- The Reception of René Girard's Thought in Finland and ScandinaviaFrom the 1980s to the Present
INTRODUCTION: A CASE OF NORTH VERSUS SOUTH?
Back in 2008, when I was still in the process of writing my PhD thesis on René Girard's mimetic theory and its applications to the narrative poetics of certain post-1960 Anglophone novels, I was struck by an interesting and perhaps inevitable geographical phenomenon. I had just been admitted to a European doctoral program that was centered in a German university but that included also other institutions, both north and south of our Central European headquarters. The "Northern" dimension was represented by Sweden and my native Finland, whereas our "Southern" counterpart sent emissaries from Italy and Portugal. It did not take many sessions in our Pan-European research seminars for me to realize how valuable a contributor the Southern dimension was to my project in particular. Although none of the supervising professors was first and foremost a "Girardian," the professors hailing from Bergamo and Lisbon certainly knew more about his body of work than their colleagues from Stockholm and Helsinki. I have the Portuguese professor to thank for prompting me to take part in my first Colloquium of Violence and Religion event (London, [End Page 95] 2009), even though the travel grant came from my alma mater, the University of Helsinki. In that case, at least, north and south worked together perfectly in facilitating the first steps of a Girardian acolyte at the start of her path to a higher understanding.
Still, the nagging feeling remains that in Northern Europe especially, Girard's body of work is denied the full attention it deserves (regardless of whether the attention is pro or contra). That too much can sometimes be made of the north–south (or Protestant–Catholic) divide in Europe, whether inside the (humanities) academia or without, forms something of a leitmotif in my report about the reception of Girard's thought in Scandinavia and Finland. That these divides nevertheless play some role in the argument is something that this report cannot altogether ignore. The argument in question can be summed up as follows: Girard's Nordic1 reception, while not as warm as in Western Mediterranean Europe or Latin America (or even Austria, the Netherlands, France, the United States, Great Britain, and Australia), is still not as chilling as one might expect, considering that Girard, alas, is still very much an academic outsider everywhere.
Of course, it probably is not a coincidence that mimetic theory, with its emphasis of Christian singularity owing something to Catholic particulars, even if this particularity is a posteriori rather than a priori, should meet resistance in the part of Europe where Roman Catholicism has an exceptionally tenuous presence. The Nordic countries are still less religiously diverse than other Western countries, with a Lutheran form of Protestantism reigning over Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim minorities, as well as the less established and more "charismatic" Protestant communities. There is no traditional Catholic–Calvinist balance in the manner of, say, the Netherlands, nor the religious mosaic born out of the historical layers of immigration patterns as in the of the United States. And although Europe has many Catholic-majority nations, these do not have the nationally contained structure of the state church as their Nordic Lutheran counterparts do or at least have done until fairly recently. Even if the Nordic countries are some of the most secular places in the Western cultural sphere, this secularism is of little use in endearing the academic community to a Catholic sensibility.
As stated before, however, one should not make too much of the Catholic issue. Finnish and Scandinavian universities are after all very fertile breeding grounds for academically rigorous theology. On the one hand, theology is more stridently than elsewhere separated into a faculty realm of its own and set apart from those human sciences housed in either the social science or humanities [End Page 96] faculties. This elevation through separation is due to the traditional role of training theological experts for ministry positions in the Lutheran state church. Consequently, seminaries and Bible colleges play a notably smaller role than they...