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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 9 (Oct. 1995)

Reports from the COV&R Conference in Chicago June 1-3, 1995

Symposium: Violence, Mimesis, and the Subject of Responsibility

Sections on Literature, Womens Studies, Secular Institutions, Ecclesiology, Biblical Studies and Interfaith Dialogue took place during the three-day conference, in addition to two evening lectures and discussions by Jean-Michel Oughourlian (with Rusty Palmer responding) and by René Girard (with Martha Nussbaum responding).

Discussions of literature by W. Mishler and W. Johnsen uncovered the main lines of the mimetic model and a critique of sacrificial thinking in the works of Ibsen, while discussion pointed to Ibsen's formative role for Joyce, in whose works a critique of mimesis also figures importantly. C. Bellinger pointed out the confluences between Kierkegaard's thought, as available in less discussed works, and Girard's work on social crisis and crowd behavior; discussion thereafter focused nonetheless on Kierkegaard's more individualistic approach to Christianity. In the first of two Womens Studies sessions, N. Reed engaged in a close reading of Dostoevsky's "Gentle Creature" to show the dynamics of rivalry, as nourished by notions of intelligence as originality, which inform the tale's first person narrator and fuel his incomprehension. J. Rike's presentation in the same section engaged several feminist constructions of selfhood in order to articulate the Girardian critique of victimage against the "disintegrating pathology of narcissism" in child development, with particular reference to the work of Otto Rank in psychoanalysis.

Thursday afternoon's session began with E. Gans' outline of Generative Anthropology derived from the mimetic model, with special attention to the role of the marketplace as means of displacing transcendence by the egalitarian dynamics of exchange and of defusing potential acquisitive violence amidst a plethora of commodities. T. Siebers followed with a reading of Kant's Perpetual Peace, which seeks to redefine politics as relations between communities while acknowledging that "political form is inherently sacrificial." R. Hamerton-Kelly reviewed the events and texts of French Revolutionary regicide with the aim of uncovering its explicitly sacrificial dynamics, observable alike in the Revolution's civil festivals. W. Palaver's reading of Carl Schmitt's writings brought out the plangently sacrificial dimensions of his communitarianism that made his view of Christianity available to Nazi collaboration. M. Elias retraced the social dynamics governing the practice of riddles from traditional societies through modern quiz shows in order to underline how such rituals variously collude with violence.

Thursday evening, J.-M. Oughourlian presented some case studies in the application of mimetic theory in psychotherapy, where the clinical term is rivalry, where a solution lies sometimes in encouraging that it be played out further. R. Palmer responded with an incisive formulation of interdividuality by insisting that we are in every case dealing first with a relation between or among individuals, with regard to which the constitution of the selves involved is secondary and derivative. Discussion further evinced the observation on the aleatory or democratic aspect of psychological crisis, such that it need not stem from causes or factors in one's upbringing, but emerges just as commonly from later, adult relations.

Friday morning's Biblical Studies session began with J. Williams' review of the querulous status of "Jews" in Matthew's Gospel: he refuted certain antisemitic charges laid to the text, while admitting a polemical atmosphere surrounding its compositon that has allowed for subsequent misunderstandings. D. McCracken focussed on the paradox of scandal in Luke, as it gives offense to ethnic prejudices and challenges its witnesses to take no offense against this challenge itself. The discussion that followed focused on the paradox of forgiveness as scandalous. C. Bandera engaged the Iliad with Simone Weil's reading of it in order to show the sacrificial dynamics informing Achilles' wrath and his subsequent destruction by his rival-double, the god Apollo. The question was what pre-Christian authors could know about the scapegoat mechanism, without being able to relinquish its efficacy.

In the second Literature session, C. Weimer conducted a close reading of Tirso de Molina's Privar contra su gusto in order to show the scapegoating mechanism at work in the unfolding of the drama as it ably interprets its environing culture. R. Adams took up various feminist texts in order to argue for a more expansive notion of desire that would not necessarily include or induce violence. Andrew Bartlett conducted a critique of the Freudian notion of family romance via eighteenth-century novels of genealogical succession by Fielding and Burney, showing how their emancipatory strands are not available to a blanket critique of patriarchy.

S. Nowak evoked the feminist hermeneutic of suspicion and remembrance, with its ideals of inclusiveness, interdependence and mutual responsibility, as a means of correcting Christian anti-Judaism evinced by some North American feminist theologians. C. Kirk-Duggan articulated the parallels observable in African-American sororities and in girl gangs, pointing out the levels of identity and group support they provide to their members, and their symmetrically opposed relations to the violence of their environing cultures.

