This introduction gives an overview of mimetic theory’s three core ideas as first formulated in the work of René Girard, its general reception in the academy, and its close connection to Christianity. It surveys applications of the theory across the disciplines of the social sciences and humanities (as developed more fully by other articles in this theme issue) and suggests opportunities for further research and collaboration. It also serves as a basic bibliography of Girard’s work and of scholarship on mimetic theory across the disciplines. Curtis Gruenler is Professor of English at Hope College.

New paradigms—sets of ideas, values, and models that enable further under-standing—are rare. Rarer still are paradigms that open new avenues of thought in multiple academic disciplines. Perhaps unique in the recent intellectual landscape is an interdisciplinary paradigm that locates the source of its core principles in Judeo-Christian revelation.

Mimetic theory derives from the work of René Girard, yet Girard often said he was merely bringing theoretical rigor to insights he found in classic texts.1 He unfolded his theory across a series of books focused first on modern novels, then on Greek tragedy and traditional mythology from around the world, and finally on the Bible.2 Trained as a historian in his native France, Girard spent his career at American universities and came to attention as part of the wave of French literary theory, which he helped bring to American shores. He received lifetime achieve-ment awards from both the Conference on Christianity and Literature and the Modern Language Association. But mimetic theory is not primarily a theory of literature. Rather, Girard found in some great works of literature insights about human nature rarely articulated elsewhere. As his work developed, it crossed beyond the humanities to anthropology, psychology, and biblical studies. Though mimetic theory’s influence is currently greatest in biblical studies and theology, Girard reads the Bible primarily for what he called its anthropological truth. In the address welcoming Girard to membership in the French Academy (the highest honor for French intellectuals), his friend and fellow Academy member Michel Serres called him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.”3 Indeed, one of the boldest of Girard’s many bold claims is that the rise of modern scientific thinking itself largely results from the gradual coming to light, mostly through the influence of the Bible and Christian witness, of ideas mimetic theory makes more explicit.

After Girard’s death on November 4, 2015, an outpouring of tributes testi-fied to his international impact across a remarkable array of fields, both within and beyond the academy, as well as in Christian churches and in the lives of individuals.4 Mimetic theory has attracted a dedicated, interdisciplinary follow-ing of both academics and practitioners and has inspired several organizations around the world. The Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R), which serves as an umbrella group, has organized annual sessions at the meeting of the American Academy of Religion since 1991 as well as its own annual meeting and publications.5 (Full disclosure: I am the current editor of the quarterly Bulletin of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion.) Those who consider ourselves Girard-ians are happy to welcome more, but the promise of mimetic theory throughout the humanities and social sciences needs and invites the engagement of wider scholarly communities. With this special issue of Christian Scholar’s Review, we hope to introduce the theory and some of its applications across the disciplines to a community for whom it might be especially congenial.

Mimetic Theory 101

Mimetic theory’s three central ideas move in a cumulative and comprehensive sequence from the psychological domain, through the anthropological and sociological to, finally, the historical:

1. The mimetic nature of desire is fundamental to human identity and relations, and mimetic rivalry is the main source of human violence

2. The scapegoat mechanism is the means by which humanity has survived its mimetic violence and is central to the origin of culture.

3. The Judeo-Christian revelation exposes the hidden truth about mimetic violence and the scapegoat mechanism and opens an alternative, peaceful path of mimesis.

Together these theses tell a story of development on both the individual and socio-cultural levels. This radically relational view of human personhood challenges the individualistic, Cartesian, and Romantic assumptions that dominate the humani-ties and social sciences among secular and, too often, Christian intellectuals. A brief summary can only gesture to some of the evidence and arguments given for mimetic theory by Girard and others.

1: Mimetic desire and rivalry. All human desire, beyond the appetites and affections we share with other animals, is imitated from others, almost always unconsciously—hence the term “mimetic” to mark the distinction from conscious imitation. Even the ways we seek to meet our various needs are shaped by the desires we see in others. Yet we tend, for developmental, interpersonal, and ideo-logical reasons that are almost unavoidable, to locate the causes of our desires in something about the objects of our desire and/or in something about our own autonomous subjectivity. Thinkers since Plato and Aristotle have drawn atten-tion to the centrality of imitation in many kinds of learning, but rarely include desire—perhaps because seeing desire as imitative challenges our understanding of human identity, motivation, and relationships. In particular, mimetic desire highlights rivalry as the main cause of human violence. Rivalry, in turn, deepens our blindness to the imitative nature of our own desire by providing a further motive to see it as original, caused by direct response to what we desire.

Rivalry takes many forms. Girard began by distinguishing between what he calls external and internal mediation. In external mediation, the model (or media-tor) of desire inhabits a different social sphere from that of the desiring subject, so that mimesis remains a distant emulation rather than leading to direct competi-tion. Don Quixote cannot come into conflict with his model, the fictional Amadis of Gaul, nor can Sancho Panza challenge his socially superior model, Quixote.6 But, with internal mediation, when the model inhabits the same social sphere, mimesis becomes rivalry, and rivalry easily intensifies into envy, conflict, and hatred. Think of two colleagues competing for the same promotion, or two friends in love with the same man or woman. Rivalry may be for something less tangible ike prestige, and behind all mimetic desires is desire for the fullness of being that the model is perceived to possess—that is, desire to be the model (“metaphysical desire”). As rivalry escalates, the rivals become increasingly obsessed with each other as obstacles to their common object, and the object itself tends to disappear from their attention. They become, to an outside observer, more and more alike (“mimetic doubles”) even as they insist on their difference and on the originality of their own desires. Girard considered the fullest exploration of mimetic desire and rivalry, outside the Bible, to be the plays of Shakespeare, beginning with The Two Gentlemen of Verona—in which one friend’s imitation of the other’s desire for the same woman is obvious, at least to the audience—and growing in subtlety, violence, and insight through the achievement of reconciliation in the late plays.7

