Girard.

3 There are many who are actively working to teach, promote, and share Girard as a tool for seeing a new (old!) non-violent, non-sacrificial, merciful and loving God that Jesus teaches. The Raven Foundation, TheologyAndPeace.org, PreachingPeace.org, Imitatio, the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, and Paul Nuechterlein's immensely accessible weekly lectionary website GirardianLectionary.net are examples. For example Brian McLaren became well versed in Girard because persons involved with PreachingPeace.org and TheologyAndPeace.org saw affinities in his writing and invited him to speak at conferences, thus drawing him into the conversation.

Peace, Shannon

THuegerich
THuegerich

I can't find the interview with James Alison anywhere. Did it happen?

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

Hey Bo,

 

I know this is an old thread but I was listening to the latest TNT and you mentioned this post so I zoomed backward in time to re-read it.

 

I like Girard’s work as a response to the Atheistic/Nietzschean observation that many ancient myths essentially involve “dying and rising gods,” (e.g. Dionysus). The Jesus story then is not unique in this sense and, therefore, easily dismissable as anecdotal foolishness. 

 

Girard’s response, that the Jesus story is unique in that God is the ultimate scapegoat which desacralized the world, differs greatly from other Pagen myths and is perhaps why he’s gained some popularity again.

 

Of course Girard’s theories do fit very nicely with certain unsavory atonement theories (substitutionary), but could work well with others I would say, like Christus Victor etc...

 

CS2
CS2

It had to be sometime. Mimetic theory changes everything for anyone involved in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, and has profound insights for understanding and interpreting Christianity. I bumped into him by accident via Fr. Barron's WoF, and ended up writing an M.A. thesis on it (what else could I do?!). Darwin for the social sciences, just hasn't got out yet. I have a small blog: http://desidelerium.wordpress.com/ dedicated solely to MT and Philosophy, and am very excited to meet others involved with his work. 

realdamienparks
realdamienparks

I am a huge fan of Girard. For me the "resurgence" of Girard is due to the fact he responds in a new way to one of the key theological conversations happening in our day. One of those conversations being the rethinking who Jesus was a what his death and resurrection is/was all about (atonement theory). I think the standard evangelical answer to that question has been Jesus comes to take the wrath his dad wanted to pour out. That answer doesn't work well on all levels for many people. Girard theory is opening the doors to begin a fresh conversation. 

Kurt_S
Kurt_S

Just got back from seeing Rollins in Calgary and Girard was a major topic for him, as well as a major contributor for Rollins in his new book! Very interesting indeed!

danielvastons
danielvastons

It seems to me that there is a general discontent with the articulation of a violent God. We see this violence in ourselves, our communities and our nations and we/I hate that about our/myself. Arguments such as Andrew Perriman's found here http://bit.ly/T8P54L that tell us to "get over" this wrath of God/penal sub understanding leave a bad taste in my mouth. Somehow what we say about God must match what we see in Christ.

Mark Farmer
Mark Farmer

When you area French anthropologist working in the US, it takes awhile to work up to that tipping point. I'm glad he's getting there!

JosefGustafsson
JosefGustafsson

I believe one reason for the recent interest in Girard is that he provides a perspective that highlights the uniqueness of the Christ-event while it at the same time avoids the temptation to exclude the Other.

jpaulmullen
jpaulmullen

I think there are two issues Girard addresses that America, at least subliminally, knows it must address:

1. the violence of scapegoating - ie, why must America always have an enemy, and 

2. the failure of greed based economics to satisfy- ie, why must I always have the same and more than others to feel better and why isn't it working.

 

Another factor in popularity is accessibility and Girardian thought has been a staple of the Text This Week website (www.textweek.com, Commentary, Exegisis & Sermon Preparation, Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary) pretty much since the site's inception.

dangarvin
dangarvin

Funny that you should bring this up right now. I've been thinking the same thing. I've been tangentially aware of Girard and Mimetic theory for some time, but recently he's just popping up all over the place.