In the session on Ecclesiology, P. Nuechterlein highlighted the role of servant leaders modelled by Jesus around the institution of the Eucharist; further associating notions of forgiveness and debt, he provided a focus which obviates certain sacrificial practices and notions legible in past Church history. M. Wallace spelled out the subversive role of the Holy Spirit, a kind of "trickster" figure, as a remedy to abuses within Church history marked by tribalism, racism, and sexism. Anthony Bartlett explored the originary emptiness of mimesis as evidenced in the marketplace and in the development of ecclesiastical structures in order to argue for a non-sacrificial church as "a capsule of non-violence in the world, a seed of epochal change in human society necessary to its humanization."

Friday evening, R. Girard chose the growing cases of anorexia and bulimia among young women as symptoms or dynamic metaphors of destructively competitive drives in our consumer culture, where anticonsumerist slimness and athleticism caricatures rivalries propelling a culture devoid of transcendence. M. Nussbaum responded in counterpoint by questioning the statistical significance of the eating disorders examined by Girard, and by pointing to the manifold positive dimensions, and benefits to women worldwide, of new regimes of diet and exercise.

In the interfaith dialogue, L. Lefebure's displayed the overlaps and differences between the mimetic model and the Buddhistic critique of individualism and violence by way of opening a conversation with Buddhism that has been truncated to date. J. Niewiadomski pointed to archaic and violent practices no less rampant in our "global village" than in the traditional societies superseded by it: the self-delusions of world-civilization "megamachinery" finds a foil and rival double rather than a real difference in emerging fundamentalisms. R. Schwager presented Jacob Taubes's correlation between Moses and St. Paul, which clarifies and deepens the antilegalistic continuities between Jewish and Christian traditions.

In the Jewish-Christian dialogue which followed, S. Goodhart focused on the ethics implicit in the mimetic model as available in the dramatistics of Exodus 3 and in the writings of Levinas and Buber, while underlining the positive role assigned to mimesis by Girard in a recent interview. C. Mabee and R. Prystowsky focused in their contributions among other questions on the roots of both Christianity and Judaism in the Mosaic prophetic tradition.

Andrew J. McKenna

Report on Criminal Justice Workshop

Participants began by brainstorming a list of concerns related to crime and criminal justice. These included the humiliating effects of the system, youth, "victims rights," lack of compassion, fear and prevention of crime. Peter Cordella, Wayne Northey and Vern Neufeld Redekop presented on the themes of social order, restorative justice and terrorism respectively.

Peter Cordella outlined the connection between the Girardian perspective and the major theoretical orientations of both criminal justice and criminology. Cordella suggested that the rational actor model that informs the criminal justice perspective presumes the legitimacy of the sacrificial act in the form of either the deprivation of liberty or death. The mythology of the criminal justice system is based on the persistent belief in the legitimacy of a 'rational' sacrificial system of deterrence despite empirical evidence to the contrary. Cordella provided a number of empirical examples that suggest that not only is punishment not a deterrent but that it may actually exacerbate the crime problem. One study suggests that the application of the death penalty has had a brutalizing effect such that the number of homicides have risen rather than fallen immediately after an execution. In contrast, Japan, with its less punitive model of criminal justice since World War II, is the only industrial country to have recorded a decrease in its crime rate during the intervening years.

Cordella made an even stronger connection between the Girardian perspective and criminological theory. Most criminological theory has been predicated on Emile Durkheim's theory of social order which suggests that deviance creates a sense of moral superiority which strengthens social solidarity and it helps define moral boundaries. Durkheim's functional conception of deviance very closely parallels Girard's analysis of the importance of identifying and maintaining difference. Deviance and its punishment are the primary ways in which society creates and maintains differences. Robert Merton's classic "Anomie and Social Structure," suggests that the cultural imperative of 'unlimited wealth' inevitably creates a mimetic desire that leads some individuals to employ innovative strategies to achieve the cultural goal. Because these strategies are beyond the accepted moral boundaries they become defined as deviance.

Addressing "The Implications of a Non-Sacrificial Approach to the Restorative Justice Paradigm of Justice," Wayne Northey spoke of reconciliation as "bringing victim and offender to where the natural enmity between them as a fallout from the crime has been superseded by a new relationship where the enmity has ceased." Northey characterized the criminal justice system as being a sacrificial mechanism in a Girardian sense. The restorative justice paradigm was presented as an attempt to introduce a non-sacrificial, non-punitive approach to dealing with crime. After analyzing the pros and cons of retributive and restorative justice, Northey presented several models of justice which exemplify the restorative paradigm: Native Sentencing Circles, Family Group Conferencing in New Zealand, and Transformative Justice Courts which would incorporate mediation and trauma counselling. He concluded with a reference to a draft apology/confession "for the church's role in promulgating a retributionist response to crime."

