For René Girard
Essays in Friendship and in Truth
Publication Year: 2009
In his explorations of the relations between the sacred and violence, René Girard has hit upon the origin of culture — the way culture began, the way it continues to organize itself. The way communities of human beings structure themselves in a manner that is different from that of other species on the planet.
Like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Émile Durkheim, Martin Buber, or others who have changed the way we think in the humanities or in the human sciences, Girard has put forth a set of ideas that have altered our perceptions of the world in which we function. We will never be able to think the same way again about mimetic desire, about the scapegoat mechanism, and about the role of Jewish and Christian scripture in explaining sacrifice, violence, and the crises from which our culture has been born.
The contributions fall into roughly four areas of interpretive work: religion and religious study; literary study; the philosophy of social science; and psychological studies.
The essays presented here are offered as "essays" in the older French sense of attempts (essayer) or trials of ideas, as indeed Girard has tried out ideas with us. With a conscious echo of Montaigne, then, this hommage volume is titled Essays in Friendship and in Truth.
Published by: Michigan State University Press
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René Girard’s entrance into the French Academy on December 15, 2005, brings to realization a sense that many of us who have worked with him (and his ideas) over the years have long felt. The aura is all about him. In his explorations of the relations between the sacred and violence, he has hit upon the origin of culture. Of culture itself. Its origin. The way culture began, the...
Receiving René Girard into the Académie Française
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How does that barking come in here? And where does it come from? In the récit of Théramène, do we know the meaning of those runaway horses dragging the torn and quartered cadaver of Hippolyte along the beach? Who are these serpents hissing about our heads? My dear sir, we thank you for making us understand that these whinnyings...
René et moi
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I first encountered René Girard on entering the graduate program in Romance languages at Johns Hopkins University in 1960, just before the publication of Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque in 1961 brought him wide public recognition.1 Although I was immediately struck by the power and range of his intellect, it was only with the appearance of La violence...
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These remarks are an updated revision, for the purposes of this volume, of an autobiographical statement that I, along with a small number of other faculty members at my university, was asked to present for a discussion group funded by the Lilly Foundation. The aim of the grant was to explore the relations between academic research choices...
My Encounter with René Girard
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It happened in the town of East Aurora, in Western New York, where René lived at the time. We had just finished lunch, and he was talking passionately about his work. “I’m convinced,” he said, “I can explain the passage from animal to man.” I will never forget it. My reaction was a bit nervous. I think I told him, only half jokingly, that he should not say such...
My Life with René
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Like all the authors who have contributed to this volume, my life is divided into two parts—before my encounter with René Girard, and after. In my adolescence and youth, I was an imitator, and I used my gift to amuse my classmates and friends as well as to play practical jokes, such as mimicking the voice of one of my parents’ friends and phoning his butler to...
Detour and Sacrifice: Illich and Girard
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I first came across René Girard’s work in 1975. The director of the influential journal Esprit, Jean-Marie Domenach, urged me that year to read La violence et le sacré.1 That book represented in his opinion a major breakthrough in the social sciences, and Esprit was playing a major role in publicizing it. I read it reluctantly, as I was at the time still under the spell...
Already from the Beginning
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I first read René Girard when I was an undergraduate philosophy student, twenty-one or twenty-two years old. I bought La Violence et le sacré in Canada during the summer of what must have been 1972 or 1973. At that time, I worked evening shifts (from 4:00 PM to midnight) on a summer job in a shelter for street kids, mainly young addicts and...
Literature, Myth, and Prophecy: Encountering René Girard
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Will these years since World War II prove to have been a turning point? Will historians look back upon this moment and observe that the wartime violence—the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the day-to-day combat of the war itself (as well as the violence that followed it in Biafra, in Rwanda, and in the killing fields of Pol Pot)—was so...
A Phenomenology of Redemption?
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Not unlike many of the colleagues I meet at the annual meetings of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, I came late to the study of René Girard and mimetic theory. For me it began in the late 1970s, during my first sabbatical away from Boston College. I was settling in with my Jesuit colleagues at Sankt Georgen, the Jesuit theological seminary...
The Girard Effect
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When I finished graduate school in English in 1970, I had two schemes for writing about modern literature. The first was my dissertation, which was a structuralist analysis of modernism, based almost exclusively on my reading of Lévi-Strauss but alleviated providentially by encountering Edward Said, who was a visiting researcher in 1968 at...
René Girard: The Architect of My Spiritual Home
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Born in the early 1950s in Poland, I grew up in a farmer’s family in a small rural village. Just like all the other villagers, I was socialized in the Catholic parish. I experienced the safety and security of the religious environment entirely from the perspective of unbroken childlike trust. As a fourteen-year-old, I went to the big city and moved into a Communist...
Eucharisto, René Girard: Searching for a Pacifist Theology
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In my early twenties, I joined a Byzantine Catholic commune in the south of France, La Communauté de la Théophanie. It was at the crossroads of a number of influences, especially Gandhian nonviolence and the discovery and practice of Eastern Christianity, along with a third influence, the Charismatic Renewal, with its religious fervor and warm ecumenical impulse....
