Program of Plenary Sessions

If no other location is stated, all plenary sessions will take place in Kaiser-Leopold-Saal, Karl-Rahner-Platz 3, 2nd floor.

July 10


Advisory Board Meeting (Location: Dekanatssitzungssaal)


Arrival: Meeting point and pick-up of conference materials: ground floor of Karl-Rahner-Platz 3 (if you stand in front of the Jesuit Church looking at the church, the building to your left-hand-side)

The front desk will open at 1 o'clock.

16.00-17:30 Mimetic Theory 101 (Sandor Goodhart) (Location: Madonnensaal)

17:30-19:30 Dinner Break

20:00-20:30 Greetings; Introductions etc.

20:30-21:15 Plenary: Peter Balleis SJ: Geopolitical Challenges in the Age of Migration: The Temptations of Wealth, Glory and Power and the Misery of Refugees

Abstract: The conflict between brothers – Cain and Abel – is as old as humanity and the root cause of the biggest refugee crisis in our days. The world is challenged by the crisis of forcible displacement and migration. The deeper and spiritual root-causes for causing these challenges are to be found in the profound human temptations of wealth, glory and power. Equally the responses to the challenges are driven by these temptations of selfishness, racism and nationalism, and by populist power.

The response to the root causes and challenges are to change side and be with the victims, to take the perspective of the refugees and migrants; to act out of misericordia and compassion; to educate people at the margins, learn together to transform the world.

 Chair: Wolfgang Palaver

21:15-21:45 Discussion

21:45: Get together and reception

July 11


9:00-10:00 Plenary: The precarious Other in a World of Migration

Luca Mavelli: Neoliberalism as Religion and the Scapegoating of Migrants

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, depictions of neoliberalism as religion, system of belief, and “kind of faith” have multiplied in an attempt to explain neoliberalism’s remarkable power and resilience. Since 2013, with the eruption of the European refugee crisis, depictions of migrants as a social, cultural, and economic threat have multiplied and dominated the public debate. In this paper, I interrogate the connections between these two phenomena through the lenses of Girard’s concepts of idolatry and scapegoating. Unlike Girard, however, I approach idolatry not as the divinization of self and other, but as the divinization of the interpersonal and impersonal structures of the market. This dynamic, I contend, ultimately requires a scapegoat to evade the contradictions, inequality, and debasement that it contributes to create. I illustrate this argument with reference to the governing of the financial and refugee crisis in Europe and theorize the scapegoating migrant as an essential dimension of the resilient reproduction of neoliberalism.


Gilles Reckinger: Trans-Mediterranean Migration and the Exploitation of African Mobile Workers in Southern Italy

In this contribution, I firstly retrace the emergence and evolution of the current European border regime and argue that the governance of its highly militarized external borders has to be analyzed synchronously with the utterly precarious labor markets in the Italian South. Secondly, I briefly retrace the evolution of the Italian reception system and the discursive construction of Lampedusa as "the island of the boat refugees." Thirdly, I argue that since the 1990s, an extremely precarious labor market has emerged in Italy since during their asylum procedure, many forced migrants are left to their own devices without any official support and are constrained to accept any kind of (mostly informal) working conditions. Fourthly, I differentiate the various levels of exploitation migrants in the plain of Gioa Tauro (Calabria) are exposed to. They are structurally excluded from any form of participation in Italian society which can be observed at the economic level, in the realm of labor, civil and political rights and in their confinement in spaces outside of society, i.e. in makeshift camps, which altogether lead to and exacerbate their subalternization.