Vern Neufeld Redekop addressed the theme "Terrorism: Scapegoating Doubles." Terrorism was defined as "indicriminate violence designed to inspire fear in a given population by a perpetrator motivated by anger, loss, vengeance, and/or relative deprivation who believes in the legitimacy of the act of terror." It was pointed out that terrorism combines polar opposite violence of undifferentiation with the violence of differentiation. Undifferentiation occurs as terrorists become doubles of those who perpetrated violence against them. Differentiation occurs when the victims of terrorism become wholly dehumanized "other" as they become symbolic and real scapegoats. Drawing on the field of political psychology, Redekop noted the link between victimization (particularly in childhood or youth) and becoming a terrorist. Finally the Oklahoma City bombing was analyzed, taking note of its mimesis of aspects of the American Revolution.

Discussion focussed both on theoretical notions as well as personal experience related to crime and criminal justice.

Vern Neufeld Redekop

Theory & Practice in Violence Reduction

The June 3, 1995 meeting of the Colloquium on Violence & Religion (COV&R) at Loyola University Chicago provided an opportunity for participants to move beyond critical theory in violence studies to matters of practice and social transformation. The annual meeting of COV&R offers scholars interested in the mimetic theory of violence developed by René Girard, an intensive occasion to further explore, develop, and criticize one of the most powerful theories of violence available today. As a workshop facilitator of the "prejudice reduction workshop model" developed by Cherie Brown of the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI-International, Washington, D.C.), I have for several years been eager to see similar issues of practice addressed in Girard studies. The meeting organizer, Professor Andrew McKenna of Loyola, graciously facilitated that intention.

My workshop, entitled "Theory & Practice in Violence Reduction: A Prejudice Reduction Model" also featured responses and commentary by Roel Kaptein from the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Professor Kaptein was excellent in collegially supporting my workshop facilitation, yet not neglecting to offer critical perspectives and alternatives from his own advanced research practicums, and publications in violence studies. Indeed, the participants as a group responded admirably to the challenges I posed for them: (1) to imagine practices of violence reduction that are comparable in insight and efficacy to Girard's theory of violence as a "generative mimetic scapegoating mechanism" (the "GMSM," coined by Robert Hamerton-Kelly in Sacred Violence); (2) to consider how 'good mimesis' (e.g., the NCBI ethic of "All for One and One for All") and healing catharsis (NCBI speakouts for personal stories) can counteract the 'bad mimesis' and malign catharsis that operates in socially systemic scapegoating processes (e.g. in gay bashing or terrorism); (3) to utilize such practices as NCBI's treatment for overcoming "internalized oppression"--the use of identity group affirmations to counter the turning-inward of victimization on oneself and one's own group--as an sociotherapeutic antidote to the psychology of the scapegoat as a willing victim (so-called "victimology politics"); and many other, related challenges of connecting (Girardian) theory and prejudice reduction (NCBI) practice.

In these ways the workshop contributed to a nearly century-long quest more effectively to link theory and practice in violence studies. That quest has engaged theorists and practitioners as diverse and yet as related as: Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School in Germany who, in the aftermath of World War I, endeavored to "think Marx and Freud" together; Mahatma Gandhi who pioneered in the use of nonviolent direct action in South Africa and India; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the influential German theologian and pastor who attempted but tragically failed to meet with Gandhi and organize a resistance movement against early Nazism; and Howard Thurman, one of the first African Americans to meet with Gandhi and promote his philosophy of nonviolent action and who then mentored Martin Luther King, Jr. On the one hand Marcuse and colleagues, like Bonhoeffer and many other religious activists, were essentially theorists in search of an adequate practice. On the other hand African Americans like Thurman and King discovered in Gandhi a practice that still awaits adequate theoretical formulation in violence studies. At this point COV&R and Girard studies most resemble Frankfurt School - theorists in possession of a powerful critical theory but still questing for comparably compelling practices. With my colleagues, and with my students (for whom I will offer a new course next semester called, "Religion and Prejudice Reduction: Theory & Practice" ), I look forward to the day when we too will be able to say, "I found it!" (Eureka!)

Thee Smith