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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 7 (Oct. 1994)

Reports from the COV&R Conference in Wiesbaden June 8-11, 1994

Symposium: Theology and/or Secular Thinking: Discussion on Political Philosophy, Economy, and Sociology

The symposium started with a clear-cut contribution of J.P. Dupuy: modern society is basically a society of the market which is regulated by self-organization. With the help of the great authors of political economy (Smith, Hayek, Keynes) it can be shown that self-organization arises from mimesis in the Girardian sense. Furthermore, by comparing group psychology in Freud's theory and speculation on the stock market, it can be demonstrated that mass processes themselves produce an internal fixed point, which, however, seems to be an externally given guide-post due to the immense complexity of interactions. Consequently, the market society contains violence, in the double meaning of the word.

In their "critical responses" H. Assmann and E. Kitz müller directed their attention above all to the question of violence. Both acknowledged that in Dupuy's analyses many things were seen in the right way, but both of them also emphasized that the market produced an enormous amount of victims. Assmann verified this statement from the perspective of the Third World, and he underlined that it was important to distinguish between self-organization (as a positive term to describe life) and self-regulation (in the sense of the market). Kitzmüller, in turn, claimed the following: "In my view, whatever argument may be raised as to the validity and reach of R. Girard's descriptions of pre-modern and non-modern societies, it is modern postreligious and desacralizing society that can best be understood by applying this peculiar type of thinking in the way J.P. Dupuy does it." On the other hand, he insistently pointed to the enormous destructive effects of modern society, and therefore described the whole modern "economy as a victimizing mechan ism" (see also M. Serres in the first issue of Contagion).

In his reply to these queries, Dupuy acknowledged that the market actually produced many victims; he, however, emphasized above all the difference in the status of the victims: While sacred societies have been polarized towards the victims and thus structured from inside, modern society produces many victims only indirectly and is not interested in them. The market functions as if the victims would not exist, and therefore the mechanism is independent of them.

The provocative contribution of J. Milbank showed a completely different view. Starting with the problematic nature of signs, he emphasized that all reality has always been an interpreted reality. He therefore shows a very skeptical attitude towards all attempts to construct universal theories of society. In this respect, he criticized Dupuy as well as the Girardian hypothesis, which assumes victims behind all cultural forms. Even if this might be true in many cases, no universal theory could be drawn up. R. Girard agreed with Milbank on the point that a practice of non-violence was decisive for theology and that all social theories were to be criticized from this perspective. - In reply to Milbank, E. Arens defended the independent role of social science and its importance for theology. Following Peukert, he developed his own view of theology, which basically comes from social sciences.

Both P. Dumouchel and W. Palaver put the problematic issue theology-social sciences in concrete terms by interpreting Hobbes in two different ways. According to Dumouchel, Hobbes gave a theoretical, but ineffective answer and two practical answers to the political problem of religion. Dumouchel stated that Hobbes saw the first practical reply in the subjection of the church under the state and that Hobbes outlined a secularization caused by Christianity itself as a second reply, "a complete disenchantment of the world and a perfect separation of religion and politics". Dumouchel also regarded this perfect separation of religion and politics as the only possible solution to the political problem of religion. In contrast, Palaver underlined that Hobbes saw Christianity in a very one-sided way and therefore one could only speak of a secularization of the sacred aspect of medieval Christianity. Palaver then reconstructed the Christian world on which Hobbes focussed, as well as his own solutions as various forms of the "katechon" (see 2 Thess. 2:6f), a word that was often brought up in the following contributions and discussions. This katechon, according to Paul, is a power that holds back the apocalypse, but also the second coming of the kingdom of Christ. The word "katechon" (participle of "katechein") means both "hold back, stop, delay" and "encompass, contain". The "katechontic powers" consequently have the same structure as the market interpreted by Dupuy: they contain (in the double meaning of the word) violence.

A big discussion which then followed showed above all the difference between Dupuy and Dumouchel, on the one hand, and Milbank, on the other hand, while Girard and Palaver held complex interpositions. - In his own lecture, Girard went into the problematic nature of signs and re ferentiality. According to him, signs and imaginings do not merely refer to other signs and imaginings. Especially by mentioning the Dreyfus-affair as an example, he demonstrated that the question of truth inevitably came up in spite of the society's interpretation of reality.

H. Büchele brought again a new approach with the topic of world authority. He pleaded for "a World Republic of freely allied Nation-States", since only such a World Republic would give hope to solve at least partly major problems of today (violence, environment, inequality among the peoples). With that he simultaneously showed how framing conditions might be imposed on the in ternational market, which would cause a reduction, at least, of victims and a better cost distribution.