Chair: Wilhelm Guggenberger

10:00-10:30: Discussion

10:30-11:00 Coffee Break



11:00-12:00: Plenary: Imagining Identity and Security in the Age of Migration

Belachew Gebrewold: Beyond Root Causes: A Critical Appraisal of the EU Migration Policy Towards Africa

The current migration policies of the EU focus primarily on the so-called root causes of migration. The discussion in Europe has been how to increase development aid in order to cut immigration. Prevention of immigration into the EU focuses on “root causes” of migration (poverty, conflicts and environmental destruction). The main question of this paper is to what extent are the so-called “root causes” the main drivers of migration and refugees. As some country-specific comparative data in Africa show, the alleged root causes have been rather improving instead of worsening while emigration has increased in those countries. However, it is not clear whether such strategy would contribute or not to the reduction of emigration from the countries of origin in short and middle terms. Therefore, this paper attempts to approach emigration and migration policy from identity perspectives too. Could the search for identity be a driving force of migration besides poverty, conflicts and environmental destruction? To what extent is the national identity discourse shaping the migration policy of the destination countries?


Andreas Th. Müller: A Tale of Stranding, Solidarity and Security: Perspectives from EU Asylum Law

The “refugee crisis” of 2015/16 has left deep marks on the European Union. The massive increase in the number of persons seeking refuge in Europe led to challenges on various levels and urged reactions ranging from a self-confident “welcome policy” to hostile attitudes calling for the closure of access routes for refugees. EU asylum law has become a battlefield between Member States and political groups. While some stress that EU asylum policy, like the Union as a whole, is based on the principle of solidarity, others insist that the legitimate security concerns of the European citizens must be taken seriously. Finding the right balance between the competing interests at stake is seen by many as an “impossible mission” that brings the project of European integration to the brink of collapse.

Chair: Mathias Moosbrugger

12:00-12:30 Discussion

12:30-14:30 Lunch Break



14:30-16:00: Concurrent Sessions

16:00-16:30 Coffee Break

16:30-18:00 Book Panel (Madonnensaal)

Scott Cowdell: René Girard and the Non-violent God

From the publisher’s website (

In his latest book on the ground-breaking work of René Girard (1923–2015), Scott Cowdell sets out a new perspective on mimetic theory and theology: he develops the proposed connection between Girardian thought and theological dramatic theory in new directions, engaging with issues of evolutionary suffering and divine providence, inclusive Christian uniqueness, God's judgment, nonviolent atonement, and the spiritual life. Cowdell reveals a powerful, illuminating, and life-enhancing synergy between mimetic theory and Christianity at its best.

With religion widely seen as increasingly violent and intransigent, the true Christian emphasis on divine solidarity, mercy, and healing is in danger of being lost. René Girard provides a countervailing voice. He emerges from Cowdell's study not only as a necessary dialogue partner for theology today, but as a global prophet offering hope and challenge in equal measure.

René Girard was a Catholic cultural theorist whose mimetic theory achieved a powerful symbiosis of social science with scripture and theology, yielding a unique perspective on humanity’s origins, violent history, and future prospects. Cowdell maps this synergy, revealing theological themes present from Girard’s earliest writings to the latest, less-familiar publications. He resolves a number of theological challenges to Girard’s work, engaging mimetic theory in fruitful dialogue with key themes, movements, and thinkers in theology today.

Bringing a distinctive Anglican voice to a largely Catholic debate, Cowdell gives an orthodox theological account of Girard’s intellectual achievement, bearing witness to Christianity’s nonviolent God. This book will be of great interest to theologians, seminarians and clergy of all traditions, Girardians, and Christian peace activists.

Panelists: Scott Cowdell, Ann Astell; Józef Niewiadomski

Chair: Martha Reineke

18:00-20:00 Dinner Break


20:00-21:00 Plenary: Raymund-Schwager-Lecture 2019 (sponsored by Imitatio)

Nidesh Lawtoo: The Patho-logies of Exclusion: Mimetic Theory, Crowd Psychology, (New) Fascism

Fascism tends to be relegated to a dark chapter of twentieth-century history, but what if new fascist leaders are currently casting a shadow on contemporary politics, both in Europe and in the U.S.? In this lecture, I take the case of Trump as a starting point to diagnose—on the shoulders of mimetic theory and crowd psychology—how a scapegoating mechanism first staged in a fictional reality show paved the way for patho-logies of exclusion that are now violently at play in a political reality show characteristic of what I call, for lack of a more original term, (new) fascism.