 

An interesting tidbit is a significant Girardian presence behind the recent Hellbound? movie. Brad Jersak, Sharon Baker and especially Michael Hardin are all Girardian's to one degree or another. The boys over at http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/ have interviewed all of the above with quite a lot of discussion of Girard.

 

I'm reading Micahel Hardin right now and he's rocking my world. http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Hardin/e/B0041ET60G/. He'd be a great guest on HBC.

 

Then there's http://www.ravenfoundation.org/

 

Bottom line for me is non-violence. I honestly think that non-violence is at the core of what is trying to be birthed (or what is emerging if you prefer that term). This includes everything from the peace activism of a Shane Claiborne and the rising voice of the peace tradition to the explosion of Universal Reconciliation to Eco Spirituality to the resurgence of Non-Violent Atonement theory.

 

I could go on, but I'll stop. Couldn't be more excited about the Alison interview.

pkdd
pkdd

Tony Jones' ebook about the basics of atonement theories turned me onto Girard.  Prior to reading that I hadn't really thought much about atonement theory.  What I like about Girard is that he is a recent voice that says something other than PSA.  Also it seems a common method for generating progressive Christian thought is to use secular thinkers to reform the tradition, so Girard seems appropriate.

philstyle
philstyle

Oh, and I'm dead keen on hearing your interview with Alison!

 

Can we submit questions?

philstyle
philstyle

Why is Girard becoming popular (again) now?

 

I think it's a convolution of things, but the establishment of imitatio (www.imitatio.org) would have had something to do with it.

 

I think you're right about Girard being a thinker before his time. It took 20 years (from 1960's until 1980s) before neuro-science was able to lend biological support to his ideas about memesis.

 

The internet has helped spread Girard in a way that was not possible before. Let's not forget that. I'd have never heard of Piper, Driscoll and all that crowd either if it weren't for the internet.

 

But I'm not sure anyone knows "why" Girard has risen in visibility over the past 10 years or so. I've seen your question asked by a number of bloggers.

 

As a side note, Montpellier Football Club's manager is also called Rene Girard. So in recent months the online search engines have started returning football related results when I'm searching on Girard. It pays to exclude montpellier, or football from your searches. 

 

philstyle
philstyle

@ShannonMullen thankds for the links. I was aware of imitatio by not GirardianLectionary.net.  however, that link does not seem to work???

philstyle
philstyle

 @pluralform "Of course Girard’s theories do fit very nicely with certain unsavory atonement theories (substitutionary),"

 

Hi just one point, did you men that Girard does NOT fit with such atonement theories?

Girard himself (and many of his commentators) describes his work as explicitly Anti-sacrificial, which is a repudiation of the need for divine retribution and/or substitutionary atonement.

BoEberle
BoEberle

 @dangarvin However Girard is not a pacifist that I know of an his theory is not about non-violence. If anything, it shows us that our "violence" is misdirected, not that it is inherently bad or unnecessary. The problem with peace/pacifist movements is that they misidentify violence as such, i.e. "violence" is not simply war or fighting, but the functioning of globally oppressive systems. Instead of being violent against these systems, we create scapegoats and punish them rather than the source of violence itself. 

philstyle
philstyle

 @dangarvin "An interesting tidbit is a significant Girardian presence behind the recent Hellbound? movie"

 

Oh, that reminds me. I saw "watchmen" about two weeks ago. It has Girardian themes running through it in incredible strength. My jaw dropped during the last 15 minutes as the scapegoat mechanism was played out in all it's complexity. 

 

If this scene does not exactly replicate the relationship between violence and the exposing of the scapegoat myth (Veidt being representative of the power of the myth), then nothing does!

 

Adrian Veidt: [Nixon finishes his speech on Veidt's TVs] Do you see? Two super powers retreating from war. I've saved the Earth from hell. We both have. This is as much your victory as it is mine. Now we can return. Do what we were meant to.

 Rorschach: We were meant to exact justice! Everyone's gonna know what you've done... 

Adrian Veidt: Will they? By exposing me, you would sacrifice the peace so many died for today. 