Mimetic desire as the most prevalent cause of human violence was the focus of Girard’s work, but mimeticism can be bad or good. It leads not just to rivalry, but to learning and love. We are not driven by instinct and appetite but free to choose our models, and most children are blessed with models of generous, lov-ing desire from birth. Dante’s Inferno vividly portrays a gallery of souls caught forever in mimetic rivalry and the resulting addiction and violence, but his Pur-gatorio explores the process of conversion to imitating models of desire for infinite good.8 His Paradiso depicts communion formed around shared desire for infinite objects like knowledge—a possible model for academic communities. Insights for practical pedagogy follow from recognizing the gravitational pull of rivalry and aiming to become a model of desire for learning but not a rival.9

2: The scapegoat mechanism. Life begins, for most of us, with the presence of positive models in our parents’ desire for our own well-being, but we soon encounter models of other desires, many of which pull us into rivalry. In the evolution of homo sapiens, the increased mimetic capacity that sets us apart from other animals not only enabled new kinds of cooperation, but also made us prone to more intense violence. Apes and other primates are famously imitative—and, we now know, can be violent—but humans are more so. The behavioral patterns that inhibit or resolve violence among apes, such as dominance structures, are insufficient for us. The contagion of mimetic rivalry erases differences that are the basis of social hierarchy; without these and other curbs, rivalry can snowball to a crisis of runaway violence. Archaeological evidence suggests that some early human communities went over the brink to self-destruction.

But evidence of early religion also indicates that many human communities avoided annihilation through the spontaneous discovery of what can be called, in retrospect, the scapegoat mechanism—though calling it the surrogate or single-victim mechanism helps keep in mind the participants’ lack of awareness of what they are doing. As escalating rivalry threatens to swallow the community, one member, marked by some sign of otherness such as a disability, is singled out for blame. Suddenly, mimetically, all other members of the group direct their violence against this one, who is cast out or killed. The practice of stoning recalls the involvement of the whole community, and the pile of stones over the victim is, Girard imagined, the first tomb. Just as suddenly, violence becomes unanimity, which, in the hush that follows, feels like miraculous deliverance by a power from beyond. In order to summon this power again, these communities repeat the act of unanimous killing in what becomes the sacrificial rituals found everywhere in archaic religion. The original victims, to whom are mistakenly attributed both guilt for causing what plagued the community and, retrospectively, power to end it, are remembered instead as gods who both destroy and deliver. Stories about these gods become the mythology that helps perpetuate the practice of eliminating a surrogate victim as a means of using minimal violence, sacred violence, to keep larger violence in check. Thus ritual and mythology, along with prohibitions that also arise to curtail the mimetic causes of violence—three main features of archaic religion—all have their source in spontaneous scapegoating.

From sacrificial religion develops all other forms of culture.10 Political author-ity and institutions of retributive justice maintain order largely by the same logic of solidarity through exclusion of a guilty, enemy other. They assert their power, not just through physical force, but also through a sacred aura transferred from mythical gods and religious ritual, as well as through their own mythologies of right and wrong, heroism and villainy. Sport, games, theatre, and other kinds of public spectacle have roots in sacred violence and harness mimetic dynamics, often including more or less violent scapegoating. Even economic systems, while affording resolution of mimetic rivalry through expanding markets, also succeed through forms of hidden victimage, perhaps all the more so as they get larger and more complex. Indeed, the earth itself has now become the victim of violence made sacred as “the economy.”

This narrative distills into the most general terms a process that took innumerable particular paths in different cultures and over long spans of time, beginning deep in prehistory and now converging through globalization. The clues available in each culture’s mythology are hard to read because the persecuting community misunderstands its own action and conceals its victims behind a screen of false divinity. With this key to interpretation, however, an abundance of evidence presents itself. One familiar example, from an ancient culture already at a late stage of self-awareness, is the Greek pharmakos, prisoners kept on hand to be expelled or killed in times of crisis. The word is etymologically related to pharmakon meaning both poison and cure. Girard shows how to interpret a wide range of evidence, from modern literature to classical texts to archaeological and anthropological fieldwork, according to a particular hermeneutic alert to traces of hidden victims. Its main source is the Bible.

3. The Judeo-Christian revelation. The stories that shaped culture around the world are told from the perspective of the victors, that is, the persecutors of arbitrarily chosen victims. The Bible tells similar stories, but from the perspective of the victims. Some texts outside the biblical tradition, such as the most enduring Greek tragedies and some Eastern religious scriptures, expose aspects of sacred violence. The Bible, however, tells the story of the true God who takes the victims’ side, ultimately to the point of becoming one. Christ, in showing the way of love, calls his disciples to imitate him and renounce other models of desire, especially those mimetic rivals that he calls stumbling blocks. Indeed, the understanding of human psychology implicit in his teaching comes into clearer focus in the light of mimetic theory. His loving opposition to the authorities of his time provokes their violence, which he suffers in perfect innocence and forgiveness that allows it to be fully seen for what it is. After his Resurrection, his disciples, until then still blinded by their formation in a culture of sacred violence—that is, human culture—are finally able to comprehend in his death the culmination of a revelation long prepared, as told in the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

