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Mimesis and Science

Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion

Scott R. Garrels

Publication Year: 2011

This exciting compendium brings together, for the first time, some of the foremost scholars of René Girard’s mimetic theory, with leading imitation researchers from the cognitive, developmental, and neuro sciences. These chapters explore some of the major discoveries and developments concerning the foundational, yet previously overlooked, role of imitation in human life, revealing the unique theoretical links that can now be made from the neural basis of social interaction to the structure and evolution of human culture and religion. Together, mimetic scholars and imitation researchers are on the cutting edge of some of the most important breakthroughs in understanding the distinctive human capacity for both incredible acts of empathy and compassion as well as mass antipathy and violence. As a result, this interdisciplinary volume promises to help shed light on some of the most pressing and complex questions of our contemporary world.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

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pp. ix-xii

In May 2002, an interdisciplinary group of scientists and philosophers gathered in Royaumont Abbey, France, for an unprecedented meeting of the “imitative minds.” The purpose of this four-day conference was to discuss an array of recent scientific breakthroughs concerning the enormous, yet profoundly overlooked role of imitation in human life. The disciplines represented were ...

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Chapter 1: Human Imitation: Historical, Philosophical, and Scientific Perspectives

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pp. 1-38

Few areas of recent research have shed as much light on our understanding of human nature as those that address with fresh insight the unique and foundational properties of human imitation. Far from being the simple and mindless act that we typically associate it with (“monkey see, monkey do”), imitation is now understood as a complex, generative, and multidimensional ...

Part 1: Imitation in Child Development and Adult Psychology

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Chapter 2: From Universal Mimesis to the Self Formed by Desire

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pp. 41-54

Martin Heidegger began his course in the summer semester of 1935 with the fundamental question of metaphysics: Why are there beings rather than nothing? I can do no better in introducing this chapter than to imitate him by posing what seems to me the essential question today in psychology: Why is there movement rather than nothing? How does one teach a small child to say “Papa” or “Mama” or “cookie”? How does one teach him to speak the ...

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Chapter 3: Out of the Mouths of Babes: Imitation, Gaze, and Intentions in Infant Research - the "Like Me" Framework

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pp. 55-74

In the past decade, we witnessed an overturning of one of the most pervasive scientific myths about man’s original nature—the myth of the asocial infant. The classical scientific views offered by Freud, Skinner, and Piaget proposed that the newborn is at first cut off from others and gradually becomes “socialized.” Freud and his followers proposed a distinction between a physical and psychological birth. When a child is born, there is a physical birth but not ...

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Chapter 4: Emotions and Mimesis

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pp. 75-86

Thus writes René Girard towards the beginning of A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare, when he presents Proteus and Valentine, the two gentlemen of Verona. The text quoted above assumes a strange and complex relationship between emotions and imitation. The first paragraph suggests that a spontaneous, constant, and unconscious imitation is not only an indispensable part of the two young men’s friendship but also, to some extent, the process ...

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Chapter 5: The Two Sides of Mimesis: Mimetic Theory, Embodied Simulation, and Social Identification

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pp. 87-108

René Girard (b. 1923), French literary critic and anthropologist, has provided us with an incredibly rich and thought-provoking theory of human culture: Mimetic Theory. What is most fascinating in Girard’s Mimetic Theory is its broad and bold scope. According to Girard, human culture sits on the shoulders of religion, which in turn stems from the ritualization of social violence through the mechanism of scapegoating. ...

Part 2: Imitation in Human Evolution, Culture, and Religion

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Chapter 6: Imitation, Communion, and Culture

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pp. 111-127

Despite some physical similarities to our great ape cousins, humans are distinguished by big brains. Brain volume in humans is roughly three times greater than it is in apes.1 Humans are also distinguished by their ability to create culture—tools, languages, art, institutions, societies, and governments— culture that accumulates modifications over time. Humans transmit their cultural knowledge to subsequent generations, who adopt it and use it as ...

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Chapter 7: Imitation and Violence: Empirical Evidence and the Mimetic Model

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pp. 129-154

Human beings are not solipsistic; they develop their sense of self in interaction with others. This observation is a good starting point for building bridges between empirical imitation researchers and mimetic theorists. Among the contributors to this volume who draw on experimental research, Ann Cale Kruger emphasizes the yearning for communion; Vittorio Gallese speaks of a “we-centric” self that emerges from an intersubjective nexus; Andrew ...

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Chapter 8: Sacred Violence, Mimetic Rivalry, and War

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pp. 155-174

In brilliantly original works such as Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (the source of the epigraph) and Violence and the Sacred, René Girard confronts fully a possibility that most modern social scientists have shied away from: that bloodshed may be at or close to the heart of all human social life.1 The above quote occurs in the context of a conversation about the theories and movements spawned ...

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Chapter 9: Desire, Mimesis, and the Phylogeny of Freedom

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pp. 175-192

Desire and its disordered dynamics is the central theme of René Girard’s theory of mimetic process and its role in the foundations of human culture. Indeed, the early insights that led to mimetic theory were drawn from literary portraits revealing the unique character of human desire, its indeterminate nature, and its elaboration through imitation. These insights have been reaffirmed and extended ...

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Chapter 10: Naturalizing Mimetic Theory

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pp. 193-213

This chapter is about Mimetic Theory (MT) and its efforts to constitute itself as science. Its proponents know quite well that MT is not only a science. But if it is even partly a science, with as ambitious a goal as to account for everything from “the neuron to the eschaton,”1 then it cannot shy away from confronting established scientific paradigms. Among its closest neighbors and potential rivals we find an emerging ...

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Chapter 11: Mimesis and Science: An Interview with Rene Girard

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pp. 215-253

The following interview is composed of material collected over the course of this book project, including a two-day interview conducted by Scott Garrels (S.G.) with René Girard (R.G.) at his home in Stanford, California, on July 18–19, 2008. Additional material was taken from presentations given by Girard at the project meetings at Stanford during 2007–2008, including questions that ...


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pp. 255-259


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pp. 261-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781609172381
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611860238

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011