Chair: Dietmar Regensburger

21:00-21:30 Discussion



July 12


9:00-10:00 Plenary: Identity in a globalizing world

Alexander Yendell: Anti-Immigrant Attitudes and Anti-Muslim Sentiments through the Lens of Social Identity and Terror Management Theory

The Social Identity Theory (Tajfel/Turner 1986) argues that under certain circumstances, people increase their self-esteem by strongly identifying themselves with their own group such as a nation, culture or religious community and at the same time devalue other groups according to the motto "the own group must be better than the other group". Based on this, the Terror Management Theory (Greenberg/Solomon/Pyszczynski 1992) assumes that the identification with the social in-group becomes stronger when people are confronted with death. Building on the idea behind these two theories, the paper discusses how different forms of identifications with a nation and/or a religious community can explain attitudes towards migrants and Muslims. The discussion will be based on the theory-led analysis of various population surveys.


Duncan Morrow: The Geography of Difference in a World of Undifferentiation

For generations, notions of ‘home and abroad’, ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’, ‘here’ and there’ were critical elements in the security of a sense of being and belonging both physically and metaphorically.   Technological, demographic, economic and political developments have shrunk spatial and temporal differences in a dramatic way, heralding an increased volume of interaction across geographical and political boundaries and bringing what was once definitively ‘other’ into ever closer proximity to ‘self’. Differences once assumed to be immutable are increasingly uncertain.

The political crises of the west in the last decade have emerged in the face of the evident insecurity of these categories, increasingly triggering mimetic ‘crises of undifferentiation’ identified and analysed by Rene Girard throughout his work. Faced with these dynamics, successful political leaders in many countries have proposed ever-higher walls, fences and control as mechanisms to protect against a felt loss of identity and decline in the status of traditional parts of society and against cultural disorder. In The Barren Sacrifice Paul Dumouchel explored both the inevitability and the hopelessness of this kind of reactive, defensive effort to contain violence, simultaneously revealed in the Christian and post Christian world as containing violence in themselves. Against the backdrop of these insights, this paper will explore some of these phenomena, their implications for our sense of self and other and the capacity of political categories and systems to ‘contain’ these challenges.

Chair: Wolfgang Palaver

10:00-10:30: Discussion

10:30-11:00 Coffee Break

11:00-12:30 Concurrent Sessions

12:30-14:30 Lunch Break


14:30-16:00: Concurrent Sessions

16:00-16:45 Extended Coffee Break

16:45-18:15 Plenary: Raymund Schwager Awards


J. Columcille Dever: Envy Loves to Hide: Chrysostom Unmasking Envy on Cain’s Fallen Face, Our Fallen Nature

  In this essay, I argue that John Chrysostom’s account of the role of envy in his interpretation of the narrative of Cain and Abel is deepened and clarified by René Girard’s mimetic theory, which understands envy as primarily directed against the rivalrous other, who frustrates the desire of the envious subject for some limited good. I begin with a philosophical account of envy derived from Aristotle’s treatise On Rhetoric in concert with Girard’s mimetic theory, in order to disclose their complementarity, especially with respect to what Girard refers to the as the triangular structure of desire. Next, I offer a general picture of roughly contemporary Greek and Syriac Christian interpretations of the narrative of Cain and Abel, as well as those of Jewish exegetes, highlighting the uniqueness of Chrysostom’s emphasis on envy as the root of Cain’s murder. Although other Christians and Jews acknowledge the specter of envy haunting the narrative, none emphasize the primacy of envy in the manner of Chrysostom. I then describe how Chrysostom articulates this primacy in the course of his Homilies on Genesis in order to show how central aspects of Girard’s theory illuminate Chrysostom’s sophisticated unmasking of Cain’s envy in the narrative. Finally, I conclude my analysis with an account of how Chrysostom’s unmasking of Cain’s envy in the Homilies might be read as a therapeutic strategy for mollifying the passion of envy latent in the hearts of his congregation. Chrysostom argues that concrete practices of confession and gratitude, detachment and almsgiving encourage the gradual transformation of one’s vision, enabling one to see limited goods in light of God’s unlimited goodness and would-be rivals as friends in Christ.