In this view, Hebrew Scripture, the Christian Old Testament, is seen as record-ing the long process of this truly transcendent, all-loving, non-violent God breaking through sacrificial religion. Almost all of it, especially in the historical books such as Joshua and Judges, is still colored by the projection of human violence onto God. Yet the story of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac, for instance, not only recalls the transition from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, but also anticipates a personal relationship with a God of pure self-giving. This revelation includes a profound mimetic anthropology. The story of the fall in Genesis casts the serpent as instigator of mimetic rivalry between humans and God, closely followed by Cain’s envy of Abel’s offering. After Cain kills his brother, he founds the first city, a pattern repeated, as Augustine notes, when Rome traces its founding to the murder of Remus by Romulus.11But whereas Rome’s name honors its fratricidal founder, the Bible gives voice to the innocent victim, whose blood cries from the ground (and who Jesus cites as the first of the prophets—see Martin Kevorkian’s article in this issue). The Ten Commandments resemble the laws of other nations and religions but add, in the final commandment, a diagnosis of the cause of violence prohibited in those that precede it: thou shalt not desire thy neighbor’s wife or possessions. Above all, the Psalms and the prophets reveal that God does not demand any sacrifice other than repenting of violence, taking the side of victims, and giving thanks for God’s good gifts (see, for example, Psalms 22 and 40, Hosea 6:6, and Micah 6:6-8). The prophets’ reinterpretation of Hebrew tradition, brought to fullness in the New Testament, contains the seed of mimetic theory’s rereading of all the cultural narratives in which sacred violence clothes itself.12

Mimetic theory can be seen as a way of rethinking every discipline of the human sciences in light of biblical revelation—both the humanities and the social sciences—and even the natural sciences in so far as they are a human work. Among many antecedents in this biblical understanding of humanity, Augustine stands out. In his Confessions, mimetic desire is central to how he understands both human evil, as in his depiction of infancy and the famous pear tree episode of book 2, and human freedom, as in his account of his conversion through the influence of models of converted desire including his mother, St. Anthony, the philosopher Victorinus, some unnamed Roman officials, and his vision of the multitudinous children of Lady Continence. His analysis of culture and history in The City of God identifies the difference between the human city and the city of God by contrast-ing rivalrous desire for finite goods with infinite good enjoyed in communion.13

Like the theory of evolution, mimetic theory works from elegantly simple principles that have great explanatory power. Both, in their fullest extension, are theories of origin: the origin of biological life and its forms in the case of evolution, and the origin of human culture and its forms in the case of mimetic theory.14Both can seem reductive in claiming to explain more precisely and on a natural level things also understood to be mysterious and supernatural. Thus both have been seen as being at odds with theology. Yet both theories can also be seen as compatible with a theological view. The anthropological truth of the Bible by no means excludes its theological truth. Unlike Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, whom Paul Ricoeur called the “masters of suspicion,” mimetic theory affirms the value of the Bible as a starting point for thinking about every discipline concerned with knowledge of the human.15At the same time, mimetic theory finds a place for insights from these and other masters of secular thought within a more far-reaching hermeneutic of suspicion directed at the original mythology of sacred violence and all the ideologies it has spawned.

If mimetic theory’s orientation toward a natural, scientific level of explanation has led to some resistance among Christian thinkers, its high view of the Bible has caused even greater qualms among secular intellectuals. Too anthropological for some Christians and too Christian for many with a naturalist (or materialist) worldview, mimetic theory nonetheless opens space for dialogue between biblical revelation and the secular approaches to knowledge that dominate the academic disciplines.16Leading mimetic theorists include many for whom Christian com-mitment is central as well as some who find it less necessary to the theory’s value. Indeed, these are not exclusive sides or views, but rather places from which people come to a theory that is surprisingly both secular and biblical.17 Indeed, the theory implies principles for successful dialogue across these and other differences.18

Because of the central place it accords the Bible, mimetic theory is most well-known and influential in the fields of theology and religion, and thus the articles in this special issue focus on other disciplines.19Nonetheless, a brief overview of its reception among theologians will clear the way for sketches of its impact and promise in other fields of the social sciences and humanities.

Mimetic Theory in Theology and Religious Studies

The theological implications of mimetic theory’s anthropological reading of the Bible are most obvious, and most discussed, with regard to the theology of the Atonement.20On the level of anthropology, although Christ’s death and resurrection may resemble stories of dying and rising gods that help perpetuate the scapegoat mechanism, mimetic theory affirms Christ’s unique significance as the culmination of God’s action in history to subvert this mechanism from within. Nonetheless, as Rowan Williams writes, 

How this maps in detail on to the range of classical Christian theologies of redemption is not a simple matter; some formulations already imply just this paradoxical reversal, some embody in emphatic form precisely the mechanism Girard thinks must be exploded, and it is not straightforward to tell which is which.21

If the shedding of blood for the sake of reconciliation is merely human management of violence through violence, not a theological principle, then the view that divine justice required a retribution that Christ took upon himself in humanity’s place (to summarize baldly the theory often called penal substitu-tion) seems instead to be itself a projection of human violence. Yet to limit the meaning of the cross to a revelation of the truth about human violence and divine non-violence—even if the theory suggests that such revelation could only come from beyond humanity—would seem to justify the charge that a Girardian view of redemption falls into gnostic or Pelagian heresy, that the cross merely gives us knowledge that it is wholly up to us to act on. For theologians influenced by mimetic theory, however, its anthropological reading of the cross by no means excludes a theology of saving grace.

The earliest theological appropriation of mimetic theory, by the Swiss Jesuit theologian Raymund Schwager, also prefigured the ongoing conversation about its theological implications. Girard’s first conception of mimetic theory in the late 1950s accompanied his conversion to the Catholic faith of his childhood, and he attended Mass faithfully for the rest of his life, but he kept the Christian dimensions of the theory at the margins of his publications until Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.22At nearly the same time, Schwager published a comprehensive interpretation of the Bible through the lens of Girard’s earlier work.23 Schwager had already struck up a correspondence with Girard, and the two went on to become friends.24Initially, however, they differed on the question of the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death. In Things Hidden, Girard located the meaning of sacrifice entirely within scapegoating violence and argued for a non-sacrificial reading of the New Testament, to the point of questioning the place of the sacrificial language used to understand the cross in the book of Hebrews. But Schwager eventually convinced Girard to recognize Christ’s self-giving as a true sacrifice, in continuity with that of the prophets persecuted before him, necessary in order to save humanity from its deformation in the violence of sacrificing others.25Schwager’s further work incorporated mimetic theory into a larger “research program” known as Dramatic Theology that his collaborators and students at the University of Innsbruck have continued since his death in 2004.26

