COV&R-Bulletin No. 7 (Oct. 1994)
COV&R Conference in Chicago, June 1-3, 1995
Mimesis, Violence, and the Subject of Responsibility
Loyola University of Chicago and its Department of Modern Languages and Literatures are in the process of planning and organizing a three day international conference, June 1-3, I 995, on Mimesis, Violence, and the Subject of Responsibility. Its purpose is to explore the practical implications of the mimetic model of human behavior developed by the international and interdisciplinary scholar-critic René Girard. For the first time, conference participants will debate the relations of ethics and praxis through the prism of relations outlined by the mimetic model and will focus on its practical implications for individual ethics and far institutional reform.
The aim of the conference is to bring theoreticians and practioners concerned with violence into fruitful, productive conversation. The thematic focus is the mimetic model of human behavior advanced by René Girard, most notably in Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (Stanford UP, 1985), which has enjoyed best-seller status in France and been translated into 12 languages. The model has been the topic of a score of books hundreds of essays and several colloquia in the US and abroad.
Girard's theory holds that there are dimensions of religious tradition and practice that function very capably as a discovery procedure in understanding human affairs, but that there are other dimensions that effectively block understanding and thwart desirable progress. Rooted in the study of Western literary and religious texts, this model argues that desire is what makes us human and that it is essentially mimetic; that is, desire mimes, or imitates, other desires in its choice of objects. This condition frequently leads to violent conflict when desires converge on the same object. The theory furthermore argues that human communities control the violence that threatens their survival by diverting it more or less unanimously towards a scapegoat, individual or collective. The destruction or expulsion of the scapegoat stabilizes notions of communal identity and difference.
The need far open debate and discussion of Girard's theory is warranted by the increased interest in its scientific claims which highlight the sacrificial practices embedded in human interaction and recognize the necessity of understanding the religious dimensions of social relations that are often unsuspected. Girard's model consequently informs a sacrificial theory of culture. Its dynamics are legible in the exercise of violence today, where a seemingly randomized violence has replaced the earlier, more formal, ritualized practices developed to control it. The theory does nut urge that we return to sacrificial practices, but, on the contrary, that we learn to detect them iii the various individual and collective guises that the assume in the modern world.
The effectiveness of debate is ensured by the conference's focus on practical implications. The three day program will consist of 8 sessions convening morning, afternoon and evening. These will include workshops, formal presentations, discussion, and debates. Other critical sessions are the two workshops led by experienced and credentialed facilitators which will engage participants in exercises an Conflict Resolution and Prejudice Reduction.
Five theme complementary sessions will present and debate violence related issues in the fields of Communication, Women' Studies, Literary Interpretation, the Jewish-Christian dialogue, and Ethics and Community. The presenters' aim will be to elucidate a dimension of the mimetic model that is relevant to their research and chosen topic. In most cases, the formal respondents will be non-academic professionals in such areas as psychotherapy, pastoral work, crisis intervention, and conflict resolution.