In the course of the symposium, a number of further interesting contributions were given; with regard to the schedule, however, they were only indirectly part of the ongoing discussion. G. Pattery gave a very good insight into the problematic nature of violence in India from a "Gandhian perspective", and indicated possibilities for a dialogue between Gandhi and Girard. S. Cochetti spoke about Heidegger and Adorno's criticism of Heidegger "from a Neomimetic Viewpoint", and in this context he brought up the question about "rationality or gratuity in sacrifice". - K. Thomas spoke about "scapegoats in political life today" and demonstrated how we have to live with endless crises nowadays. - E. Nordhofen commented on the instrumentalization of the evil and dealt especially with R. Nozick's book "The examined Life", in which the Holocaust is made the "turning point of human history". "Nozick stipulates a theological interpretation by stressing the holistic part of 'Holocaust'-Semantic. Holo caust is the incarnation of the evil, which qualifies human history as a whole. His conclusion is: mankind deserves to perish."

With the last two contributions the emotion side was also again strongly addressed at the symposium. J. Pahl showed pictures of "the Vietnam Veterans Memorial" in Washington and very insistently asked whether this "memorial" was a national shrine to arouse the scapegoat- mechanism. - D. Morrow depicted very concretely the violence in Northern Ireland and a radical process of remembrance. He described above all how both sides endlessly remember the atrocities of the other side and live from them. In this way, the fronts would again and again be established and hardened. Reconciliation would only be possible if one also remembered his/her own atrocities and could forgive the others.

Raymund Schwager (transl. by B. Palaver)

Workshop on the Mimetic Model in Psychology and Psychotherapy (Chair: Roel Kaptein)

Among the eight or so people attending the workshop, the question of how to reduce violence emerged in the form of the question of how to fend it off, defend oneself against it, or avert it when faced with a potential aggressor.

Some participants could recount situations in which they were victims of violent aggression, while others could only o outline or project situations in which they apprehended it and wondered what they would do, could do, or should do to avert it. A man is approaching you on the street: is he holding an apple or a club behind his back, and what does one do in the anxiety generated by that uncertainty?

No answer emerged in that portion of the discussion that was clear and satisfactory to all, but instanciations, examples, anecdotes bearing on this situation elicited some commonly shared conclusions about violence. They might qualify as structural intuitions of a generalizable if not always usable, practical kind. [1] As scenes or scenarios emerged from the experience or apprehension of violence in places as distant from one another as Northern Ireland, Uganda, USA, and Europe, there was some consensus about the fact that violence tends to be the same everywhere, that it destructures, de- differentiates, decontextualizes, such that the particularities of a situation, its time and place, cede in significance to the self-same structure of aggressor and victim. It is fairer to say that this was more an issue for discussion than unanimous conclusion. [2] Aggression and fear of aggression are not static, polar opposites that are neatly and definitively separable: rather, they are in a continuum, something like two sides of the same coin perhaps, such that one person's expression of fear can foment another's expression of aggression or feelings of hostility. Examples from personal. experience as well as from journalistic reporting and film scenarios tended to bolster this assertion.

This prompted the observation that something like an opening for peaceful encounter might emerge by not allowing one's fear to mirror back to an aggressor his hostility. Our feelings and emotions are not ours, like a possession or tool that we alone control; they come from the outside, from others, from our relations with them, and our freedom from violence might depend on our freedom from fears that inspire or encourage hostility in others.

The continuum of fear and hostility is available to structural or diagrammatic analysis in the form of facing poles, each shaded according to the feelings of hostility and fear transmitted between them. If one pole is unshaded, as characteristic of an open, peaceful and free demeanor, there is a Chance that this disposition may contaminate the potentially hostile pole. If fear and hostility are contagious, so is freedom the fact that we are historical beings and not instinctual creatures means that we can change, and changes in us can effect changes in others. We are most often unaware of our rivalry with others, but that rivalry functions as a constant check an our freedom.

Andrew J. McKenna

Workshop on Mimetic Theory and Biblical Literature (Chair: James G. Williams)

Papers were given by Norbert Lohfink, "The Destruction of the Seven Nations in Deuteronomy and the Mimetic Theory," James Williams responding, and by Vern Redekop, "Ethical Projection and the Torah in Light of the Mimetic Theory," Anthony Bartlett responding. The attendance was good, up to 35 at one point, and the discussion lively.