Theologians working with mimetic theory have not divided into schools or camps, despite differences of approach and the wide variety of traditions from which they come.27 Since the doctrine of Atonement is so central to Christian belief and practice, new perspectives opened there have led to rethinking every area of theology and the life of the church. In particular, to see the Bible as revealing the structures of human violence leads, along with the mimetic understanding of human nature, to a new picture of the origins and transmission of original sin, as well as salvation by grace, developed both by Schwager and by leading Girard-ian theologian James Alison.28Associating sin with the negative consequences of mimetic desire leads, in turn, to the somewhat controversial question of its possible alternative, “positive, peaceful, creative, loving, or receptive mimesis (to name but the most frequent designations).”29o what extent can conversion and the work of grace also be understood mimetically? Whatever the answers to such questions, there is agreement with Girard’s own most practical conclusion: that the path of hope is the imitation of Christ. Several popular theologians, such as Brian McLaren and Richard Rohr, have prominently incorporated mimetic theory into a more synthetic (or, if you prefer, eclectic) theological perspective.30

Mimetic theory also points to important opportunities for dialogue between Christianity and other world religions, particularly where they share an internal critique of violence and affirm a mystical or spiritual path of renunciation and peace. Judaism’s continuity with Christianity raises the question of how much that mimetic theory finds in the New Testament is already contained in the He-brew Scriptures. All of it, argues Sandor Goodhart, who reconnected to the Juda-ism of his childhood through his studies with Girard: Christ’s unveiling of the violent sacred and a God beyond violence was already available in the prophets’ rereading of Judaism.31Several authors have found strong resonances between mimetic theory and Buddhism; Girard himself discerned a critique of sacrifice not only in Buddhism but in early Hindu Vedic texts.32 The question of Islam and mimetic violence has been more controversial, not least because of its inheritance of Judeo-Christian tradition and association with jihadism.33One analytical tool that mimetic theory brings to the study of all major religions, including Christianity, is the recognition of inevitable continuations or re-eruptions within them of the sacrificial violence that structures all human institutions, even as believers strive for self-criticism and inner freedom. Conflict between religious groups, meanwhile, stands to be illuminated by the Girardian principle that it is similarities rather than differences, both between and within groups, that drive violence.34 Much of what mimetic theory brings to theology and religious studies, then, has to do with its relevance to other disciplines as well.

Mimetic Theory in the Social Sciences

Religion is central to social science applications of mimetic theory, not just as a source of insight into desire and violence, but even more as the original social system from which the rest of culture follows. Merely to posit such a universal view, however, puts mimetic theory out of step with dominant social science para-digms. Yet mimetic theory’s purely natural understanding of archaic religion solves a puzzle that Darwinian, evolutionary thinking has found especially difficult.35At the same time it raises familiar issues of compatibility between evolutionary explanations of human origins and the Christian doctrine of creation. Nonetheless, mimetic theory’s radically relational view of humanity would seem to accord well with a theology of the human person made in the image of the Trinity. Indeed, one might say that mimetic theory holds the paradox and promise of explaining in a scientific way, and in dialogue with other social science theories, the development of humanity destined for participation in divine, Trinitarian life.

Unlike the dominant, cognitivist views of hominization, mimetic theory is a “strong emergence” approach that sees human nature and culture as irreduc-ible to an accumulation of separate, individual biological or cognitive traits.36t posits that the primal, single-victim mechanism, even if repeated spontaneously many times over a long, prehistoric span as it became ritualized, was a threshold experience, restructuring both cognition and social relations through, among other effects, the first use of symbolic signs.37 Still, this threshold needs to be understood within a larger coevolution of culture and biology, with a great deal of mostly unexplored room for coordination with more gradualist views, such as the work of primatologist and evolutionary psychologist Michael Tomasello on the uniquely human capacities for shared attention and shared intention.38 he centrality of scapegoating would seem to place mimetic theory on one side of the divide that tends to separate theories of social origin between an emphasis on violent or peaceful processes, but the potential for both positive and negative ef-fects of mimetic desire also crosses this divide.39Girard understands distinctively human violence to be “as old as ‘Cain’ but not as old as ‘Adam.’” According to Marcia Pally, this fits the view, confirmed in multiple disciplines, that a long period of human mimetic cooperativity, ritualized in play, preceded the rise of competi-tive aggression and victimary sacrifice that accompanies agricultural settlement.40

Archaeological evidence provides an opportunity to test mimetic theory’s claims in the arena of competing theories about cultural origins, particularly the place of sacrificial violence. Girard’s last public lecture concerned excavations at 9,000-year-old Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey, one of the oldest known human settlements. Its large size, up to 8,000 people, and dense concentration of wall paintings, sculptures, and other artwork have made it central to the interpreta-tion of other sites, both earlier and later. Girard argued that its evidence supports his theory that sacrificial ritual emerged from spontaneous scapegoating and preceded features of settlement like animal domestication, yet the evidence also inclined him to bend his model to accommodate Walter Burkert’s theory of the importance of ritual animal hunting as a source of sacrifice. Girard’s involvement in the group interpreting Çatalhöyük led to further collaboration between mimetic theorists and archaeologists working both at this site and at nearby Göbekli Tepe, 3,000 years older and generally thought to be some kind of temple site, with little evidence of habitation. This sequence alone supports the Girardian view that religion precedes settlement, reversing the dominant anthropological narrative, because settlement requires the means of managing the proliferation of violence in a larger group that sacrificial ritual provides. Evidence of the rituals practiced there seems thus far to fit with Girard’s interpretation of Çatalhöyük, though much no doubt remains to be done.41