Dan Dreiberg: Peace based on a lie. 

Adrian Veidt: But peace! Nonetheless. 

Jon Osterman: ...He's right. Exposing Adrian would only doom the world to Nuclear destruction again. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @philstyle Yep. The 48 hours before an interview we solicit questions. You want to put your's in early ?  Go ahead. I'll cut and paste them into the clipboard :)  -Bo

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @philstyle Thank you so much for writing in! That was really helpful.  I appreciate the links and I have to admit that I had not thought about the internet's power for this type of concept - but I think that you are 100% right on. 

 

It is fascinating to think about his theory. If he is right, it impacts so much!  But committing to this approach is so challenging. It is radically different ... and in my estimation, not something you can 'mix n' match' with other theories easily. This is not for the armchair or coffee shop - pop psychology crowd. It is neither quickly digestible nor is it easily transferable/adaptable.  

 

-Bo 

Jesse Turri
Jesse Turri

You're right @philstyle  My mistake. In subsitutionary it's God demanding the sacrifice or retribution, for Girard it's us who demands the sacrifice, which for Girard functions as a realase valve of sorts.

MichaelHardin
MichaelHardin

@BoEberle @dangarvin Having known Rene for over a quarter century and having spoken to him many times about this I think I can say that he is a principled pacifist but also a realist. That is, if anyone can mix Niebuhr and John Howard Yoder, Rene attempts to do that. As a Catholic he admires those of us in the historic peace churches who are using his theory to work out a new social paradigm. Much of my work over the past 20 years has been in that one area Rene could not really venture into: positive mimesis which arises only in encounter with the Risen Jesus (which cannot form part of his scientific anthropology). This is the place one can actually begin to engage the research into mirror neurons, social psychology, etc for a new anthropological model based in discipleship. And that is what Rene has told me really excites him about my work as a peace church person.

dangarvin
dangarvin

 @BoEberle Agreed, I'm not aware of Girard being a pacifist as such. Also agree that non-violence is about a WHOLE LOT more than the violence committed with guns and bombs. The neat thing about Girard is how his thinking is being applied in so many different arenas.

 

We SHOULD do violence against systems that oppress people and destroy the earth. But of course this violence should not be directed at or against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers, the systems of injustice.

philstyle
philstyle

 @BoSanders great, here's two for you:

 

1. Thinking about Girard's position on sacrifice, and his more recent work on violence (Achever Clausewitz) how can we read the biblical book of Joshua through a Girardian lens without doing to much violence to the text? The conquest narratives do seem to describe a God who endorses or even instigates the escalation of voilence...

 

2. One of the more common criticisms of Girard is that, if the exposure of the scapegoat mechanism really was one of the great (or central) achievements of the gospels (and the biblical literature as a whole), why has the church (and biblical commentators in general, believers and non-believers) apparently not noticed this? Did the first couple of centuries of Christian faith exemplify a more Girardian understanding (and do we have good evidence for this)?

philstyle
philstyle

 @BoSanders <i>"It is fascinating to think about his theory. If he is right, it impacts so much!  But committing to this approach is so challenging. It is radically different"</i>

 

Agreed. It really does have wide ranging impacts... 

I'm not sure how I found Girard. But I was exploring atonement a few years back. The traditional models just make no sense to me. I've been reading Girard ever since.. and I can't get enough of it. This is a really great read: http://www.amazon.com/Battling-End-Conversations-Beno%C3%AEt-Chantre/dp/0870138774 and good for an american audience to understand a little bit more about European history too (which is always a good thing)

 

My current goal is to try and understand the book of Joshua through a Girardian (anti-sacrificial, non-violent) lens. That might be one of my questions for Alison..

 

 

 

philstyle
philstyle

@ShannonMullen ah, it turns out I have read that site before, I recognise the yellow background and the plain font. But it's nice to have the front page now with all the indexes. Ta. 

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  1. […] process. Engaging biblical scholarship is a great starter. Asking big question about the nature of human violence (like memetic theory) is a catalyst. The pièce de résistance is found an alternative framework […]