Domèbèimwin Vivien Somda: Immigration: changing tragedy into drama according to René Girard and Raymund Schwager

 While the fate of illegal immigrants who frequently got drown in the Mediterranean sea has only occasionally moved the world, the populist campaign of President Donald Trump who wants to build a wall on the border with Mexico and especially the massive influx of refugees in Europe in summer 2015 have imposed immigration as a major theme of social and political debates in the host countries. Meanwhile men and women, adults and children continue to suffer and are forced to abandon everything and commit themselves in a dangerous adventure, without being sure of getting a pleasant welcome. Western countries manage henceforth to combine the rights of migrants on one hand and the security and prosperity of their inhabitants on the other. In Europe, many are certainly shocked by the wall project of the candidate and then the US president Trump, but hardly anybody disagrees with the “wall” that the European Union has erected in Turkey and on the coasts of Maghreb and which is effective enough to hold back and dissuade migrants from migrating to Europe.

 The major causes of this immigration are known and even harped on about: war and poverty among others. But are they enough reasons to explain immigration, as a “normal” human phenomenon that has become a contemporary tragedy? How can we solve the immigration crisis in a sustainable way? In a globalized world where people and individuals are expected to perform together with the well-being how best can we promote a welcoming and a co-existence with a stranger or with needy human beings by overcoming prejudices and revealing the deep mechanism that causes immigration?

 Based on René Girard’s mimetic theory and Raymund Schwager’s dramatic method, this contribution which is interested above all in immigration from Africa to Europe seeks to deal with the issue of immigration from a new point of view in the hope of identifying the root causes and proposing appropriate solutions.


Iván Camilo Vargas Castro: Border citizenships: Identities and hospitality in times of crisis

  This paper approaches the relations between identities and citizenships in border territories, specifically when one of the countries of the border is in state of crisis. Borders are understood not as lines with radical differences between both sides, but as territories with social and symbolic rules that allow coexistence around them and, in many cases, question the standards instituted by the States. In second place, this article points out the difference between identity and citizenship. In those territories, border identities are stronger than national citizenships. However, when crisis begins, it exasperates the differences of identity between the citizens of two countries and, on the Colombian context, the normative vacuum about the immigration precludes the Others of the rights and opportunities, transforming immigrants in sacrificial victims.

 However, there are disruptive actions of civil society that allow immigrants (the non-citizens) to participate in local dynamics with an effective social and economic integration that can be understood as “border citizenships”. This paper focuses in the Catatumbo region, a territory close to the border between Colombia and Venezuela. This is a region with a weak presence of the State, a permanent armed conflict and illegal economic activities as coca plantations that provide job for the Venezuelan migrants, but it is also a region with communities with a strong and resilient social fabric. The self-regulation mechanisms of communities let immigrants participate within social and economic opportunities and protect them from the risk of victimization. Here the communitarian order helps build a way of an alternative citizenship.

Chair: Jeremiah Alberg



19:00-20:00 Plenary: Raven-Lecture: Tribute to Józef Niewiadomski

Karin Peter: “Dramatic Figures of Faith”: A special commemorative publication on the retirement of Józef Niewiadomski as an insight into his theology

Józef Niewiadomski is a gifted narrator who tells his stories out of a sense of theological responsibility. In the figures of thought developed by Girard and Schwager – especially in Schwager's ’Drama of Salvation of Jesus in 5 Acts' – he has found a framework which he fills constantly with narrative life.
Therefore as his students we wanted to honor Józef Niewiadomski on the occasion of his retirement with a ‘special commemorative publication’ with written contributions by himself.
With this book not only systematic figures and forms of his thinking shall become tangible, but also human figures and persons – both real and literary – which are decisive for the process of shaping his understanding of dramatic theology.