If the management of ever-incipient rivalry through sacrificial violence shapes all the other forms of social organization that support large-scale human settle-ment, this amplifies the explanatory power of mimetic theory throughout the social and behavioral sciences. Like anthropology, the other social sciences were largely founded on an assumption that individuals act according to motives that, whether conscious (and more or less rational according to the liberal or Marxian strains) or unconscious (the Freudian view), are nonetheless each one’s own. Even when considered as groups, people are seen as collections of individuals with the same motives. The mimetic paradigm proposes instead that unreflective imita-tion always precedes and underlies the selfhood or subjectivity of individuals. Further, mimesis happens not only in the present but over time as people model for others the desires they have imitated—each person, of course, feeling these desires to be their own. Culture, from family and gender dynamics to the arts, transmits accumulated patterns of mimetic desire and rivalry. And the most for-mative, persistent pattern, except perhaps for parental love, is the containment of violence, from that of siblings to that of nations, through increasingly sophisticated institutions that still have the single-victim mechanism at their core. To test such a hypothesis of the present and how we got here requires a mind-boggling inter-pretive shift, which perhaps accounts for the monomania typical of Girardians. As revelatory as it might be, in equal proportion to its apparent reductionism, it is far from complete and needs to be coordinated with established and emerging approaches in each field. Like evolution in the life sciences, or plate tectonics in earth science, its opposition to some approaches comes with potential to connect others together across disciplinary boundaries. As the ground shifts beneath our feet, new possibilities open for understanding what drives us and how to live with each other more peacefully.

Perhaps the strongest scientific support for mimetic theory has come from studies of imitation in neurobiology and infant development. The discovery of mirror neurons, a system in the brain that is activated by the perception of goal-directed action in others, whether one imitates that action or not, provides a likely neurological basis for mimetic desire and links it to the comprehension of all meaningful action. Studies of newborns and infants by Andrew Meltzoff and others have shown that they are able to imitate much earlier than had been suspected by influential psychologists from Freud to Piaget. “Humans imitate before they can use language,” writes Meltzoff; “they learn through imitation but don’t need to learn to imitate.”42 Both Meltzoff and Vittorio Gallese, one of the discoverers of mirror neurons, have explored the consonance between these indings and mimetic theory as a basis for a theory of intersubjectivity and social cognition.43 Growing understanding of the neurobiology of desire and sociality, such as the function of the neurohormone oxytocin, further affirms the importance of imitation in the development of both positive and negative social dynamics.44

Many familiar psychological topics invite explanation as results of mimetic desire and rivalry, such as the behavior of people in crowds, where the mimetic pull tends to increase with the size of the crowd, and the notion of the “designated patient” as a sort of scapegoat. Girard and his collaborators in Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, the psychiatrists Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, coined the term “interdividual” to label the general psychology that follows from mimetic theory. Oughourlian’s further work, drawing on his experience as professor of clinical psychopathology at the University of Paris, has developed a mimetic, interdividual approach to topics like neurosis and psychosis, hypnosis and possession, and romantic relationships.45 Meanwhile, what has been called the relational movement in psychoanalysis closely approaches the interdividual view. As Scott Garrels and Joy Bustrum write in a recent overview, which includes implications for practice, 

Mimetic theory and contemporary psychoanalysis both offer a radical, intersubjective, complex systems perspective of the ‘self.’ They also articulate compatible presymbolic, or prelinguistic, intersubjective accounts of how we have managed to survive the threat of interminable conflict during the early stages of human life, from developmental and evolutionary perspectives: conflicts that still persist in a variety of forms today.46

Mimetic theorists have begun to work out resonances with other established theories as well, such as Martha Reineke on feminist theory and trauma theory and Kathryn Frost on attachment theory.47 As Frost argues in her article below, mimetic theory stands to add a great deal to social psychology’s understanding of conflict and how to respond to it effectively. Despite such promise, however, Mark Anspach’s 2011 statement, that “no experimental studies have yet been undertaken with the express aim of testing claims made by mimetic theory,” remains almost entirely true.48

Mimetic theory’s understanding of human motives and its account of cultural origins through scapegoating together offer an approach to the domains of sociol-ogy and political science, though, again, one at odds with contemporary social theory.49 Girard’s final book, Battling to the End, takes the starting point for its wide-ranging historical analysis from Carl von Clausewitz’s insight that reciprocity, not aggression, drives conflict on every level from the duel up to that of nations and tends to escalate to extremes. Despite their apparent differences, nations—such as France and Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—can act as mimetic doubles; perceived differences are more an effect of rivalry than a cause. The mimetic axiom that violence is driven not by differences but by similarities of desire offers insight into globally influential polarizations since World War II between the West and the Soviet Union, between Israel and Palestine (or the supposed “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world), and between the United States and Asian nations.50 Questioning classical political sci-ence’s assumption that desires are rational might make violence seem even more intractable. But if it is accurate, if the autonomy of being able to reflect on the reasons that motivate one is not a given but a hard-won achievement, prospects open for more effective peacemaking focused not on satisfaction but on reflection, honesty, and forgiveness. Further, if the stable orders the world has known have depended on some sort of scapegoating or stand-off, we can expect peace to look less like stability than continued, creative improvisation. These points perhaps identify some common threads among many possible applications of mimetic theory to politics, political theory, and peacemaking.51

Mimetic theory’s alternative to the model of the rational actor challenges the dominant paradigm of economics as well, at least as much as does the behavioral economics for which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has honored Daniel Kahneman, Robert J. Shiller, and Richard Thaler. Advertisers have long understood the power of showing attractive models of desire rather than making rational arguments. André Orléan proposes a mimetic theory of value as a social force rather than the neoclassical theory based on utility.52Modern, global markets may help ease rivalry by providing a surplus of goods, but Paul Dumouchel argues that scarcity is a social institution by which modern economies have replaced the sacred and taken the central role—in a world where reciprocal obligations of solidarity have faded—of limiting contagious violence by organizing motives around a perceived self-interest that is indifferent to the poverty of others.53 Similarly, Jean-Pierre Dupuy suggests that what we now call “the economy,” by usurping the place of politics, diminishes the capacity of communities to choose their own future.54