Lohfink argued that Deuteronomy, contrary to Weinfeld's hypothesis, represents a thoroughgoing resacralization rather than secularization. Although a certain desacralization of the sacrificial cult has taken place, this must be placed in the much larger context of the true sacrum according to Deuteronomy: the people and the land. They are separated from all profane reality. Therefore, anything that threatens the purity, the integrity of people and land, is dangerous and taboo. This is the "negative holy," as Prof. Lohfink calls it. The greatest danger of all comes not from the foreign gods and peoples who are outside the holy people in its holy land, but from foreign gods and peoples who are within it, viz. the seven nations that are to be dispossessed and any Israelite city that falls back into idolatry. Lohfink identified the problem of mimesis as what the Deuteronomic vision perceives as the greatest danger. The power of the sacred in the representation of archaic cultic symbols and practices is such that Israel might "do as" the other nations unless the latter be eliminated from the holy people and the holy land. The new sacralization propagated through Deuteronomy betrays an underside of preoccupation with the ancient sacred, the negative sacred or holy. In response, James Williams highlighted Deuteronomy's preoccupation with sacred boundaries and the military, in which we encounter the holy as differentiation and organized violence. These highlighted themes were the point of departure for further reflections which noted Deuteronomy's desacralizing and demythologizing tendencies, but which emphasized that the problem is fundamentally with the sacred itself, which is the very basis of definition and differentiation and which always requires an excluded other. The only resolution of the sacred would be its dissolution and transformation into a divine-human community. Discussion focused on the question of Deuteronomic exclusiveness and whether, to qualify that judgment, Deuteronomy should be viewed as a step forward in the desacralization process generated by the historical transmission of revelation.

The Deuteronomic vision of a society without poor or needy provided a problematic link between Lohfink's thesis of an ideal sacred land and people and Vern Redekop's description of Torah as "ethical projection." One of Deuteronomy's costs in building perfect social justice among Israelites was the sacral elimination of the "seven nations." Redekop analyzed the macro-structure of the Primary History, comprising the first nine books of the Bible (David Noel Freedman), in illustrating the Torah as teaching. Such analysis was a necessary balance to an over-emphasis on liberation in Exodus, and gave an understanding of Torah as the casting forward in time of an ethical vision. The remembrance of slavery becomes a determination that the liberated ones would not repeat the cycle of oppression. The problem is whether and how this reading gains primacy--solidarity over selfishness, the victim over sacrificial ideology. In the response Anthony Bartlett suggested there is an internal dialogue in Scripture, interwoven from the first chapters of Genesis. A continuum of reinterpretation reaches down to the present time, moving from the God of the sacred to the God of the victim and interrupting given languages to create new economies of meaning. Emmanuel Levinas has worked in this direction presenting the face-to-face as the primordial ethical condition in which I am always indebted to the Other. Discussion centered on the diffi culty of responding to the demands of the oppressed out of systemic privilege. The only constant is the image of the victim continuing to knock at the door of contemporary consciousness.

Anthony Bartlett and James Williams

Workshop on Mimetic Theory and Literature (Sandor Goodhart & Jacques-Jude Lépine, co-chairs)

As Jean-Pierre Dupuy once wrote, great literary works are not only the natural soil of the theory of René Girard, they are integral part of it, allowing for the expression of all its flexibility and nuances; therefore, to isolate the theory from its natural milieu would be comparable to striping out the flesh from the bones in a living body. This highly sacrificial metaphor explains the relevance of the Workshop on Mimetic Theory and Literature for a meeting otherwise mainly devoted to the sociological and theological implications and resonances of Girard's work.

The workshop was very well attended (about 40 participants). Each presentation was followed by convivial, lively, and stimulating exchanges, despite difficult time constraints which regrettably prevented a full discussion of the very interesting and creative analyses presented. As one may expect, these presentations were, each one in its own unique way, superb enactments of the dialectics between mimetic theory and world literature, and suggested altogether that much remains to be done concerning how literature nourishes the theory as well as the pertinence of the theory for literary investigation. The diversity of contributors, mixing literary academics as well as creative, independent essayists, was also a healthy source of refreshing enlightenment. Many thanks to:

Michael Elias (Lexis Linguistic Agency, Holland): "Mimetic Theory & Neck Riddles"

Per Bjørnar Grande (Songdal School of Education, Norway): "Stavrogin, a Study in Childhood, Deceit and Desire"

Michael Hardin (New York): "Christologies in Conflict" (in Kierkegaard)

William Johnson (High Point University, N.C.): "The Dance of Doubles: Reciprocity and Violence in Flannery O'Connor"

Nancy Kattenberg Schuler (Hilversum, Netherlands): "Metamorphosis, a Crime Story? Kafka's Novel in the Light of René Girard's Theory"

Sonja Pos (Amsterdam, Holland): "Mimesis and Betrayal in the Work of Willem Friedrick Hermans"

(for technical reasons, Jürgen Kaube could not be there to present "Towards a Sociology of Mimetic Communication in Modern Literature")

Jacques-Jude Lépine