Violence, the Sacred, and Things Hidden
A Discussion with René Girard at Esprit (1973)
Breakthroughs in Mimetic Theory
Published by: Michigan State University Press
Imprint: Michigan State University Press
Never before translated in English, this 1973 discussion between René Girard (1923–2015) and other prominent scholars represents one of the most significant breakthroughs in mimetic theory. Organized by the French journal Esprit, the conversation was an opportunity for Girard to debate with his interlocutors the theories he expounded in Violence and the Sacred (1972). These scholars prompted him to reconsider the book’s strictly sociological interpretation of religion, highlighting the misrecognition of violent scapegoating at its origins and in its myths and ritual practices, by addressing the relation between his critique of primitive or archaic religion and the role of Judeo-Christianity. The ensuing discussion opened up an entirely new and admittedly startling phase of his thinking, where he deployed an epistemology rooted in Biblical revelation, which he viewed as an ongoing deconstruction of sacrificial practices. In this text, he vindicates for the very first time the anthropological relevance of Judeo-Christian scriptures. The 1973 discussion thus marks a new and decisive step in Girard’s intellectual journey, making this volume a critical document for understanding the transition period between Violence and the Sacred and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978).
This text lets us into a pivotal moment in Girard’s thought. It was here that, for the first time, he brought together the discussion of the scientific nature of the insight developed in Violence and the Sacred, and the role of Christianity in bringing rationality to light, which he would go on to develop thereafter. These pages are also a reminder of just how brilliant Girard was in question and answer sessions, as those of us who were privileged to see him in action can attest. Andreas Wilmes and Andrew J. McKenna offer very helpful context and commentary. A gem.—James Alison, Catholic priest, theologian, and author
This translation represents a significant milestone for scholars of mimetic theory. The book transcribes a conversation among leading anthropologists and Girard about Violence and the Sacred and Girard’s forthcoming interpretation of Christianity’s relationship to pre-Biblical religion. This conversation captures Girard perhaps at the peak of his powers—thoughtful, daring, and brilliant. Readers will pick this up and not put it down until they reach the final page.—Grant Kaplan, professor of theology at Saint Louis University, and author of René Girard, Unlikely Apologist