These arguments about modern economics and politics build on a wider understanding of secular modernity as a long-term result of the Gospel’s exposure of the scapegoat mechanism.55 Influential thinkers from Max Weber to Charles Taylor have contended that secular modernity does not result simply from a decline in religious faith but is, in a deeper sense, a product of Christianity. Mimetic theory sharpens this view by distinguishing primitive religion, formed around the violent sacred, from the internal critique of sacred violence, fulfilled in Christ, that calls individuals out of the persecuting crowd and into a community of faith in a God beyond violence. The history of Christian churches shows simultaneously the emergence of a new way of being through imitating the forgiving victim and, in the same churches and believers, a return to structures of authority and order that have at their core a righteousness based on exclusion. In the modern period, this tension moves outside the churches as well, and centuries of growing witness to the essential innocence of the victims of organized violence leads to an overall decline of sacred authority, first in religious institutions and then, after sacred transcendence shifts to so-called secular institutions such as nation states, political ideologies, and the economy, there too, resulting in the increasing rootlessness and disenchantment of modern “individuals.”

Of course this is the broadest possible summary of a complex story and a perspective that needs to be integrated with others, but the consequences of Christianity’s exposure of scapegoating bring some features of modernity into focus.56 A rather recent one is the moral prestige that now goes with victimhood, to the point that political adversaries now compete to represent themselves as victims. More alarming are the results of the failure of the sacred as a means of limiting the escalation of violence once unanimity about the guilt of victims becomes less and less possible. It is in this sense that Girard interpreted Jesus saying, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34). Attempts to generate and justify peace through violence become more desperate, leading in modernity to apoca-lyptic extremes like total war, genocide, and terrorism. Meanwhile, as Dumouchel argues, the ethic of universal charity, originating in Judeo-Christianity and now expressed in such secular ideals as human rights, further erodes old solidarities like family and nation, leaving little but the economy as a means of managing the potential for rivalry between increasingly atomized persons.57 lthough mod-erns remain as interdividual as ever, the decay of sacred forms of belonging has given rise to what we identify as distinctively modern selfhood: the divinized, idolized self of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and various modernisms. Yet this decay also opens the possibility of a self formed in imitation of Christ and love of others. Reaching farther back to the beginning of the modern period, and corresponding to modern selfhood in ways that have yet to be explored from a mimetic perspective, the rise of modern science follows from the dismantling of the sacred, mythological apparatus of causality that, for instance, explained a hail storm by the presence of a witch.58 The scientific self (and community) can either divinize itself over against the old forms of transcendence or strive for the objectivity of a self oriented toward love of others.

Mimetic Theory in the Humanities

Many of mimetic theory’s insights are to be found in major philosophers and have been seen as consonant with some current schools of thought such as hermeneutics and phenomenology. Yet its strongly relational view of the self puts it in tension with Western philosophy’s tendency to prize rational autonomy. And its suspicion that reigning concepts have concealed roots in a sacred exclusion of the other align it to some degree with post-Nietzschean critiques.

Plato and Aristotle are both alert to the fundamental importance of mimesis, especially in the arts. In Plato, this is also related to concern about desire, both its dangers and, perhaps, its redemptive potential when directed, following the model of Socrates, toward truly transcendent, metaphysical things.59 Modern rationalist and Romantic philosophers (Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Scheler) discuss imitation as a cause of competition and destructive passions.60 Yet the existentialists Sartre and, especially, Kierkegaard come closer to mimetic theory’s rethinking of human nature through our orientation toward others.61 Eugene Webb has acutely placed Girard in a lineage of what he calls philosophers of consciousness.62

Girard credited Nietzsche with recognizing the significance of Christianity’s siding with the powerless and the victims, but Nietzsche took the side of power. Mimetic theory incorporates Nietzschean deconstruction in the sense that it shows how culture, at every level, continues the work of mythology: construct-ing representations as truth that conceal and justify sacred violence originating in the scapegoat mechanism.63 To what extent are binaries such as good and evil founded on the expulsion of an other? Philosophy begins in the expulsion of myths and often continues by intellectual violence, particularly, as Paulo Diego Bubbio argues, by ongoing rivalry with religion. Yet, as the Bible reveals the truth about sacred violence by rewriting stories of victimage from the perspec-tive of the victims, so too can philosophy recuperate the post-Kantian legacy of perspectivism by seeking and articulating a conversion to taking the victim’s part. Hermeneutics, Bubbio suggests, holds particular promise as a theory and practice born in the interpretation of the Bible and occupied with the difficulties of the search for truth.64 Others hear a strong resonance between mimetic theory and the phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas, with its choice for ethics before metaphysics and its infinite obligation to the other as evoked by the face.65 Jean-Luc Marion has acknowledged Girard’s work as a starting point for his Christian phenomenology.66

Literature remains a home discipline for mimetic theory because stories are the main way we think about ourselves as relational. Girard’s own work does not so much offer a theory of literature as find in many literary works a wealth of insight into what it attempts to theorize. Thus there is an ever-expanding Girard-ian canon, anchored in the works analyzed by Girard himself, in which Sophocles and Euripides, Dante and Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, and Proust hold a privileged place. Others have added Virgil, Langland, Chaucer, and too many modern authors to start listing—though here it may be appropriate to mention J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling.67 At the same time, mimetic theory can offer an overarching meta-theory that integrates many recently influential literary theories within a renewed sense of literature’s value for truth-seeking, imagination, and the conversion of desire.68Indeed, the story told in literary theory textbooks reads like another secular rediscovery of the Bible’s exposure of sacred violence through what the theologian James Alison calls the intelligence of the victim.69 Post-structuralist critique (Derrida, Foucault, Althusser, etc.) deepens suspicion of privileged discourse and is answered, in a sense, by identity-oriented approaches focused on marginalized groups: feminism and queer theory; post-colonial, race, and cultural studies; disability studies; even ecocriticism as a response to increas-ing victimization of the natural world.70Meanwhile, the importance of the mirror neuron system links mimetic theory to the emerging cognitive science of how we understand figurative language and how deep reading cultivates empathy.71 Extending from a mimetic reading of literature, João Cezar de Castro Rocha has pioneered a broader cultural history of Latin America through his idea of a “poet-ics of emulation.”72