Mathias Moosbrugger: The Art of Being a Teacher: On Models, Rivals, and Józef Niewiadomski

Being a teacher is a tricky business. Socrates did his best to avoid being seen as a teacher by claiming that truth is not so much something to be passed on by someone who knows to someone who does not know, but something to be found in oneself. Thomas Aquinas, a committed teacher if there ever was one, strictly limited his profession to “illuminating from the outside”, while only God himself as the real teacher is “illuminating from the inside.”
Józef Niewiadomski has always been a passionate teacher of theology. He enjoys giving lectures in front of big crowds, but also the more intimate art of supervising graduate students. Like Socrates, Aquinas, and many others, however, he also knows about the dangers of being a teacher, the greatest danger being the student who wants to rise above his teacher and, thusly, creates a vicious circle of competition and rivalry. He learned this the hard way, from own experience – and, fascinatingly, found a way to escape it, that is, he found a unique way of being a teacher without falling into the pitfalls of what Hegel called the master-slave-dialectic.
Drawing on Girard’s insights about how models are likely to become rivals, this paper pays tribute to Józef Niewiadomski by telling the story of how he came to transform the potentially destructive power of mimetic desire in teacher-student relationships by mastering the art of being a teacher in a unique way. This story, however, is not only a story of ability, but in the first place about grace.

Wolfgang Palaver: Virginia Woolf’s Novel To the Lighthouse in the Light of Józef Niewiadomski’s Understanding of the Eucharist

One of the key insights of Józef Niewiadomski’s understanding of the Eucharist is his emphasis on its transformational power to overcome rivalries and mechanisms of exclusion. He puts pro-existence at the center of this power. Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse from 1927 provides a literary example for the transformative power of pro-existence if we read it with the help of Girard’s mimetic theory.

Chair: Nikolaus Wandinger

20:00-20:30 Response by Niewiadomski and Discussion

20:30 Relaxed get together sponsored by the Raven Foundation


July 13


9:00-10:00 Plenary: Imagining the Religious Other

Raja Sakrani: Images of the Other in Islam: Muslim Figures of ḏhimmi

The question of the “other” has been of relevance since the Greeks. It oscillates between a subjectivity that is to be both rejoiced through love and tenderness as well as reduced – by force if necessary. The “other” lives in each of us: it enchants us and haunts us at the same time. It can only be perceived and understood in relation to oneself, thus making it unsurprising that different fields – from geography to sociology to philosophy – place otherness at the heart of their concerns. However, while legal disciplines are often only marginally and selectively interested in this issue, the cultures of Islamic law still remain more hermetic concerning otherness, particularly with regard to the religious “other”.

Since the birth of Islam, the relationship to the “other” appeared as structuring the design of both sociability and Islamic identity. This first took shape in the form of an internal border for the “other” within Islamic culture itself (women, slaves, etc.) as well as non-Muslims, especially the monotheistic other. With the spread of Islamic empires, the relationship to the “other” later increasingly appeared in the form of an external border. Such a change of perspective, which was accompanied by several theological, legal and cultural ruptures, also marks the effacement, invention and blurring of the images of the “other”. This can be attributed to the fact that the Islamic “self” is in part the fabrication of the view of the religious “other”, whether it is an enemy to be fought or a ḏhimmi to be included in the glorious time of Islamic greatness.

However, matters are growing more complicated, since the religious “other” is a disturbance: it provokes knowledge which presupposes an encounter that occurs through difference and not through reciprocal mimicry. Mimicry, moreover, played an important role in Islam (albeit unacknowledged and repressed) in relation to earlier Abrahamic religions. In addition, the religious “other” – either conceived in a mimetic report or vice versa – is subject to a strong theological-legal foundation or another type of supreme otherness conditioning the conception of the Islamic subject in relation to oneself through the “other”. Should we not forget that God is the absolute “Other”? Or that Iblīss (al-šhaytān or devil) embodies another face of the “Other” in all its excess, undergoing both condemnation and banishment?

