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René Girard and Secular Modernity

Christ, Culture, and Crisis

Scott Cowdell

Publication Year: 2013

Scott Cowdell provides the first systematic interpretation of René Girard’s controversial approach to secular modernity. Cowdell identifies the scope, development, and implications of Girard’s thought, the centrality of Christ in Girard's thinking, and, in particular, Girard's distinctive take on the uniqueness and finality of Christ in terms of his impact on Western culture. In Girard’s singular vision, according to Cowdell, secular modernity has emerged thanks to the Bible’s exposure of the cathartic violence that is at the root of religious prohibitions, myths, and rituals. In the literature, the psychology, and most recently the military history of modernity, Girard discerns a consistent slide into an apocalypse that challenges modern ideas of romanticism, individualism, and progressivism. In the first three chapters, Cowdell examines the three elements of Girard’s basic intellectual vision (mimesis, sacrifice, biblical hermeneutics) and brings this vision to a constructive interpretation of “secularization” and “modernity,” as these terms are understood in the broadest sense today. Chapter 4 focuses on modern institutions, chiefly the nation state and the market, that function to restrain the outbreak of violence. And finally, Cowdell discusses the apocalyptic dimension of Girard's theory in relation to modern warfare and terrorism. Here, Cowdell engages with the most recent writings of Girard (particularly his Battling to the End) and applies them to further conversations in cultural theology, political science, and philosophy.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-8


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pp. vii-10

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pp. ix-xi

I came late to René Girard, and after three false starts. In the early ness and finality of Jesus, I discovered and was much influenced by Walter Wink on the New Testament “powers and principalities,” though without appreciating Girard’s influence on Wink’s trilogy. In the late 1990s I was asked to review Why Must There Be Scapegoats? ...

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pp. 1-16

...greatest intellectual achievement: the theory of evolution by natu-ral selection. Darwinian molecular biology is now foundational for everything we know about life’s development, illuminating so much complexity by an essentially simple mechanism. Similar attempts to unify the human sciences have met with less success, from grand ...

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Chapter 1: Mimesis, Modernity, and Madness

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pp. 17-56

...with the first plank of Girard’s controversial threefold program, the mimetic theory. Mimesis is typically defined in terms of human imitation. It is about the representation of external reality and other people.1 But mimesis goes deeper and further for Girard. It is a particular kind of representation, involving imitation not so much of others’ actions ...

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Chapter 2: Violence, the Sacred Canopy

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pp. 57-82

...is to become acquainted with his singular approach to the archaic sacred, which he sees as the fons et origo of human life and culture. He argues that humanity emerged from the fires of mimetic crisis via a mechanism of “sacred violence,” whereupon stability and civilization became possible. The sacred is thus a human agency, though neither an ...

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Chapter 3: Scripture and Secularization

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pp. 83-116

We come now to the third plank of Girard’s vision, and the most controversial. In the Bible, from the innocence of victims first pro-claimed in the Hebrew Scriptures to a full revealing and overturning of the scapegoat mechanism in the Gospels, Girard identifies draining away of the protection offered by what Girard calls “the false ...

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Chapter 4: Modern Institutions and Violence

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pp. 117-142

...equality, from differentiation to undifferentiation, from external to internal mediation. It is the social shift to a more level playing field, but it also increases the mimetic risk of envy, rivalry, and violence. The available mimetic models proliferate, their proximity awaken-ing desire and encouraging its escalating rivalry. Secularization for ...

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Chapter 5: War, Terror, Apocalypse

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pp. 143-168

All the great political thinkers of modernity, including those re-ceiving most Girardian attention (Hobbes, Tocqueville, Carl Schmitt), “recognized the fearful creakings coming from the machinery of the modern state at the time when it was still being developed and established.”1 Those creakings reveal the katéchon already under strain. ...

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pp. 169-184

I have traced the three elements of Girard’s vision—mimeticism, sacrifice, and their gospel overcoming—to reveal the wellsprings of secular modernity at a level deeper than ideological and functional definitions of secularization and modernity typically place them. A shift to internal mediation without sacred protection is the long and ...


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pp. 185-224


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pp. 225-242


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pp. 243-259

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 260-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780268076979
E-ISBN-10: 0268076979
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268023744
Print-ISBN-10: 0268023743

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2013