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Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty
In Sacred Violence, the distinguished political and legal theorist Paul W. Kahn investigates the reasons for the resort to violence characteristic of premodern states. In a startling argument, he contends that law will never offer an adequate account of political violence. Instead, we must turn to political theology, which reveals that torture and terror are, essentially, forms of sacrifice. Kahn forces us to acknowledge what we don't want to see: that we remain deeply committed to a violent politics beyond law. Paul W. Kahn is Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities at Yale Law School and Director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights. Cover Illustration: "Abu Ghraib 67, 2005" by Fernando Botero. Courtesy of the artist and the American University Museum.
A New Genealogy of Human Rights
What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand -- and realize -- these rights going into the future? In The Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of "sacralization" of every human being.
According to Joas, every single human being has increasingly been viewed as sacred. He discusses the abolition of torture and slavery, once common practice in the pre-18th century west, as two milestones in modern human history. The author concludes by portraying the emergence of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as a successful process of value generalization. Joas demonstrates that the history of human rights cannot adequately be described as a history of ideas or as legal history, but as a complex transformation in which diverse cultural traditions had to be articulated, legally codified, and assimilated into practices of everyday life. The sacralization of the person and universal human rights will only be secure in the future, warns Joas, through continued support by institutions and society, vigorous discourse in their defense, and their incarnation in everyday life and practice.
In Sacrifice, René Girard interrogates the Brahmanas of Vedic India, exploring coincidences with mimetic theory that are too numerous and striking to be accidental. Even that which appears to be dissimilar fails to contradict mimetic theory, but instead corresponds to the minimum of illusion without which sacrifice becomes impossible.
The Bible reveals collective violence, similar to that which generates sacrifice everywhere, but instead of making victims guilty, the Bible and the Gospels reveal the persecutors of a single victim. Instead of elaborating myths, they tell the truth absolutely contrary to the archaic sense. Once exposed, the single victim mechanism can no longer function as the model for would-be sacrificers.
Recognizing that the Vedic tradition also converges on a revelation that discredits sacrifice, mimetic theory locates within sacrifice itself a paradoxical power of quiet reflection that leads, in the long run, to the eclipse of this institution which is violent but nevertheless fundamental to the development of human culture. Far from unduly privileging the Western tradition and awarding it a monopoly on the knowledge and repudiation of blood sacrifice, mimetic analysis recognizes comparable, but never truly identical, traits in the Vedic tradition.
Psychological Motives and Biblical Patterns
Beneath the commonplace affirmation that Jesus “paid for our sins” lie depths of implication: did God demand a blood sacrifice to assuage divine anger? Is sacrifice (consciously or unconsciously) intended to induce the deity to show favor? What underlies the various metaphors for atonement used in the Bible?
Here, Stephen Finlan surveys psychological theories that help us to understand beliefs about sacrifice and atonement and what they may reveal about patterns of injury, guilt, shame, and appeasement. Early chapters examine the language in both testaments of purity and the “scapegoat,” and of payment, obligation, reciprocity, and redemption. Later chapters review theories of the origins of atonement thinking in fear and traumatic childhood experience, in ambivalent or avoidant attachment to the parents, and in “poisonous pedagogy.” The theories of Sandor Rado, Mary Ainsworth, Erik Erikson, and Alice Miller are examined, then Finlan draws conclusions about the moral responsibility of appropriating or rejecting atonement metapors and their effects today.
In this compelling study of two seventeenth-century female mystics, Bo Karen Lee examines the writings of Anna Maria van Schurman and Madame Jeanne Guyon, who, despite different religious formations, came to similar conclusions about the experience of God in contemplative prayer. Van Schurman was born into a Dutch Calvinist family and become a superb scriptural commentator before undergoing a dramatic religious conversion and joining the Labadist community, a Pietistic movement. Guyon was a French layperson whose thought would be identified with Quietism—a spiritual path that was looked upon with suspicion both by the French Catholic Church and by Rome. Lee analyzes and compares the themes of self-denial and self-annihilation in the writings of these two mystics. In van Schurman's case, the focus is on the distinction between scholastic knowledge of God and the intima notitia Dei accessible only by radical self-denial. In Guyon's case, it is on the union with God that is accessible only through a painful self-annihilation. For both authors, Lee demonstrates that the desire for enjoyment of God plays an important role as the engine of the soul's progress away from self-centeredness. The appendices offer facing Latin and English translations of two letters by van Schurman and a selection from her Eukleria.
Identity, Mission, and Jesuit Higher Education in the American South
On the Particularity and Generality of Nazi Myth
This is an extremely exciting manuscript—path-breaking, bold, and comprehensive—that could be received in the intellectual world as a major theoretical statement, while also representing an insightful treatment of a specific cultural historical moment (Nazi Germany) but also key intellectual lineages that surround it. There's a lot at stake here, in the big picture (the question of sacrifice and the interpretation of Germany) as well as in the many rich building blocks of the argument (the treatments of Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Bataille, Girard, etc.).
When Athenians suffered the shame of having lost a war from their own greed and foolishness, around 404 BCE the public’s blame was directed at Socrates, a man whose unique appearance and behavior, as well as his disapproval of the democracy, made him a ready target. Socrates was subsequently put on trial and sentenced to death. However, as René Girard has pointed out, no individual can be held responsible for a communal crisis. Plato’s Apology depicts Socrates as both the bane and the cure of Greek society, while his Crito shows a sacrificial Socrates, what some might consider a pharmakos figure, the human drug through whom Plato can dispense his philosophical remedies. With tremendous insight and satisfying complexity, this book analyzes classical texts through the lens of Girard’s mimetic mechanism.