The Islamic world today is struggling to free itself from its defeats and disenchantment after having experienced the glorious moments of Arabo-Islamic civilization. The domination of a backward-oriented spirit that propagates violence and the exclusion of the “other” in all its forms threatens Islam itself – as a religion, a culture and a civilization intended to participate in enriching universal values. In this context, symbolic processes play a major role. As Émile Durkheim said: “La société n’est possible que grâce à un vaste symbolisme.” But we know also that symbolic power may be ambiguous. That is why it is more urgent than ever to understand the mechanisms of the creation of deeply inscribed images of the “other” as well as their transformations, displacements and disappearances.


Michaela Quast-Neulinger: Entangled Theo-Politics of Fear: On Rivalling Constructions of “Europe” and “Islam” in Contemporary European Discourses

The relationship between Islam and Europe has never been without frictions. Particularly since the 2000s the debates about what “Europe” actually is and how Islam and Muslims can(not) be an integral part of it have become passionate, with a turn into more or less open anti-Muslim rhetorics since the waves of migration 2011 onwards. “Islam” is depicted as “Europe’s other”, while at the same time “Europe” becomes more and more imagined as “Islam’s other”.
The suggested paper argues, that the construction of Islam as Europe’s other, which is particularly spread by right-wing populists, is deeply entangled with Muslim construction of Europe as Islam’s other. Both enhance each other and result in a vicious circle of stereotyping the respective other which inhibits the deconstruction of actually existing exclusivist patterns, both within the making of Europe and the making of Islam, and immunizes against any kind of critique.
Starting with some eminent examples of contemporary public debates “about Islam”, the paper first introduces a fourfold typology of exclusivist mechanisms in European debates “about Islam”. We will see, that these mechanisms (political – religious – historical – epistemological) are bound together in a theo-political network of exclusion, based on fear and making use of theological and political interests in many, often hidden ways.
Secondly, I will show that similar theo-politics of exclusion can be found within contemporary Muslim discourses about “Europe” and its relation to Islam. Both exclusivist discourses enforce each other, result in violence and do not allow for a sincere critique of problematic structures, concepts, actions on any side.
Thus finally, the paper will draw some conclusions for transforming the theo-politics of exclusion into a more inclusive form of community making and shaping by referring to Europe as a “Sprachspiel” – act European, don’t “be” European.

Chair: Roman Siebenrock

10:00-10:30: Discussion

10:30-11:00 Coffee Break

11:00-12:00 COV&R Business Meeting (Madonnensaal)

12:00-14:00 Lunch Break

The front desk will close at 2 o'clock.


Optional Excursion and Culture Program at additional cost

14:30-15:15: Bus Drive to Stams

15:30-17:00 Guided tour through the Baroque Church, the exhibition of Maximilian and the Baroque Convent Rooms

18:00-19:30 Concert of the Regensburger Domspatzen (Regensburg Cathedral Boys Choir) in the Baroque Church in Stams (click here for a pdf of the concert program)

20:00 Dinner at the Orangerie

22:00-22:35 Return to Innsbruck

July 14

If you are still around and want to hear the choir again and/or attend a Sunday service:

11.00-12:30 Catholic Mass at the Jesuit Church in Innsbruck (Preacher: Józef Niewiadomski; Missa "Vidi Speciosam" by T.L. da Vittoria)


For Information on the conference, the call for papers, accommodation, travel, plenary speakers, and our optional cultural program click here to jump to the top of the start page and then use the menu to the right.


Graciously co-sponsored by:
Theologische_Fakultät,fsp_logo   , COVR, Imitatio,  and Raven2


Picture 1: "Migrants and refugees queue at a camp near Gevgelija" by Nikolay Doychinov, © AFP
Picture 2: Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference


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