Opportunities and Challenges

In a Christian institutional context, mimetic theory can strengthen a sense of common purpose across disciplines. Its understanding of humanity in natural terms complements the theology of creation, fall, and salvation that provides the intellectual matrix of Christian higher learning. The theological view affirms the order and beauty of the universe and the gifts of human reason and love, lost in Eden and regained in principle in Christ. To this, mimetic theory’s biblical anthropology adds an account of human violence and blindness as emergent features of human relations and of reason and love as also founded in our mimetic nature but perfectly modeled and radically instituted in Christ as a foretaste of the eschato-logical kingdom of God. This anthropology reaffirms, from within, the processes of inquiry that have long guided the academic disciplines—empirical scientific method, charitable interpretive understanding, and open dialogue—and orients them toward a vision of peace even as humanity faces the further unveiling and unleashing of its own violence. All research and teaching in the human sciences can participate in the process of undoing the mythologies of sacred violence and illuminating paths to peace. Besides application to specific instances of peacemak-ing, mimetic theory can guide collaboration between disciplines in addressing every grand challenge: environmental sustainability, immigration, global health, the social effects of technology, diversity and inclusion, to name a few obvious and urgent ones.

Mimetic theory’s relational view of human nature challenges usual concep-tions of individual agency in favor of a systemic view of emergent effects at both the individual and social level. At the same time, however, it points to a fulfillment of individual agency and freedom by participation in the self-giving, non-violent, loving life of Christ and relations among the Trinity that pervade the cosmos as its deepest principle of order. Within the theoretical landscape of the humanities and social sciences, mimetic theory both recognizes the constructedness of any sense of reality and affirms the reality of the relations from which those constructs emerge. Its analysis of the central function of scapegoating in any stable human order, including academic, urges constant openness to the perspective of the excluded other, the intelligence of the victim. As a paradigm, mimetic theory is as vulnerable as any other to maintaining itself by exclusion, perhaps even more so because of its ambition. More important than the paradigm, then, is a practice of dialogue formed around shared desire for truth and seeking to be mindful of the other, the absent third, it would most likely exclude.73

Yet, as those who treasure together “the wisdom of God in all its rich variety” (Eph. 3:10), Christian scholars have a special opportunity to give themselves to the enjoyment of truth together—to be models for each other, for our students, and for the world of a hospitable love of learning and to participate in the community of learners whom Christ calls not servants but, astonishingly, “friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15, NRSV). We can dedicate ourselves anew to what I call inclusive friendships of learning. If, as mimetic theory and the social sciences suggest, knowledge is re-lationally constructed, friendship is the traditional name for the kind of relation-ship that constructs knowledge truly. Because knowledge is infinite, desire for it helps us transcend the pull of rivalry and practice the positive mimesis—shared desire for common good—that is the core of friendship and citizenship. Although friendship has its own pull toward solidarity through exclusion, its capacity to grow by including others, especially those we are most liable to exclude, power-fully reverses the scapegoating pattern. To make inclusive friendships of learning central to the mission of higher education would reenergize our communities of learning, our formation of healthy individuals, and our commitment to justice and the larger social good.

Cite this article
Curtis A. Gruenler, “The Promise of Mimetic Theory as an Interdisciplinary Paradigm for Christian Scholars”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 50:2 , 123-144