The Way to More Insight and Personal Freedom
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Years ago, before I read Des choses cachées and Le bouc émissaire, I sensed that somewhere a light was shining, although I was unable to find it. I’ll never forget the evening in France when all of that changed. I was visiting friends in the village of Roussillon near Avignon, the village where Samuel Beckett and his Jewish friend, the painter Henri Hayden, among many...
Girard, Buddhism, and the Psychology of Desire
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I have been asked to contribute a brief discussion of René Girard’s psychological thought, with some reference to the ways it has contributed to my work in my own areas of interest. My last published volume was a study of French psychological thought that focused extensively on Girard and tried to place him in the context of the Freudian influence in France from...
Magister Lucis: In the Light of René Girard
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The year 1985 was a “before and after” year for me. It was one of those years when you experience a significant event or change, so you tend to remember and identify things in your life as before or after it. I first encountered Girard’s work in April 1985 when I was in Strasbourg, France, for three weeks. While there, I presented a paper to the professors...
Breakout from the Belly of the Beast
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We are asked to tell how “the encounter with his [Girard’s] work has changed your own work,” how it changed the way we do things in all the contexts about which we are willing to write. My encounter with Girard had a great impact on me and I shall try to tell of it in three contexts: general experience (anthropology), biblical interpretation (hermeneutic), and pastoral work (psychology and sociology). Our mandate...
On Paper and in Person
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Books that leave an impression on me are inevitably books on which I have scrawled many impressions of my own. I am a librarian’s nightmare. I seem unable to read a book that truly interests me without marking up the margins and underlining liberally. Because this habit goes back many years, my library, though virtually useless to secondhand...
Drawn into Conversion: How Mimetic Theory Changed My Way of Being a Christian Theologian
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There were surely several circumstances in my life that prepared me to become interested in mimetic theory while I was studying theology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. First, I have maintained a long ongoing interest in anthropology. During my time in high school, I was already starting to read books about foreign cultures...
For René Girard: In Appreciation
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I am very pleased and honored to contribute to this volume honoring René Girard. Girard’s ideas have been so important to me in my professional and personal life that it is very difficult to assess that impact in a brief narrative. In effect, I “live” with Girard every day and find it hard to imagine negotiating the world without the benefit of his insights. In what follows, I want...
Dispatch from the Girardian Boundary
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René Girard is another in the increasingly long list of modern thinkers who remind us that the world we live in is not quite what it appears to be. The list of these venerable hermeneuticians of suspicion is by now quite long, exceeding by several orders of magnitude what might be termed “the Big Three” of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud (should Darwin and...
Things Still Hidden …
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1984. The fabled year. When literature as a date kept a date with itself. When the media constructed reality for us. When thought police checked what we were reading, and an endless war was waged on a far off continent. … We would have to wait just a little to see these features of the parable converge with fact—a new millennium, a new world order. In the meantime,...
The Mimeticist Turn: Lessons from Early Girard
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I still remember the day I began to appreciate the work of René Girard. It was a summer morning in 1979, and I was doing research in the Bizzell Memorial Library at the University of Oklahoma. I was drafting a dissertation on Kenneth Burke and was in the habit of checking any book that came into my hands to see if there were any references to Burke. I chanced...
Sacrifice and Sexual Difference: Insights and Challenges in the Work of René Girard
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The groundwork for my encounter with the work of René Girard was laid early in my life. I grew up in a tumultuous era that sensitized me to violence. Trips with my parents through the U.S. South enabled me to observe the persistence of Jim Crow in “colored” and “white” schools. Even as a child, I saw and felt that race-based disparities in educational opportunity...
“The Key of Knowledge” : A Brief and Entirely Insufficient Account of a Discovery
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To explain my intellectual and personal debt to René Girard is not easy for me, at least not at this particular moment in my career, a moment when I am increasingly developing my own ideas with the aim of broadening and strengthening the extraordinary discoveries made by Girard. It seems to me, moreover, preposterous to list all Girard’s important...
Mimetic Theory and Christian Theology in the Twenty-first Century
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In 1944, from his prison cell at Tegel, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wondered whether Christianity had in fact outlived its usefulness as a religion.1 His sentiments have been echoed in the subsequent half-century since, particularly with the rise of the postmodern climate. It would not be difficult to multiply logarithmically these critiques of Christianity. That there has...
René Girard’s Hermeneutic: Discovery and Pedagogy
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I discovered Girard during my junior year at Stanford University, in the spring of 1994. At that time, my primary intellectual worldview was typical of the literary theoretical climate of the day: deconstruction. Not well schooled in the work of Derrida and others engaged in that mode of criticism, I was easily led to believe that infinite interpretations (and,...
About the Editors and Contributors
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Publication Year: 2009