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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 12 (March 1997)

René Girard, The Girard Reader. Edited by James G. Williams. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996. Pp. 310.

Some criticism of mimetic theory results from the fact that many readers have only read one book of Girard or even less. After reading Violence and the Sacred, for example, such critics were tempted to associate Girard with reactionary thinkers like Joseph de Maistre or Carl Schmitt. He seemed to be in favor of bloody sacrifices. Others came across a passage on mimetic desire in one of his books or articles and quickly guessed that Girard views mimetic desire as something essentially negative and destructive. Some did not recognize Girard's development of his own theory. For many years, for example, Girard insisted on a negative view of sacrifice, which he linked exclusively with the scapegoat mechanism. Due to that strong position Girard was seen as a modern representative of theological liberalism. It was only in recent years that he slightly changed his position in this question. He is now much closer to the view of Raymund Schwager, who has always distinguished between different concepts of sacrifice and used this term also in a positive sense to describe Jesus' willingness to give himself to others and to commit himself to God.

James G. Williams' edition of the Girard Reader makes most of these problems a thing of the past. The Girard Reader gives a complete overview of Girard's mimetic theory without omitting any of the essential aspects and including recent developments. It presents Girard's work in six parts. The first part provides an overview of the mimetic theory by focusing on the relationship between mimesis, violence, and the Bible. It is followed by a careful selection of excerpts form articles and books in the second part that fills out Girard's view of mimetic desire. Special emphasis is laid on Girard's view of the intrinsic goodness of mimetic desire. Part three of the reader focusses on sacrifice. Girard's notion of the scapegoat and his view of myths as persecution texts is the main content of part four. The fifth part gives an overview of Girard's position on the Bible, which he considers as essential to uncover the scapegoat mechanism. This part also deals with Girard's concern with Satan and the question of Anti-Semitism in the Gospels. The sixth part provides selections on Girard's engagement with Freud and Nietzsche.

In addition to these selections from Girard's writings The Girard Reader also includes a biographical sketch of Girard and an extensive interview with him by Jim Williams which provides an overview of the whole theory. This interview addresses some questions that are not mentioned in the main collection of the Reader (the origin of kings and gods, feminist critics of mimetic theory). It is Girard's first English text in which he talks openly about his experience of Christian conversion in 1959. A helpful glossary explaining some of the key aspects of mimetic theory (culture, Dionysus, faith, mimesis, model, religion, sacrifice, Satan, scapegoat), a bibliography of Girard's works, and recent books by Girardian scholars conclude the book. For all those who are interested in Girard's mimetic theory this anthology provides a perfect introduction. Despite its condensed character the volume does not shorten the broad scope of mimetic theory at all.