Footnotes

  1. Wolfgang Palaver incorporates a wide-ranging survey of important antecedents in René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, trans. Gabriel Borrud (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013). On mimetic theory as a paradigm in Thomas Kuhn’s sense, see Paul Dumouchel, “Already from the Beginning,” in For René Girard: Essays in Friendship and Truth, ed. Sandor Goodhart et al. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009), 82.
  2. Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965); Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977); and, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987). For a concise over-view of Girard’s life, thought, and major books, see Robert Pogue Harrison, “The Prophet of Envy,” The New York Review of Books (December 20, 2018): 62-64. Girard recounts the de-velopment of his thought in Evolution and Conversion, written as dialogues with Pierpaolo Antonello and João Cezar de Castro Rocha (London and New York: Continuum, 2007). The Girard Reader, ed. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad, 1996), selects works from most of Girard’s career and arranges them to give an overview, with helpful introductions and glossary. In I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001), Girard gives an overview of his work addressed to fellow Christians rather than a general academic audience. For a thorough, up-to-date, online annotated bibliography of primary and major secondary works across the disciplines, see Wolfgang Palaver, “René Girard,” Oxford Bibliographies in “Literary and Critical Theory” (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780190221911/obo-9780190221911-0098.xml. The most accessible starting point is Cynthia Haven, The Evo-lution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2018).
  3. Michel Serres, “Receiving René Girard into the Académie Française,” in Goodhart et al., For René Girard, 5.
  4. See vols. 40 and 41 of the “Bibliography of Literature on the Mimetic Theory” published in the Bulletin of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion 47 (Nov. 2015) and 48 (May 2016).
  5. See https://violenceandreligion.com/ and also http://www.imitatio.org/, website of the closely associated Imitatio Foundation; also James G. Williams Girardians: The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, 1990-2010 (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2012).
  6. Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, 1-17.
  7. Girard, A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
  8. Virgil explains this process in Purgatorio 15-17. See Girard, “The Mimetic Desire of Paolo and Francesca” in To Double Business Bound: Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 1-8; Manuele Gragnolati and Heather Webb, “Dubbiosi Disiri: Mimetic Processes in Dante’s Comedy,” in Mimesis, Desire, and the Novel: René Girard and Literary Criticism, eds. Pierpaolo Antonello and Heather Webb (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015), 113-132; Curtis Gruenler, “Dante’s Allegory of Positive Mimesis,” Bulletin of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion 54 (Nov. 2017), https://violenceandreligion.com/publications/bulletin-54-nov-2017/#Dante.
  9. See Suzanne Ross, “The Montessori Method: The Development of a Healthy Pattern of Desire in Early Childhood,” Contagion: Journal Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 19 (2012): 87-122.
  10. Girard can be compared to other thinkers, such as the early anthropologist James Frazer and the early sociologist Emile Durkheim, who found the origin of culture in religion and the origin of religion in sacrifice, but he differs from them in the special status he gives to the Judeo-Christian revelation; see Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 31-32, and Girard, Antonello, and Castro Rocha, Evolution and Conversion.
  11. Augustine, The City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin, 1972), 600-601.
  12. Girard, Things Hidden, 144-158; Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 200-219.
  13. Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 88-95 and 222-223.
  14. For explorations of the parallel between evolution and mimetic theory from philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and religious studies, see Pierpaolo Antonello and Paul Gifford, eds., How We Became Human: Mimetic Theory and the Science of Evolutionary Origins (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015).
  15. 5Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970), 32-3
  16. 6On Girard’s general academic reception, see Haven, Evolution of Desire, especially 147-209.
  17. See Paul Dumouchel, ed., Violence and Truth: On the Work of René Girard, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988) and the contributions to Goodhart et al., For René Girard, especially Eric Gans, “René et moi,” 19-25.
  18. Grant Kaplan maps the potential for such dialogue across areas of fundamental theology and the other disciplines they touch in René Girard, Unlikely Apologist (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016).
  19. For a comprehensive overview, see the articles gathered in The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, eds. James Alison and Wolfgang Palaver (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), which include comparisons with the work of a wide variety of other important scholars across relevant fields. Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, ed. Paul Nuechterlein, http://girardianlectionary.net/, compiles a wide range of resources.
  20. See S. Mark Heim, “Approaches to Atonement: How Girard Changes the Debate” in Alison and Palaver, The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 179-184.
  21. 1Foreword to Mimesis and Atonement: René Girard and the Doctrine of Salvation, Violence, Desire, and the Sacred Vol. 5, eds. Michael Kirwan and Sheelah Treflé Hidden(New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), xiv.
  22. First published as Des Choses caches depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: Grasset, 1978).
  23. Brauchen Wir Einen Sündenbock? (Munich: Kösel-Verlag, 1978); Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, trans. Maria L. Assad(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
  24. Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, Joel Hodge, and Mathias Moosbrugger, eds., René Girard and Raymund Schwager: Correspondence 1974-1991 (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).
  25. Because Things Hidden remains foundational for mimetic theory, Girard’s initial position on sacrifice continues to be a source of confusion.
  26. See Nikolaus Wandinger, “Raymund Schwager: Dramatic Theology,” in Alison and Palaver,The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 217-224.
  27.  For a general account of mimetic theory’s reception among Christian theologians, including the major objections that have been raised against it, as well as an argument for its deep compatibility with Christian orthodoxy and potential for dialogue with religions, see Scott Cowdell, René Girard and the Non-violent God (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2018).
  28. 8See Schwager, Banished from Eden: Original Sin and Evolutionary Theory in the Drama of Salvation, trans. James Williams(Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2006); Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (NY: Crossroad, 1998); and Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 223-231.
  29. Petra Steinmair-Pösel, “Original Sin, Positive Mimesis,” in Alison and Palaver, The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 187.
  30. Mimetic theory provides the main rationale behind The Seventh Story, a children’s book with accompanying “grown-up book” by McLaren and Gareth Higgins, https://www.theseventhstory.com/. For Rohr, see most recently The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe (NY: Convergent Books, 2019), 150-151. See also Emily Swan and Ken Wilson, Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance (Canton, MI: Read the Spirit Books, 2018).
  31. Goodhart, “Literature, Myth, and Prophecy: Encountering René Girard,” in Goodhart et al., For René Girard, 87-99, and Goodhart, The Prophetic Law: Essays in Judaism, Girardianism, Literary Studies, and the Ethical (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014).
  32. René Girard, Sacrifice, trans. Matthew Pattillo and David Dawson (East Lansing: Michi-gan State University Press, 2011). See also the comments in Wolfgang Palaver and Richard Schenk, eds., Mimetic Theory and World Religions (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2018), xi, and the articles on Buddhism and Hinduism gathered there; Eugene Webb, “Girard, Buddhism, and the Psychology of Desire” in Goodhart et al., For René Girard, 147-157; and Brian Collins, The Head Beneath the Altar: Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice(East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014).
  33. 3See Palaver and Schenk, eds., Mimetic Theory and World Religions, xi-xii; Michael Kirwan and Ahmad Achtar, eds., Mimetic Theory and Islam: “The Wound Where Light Enters” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019); Joel Hodge, Violence in the Name of God: The Militant Jihadist Response to Modernity (New York: Bloomsbury, 2020).
  34. See Joel Hodge et al., eds., Does Religion Cause Violence? Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Violence and Religion in the Modern World (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019).
  35. See Paul Gifford, “Homo religious in Mimetic Perspective: An Evolutionary Dialogue,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 207-237.
  36. Antonello and Gifford, eds., How We Became Human, xxiii.
  37. An offshoot of mimetic theory known as generative anthropology, founded by Eric Gans, a student of Girard, focuses on a particular account of the origin of language. See Anthropoetics: The Journal of Generative Anthropology, http://anthropoetics.ucla.edu/.
  38. See Tomasello, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2019); William H. Durham, “Coevolution and Mimesis,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 3-30; Pierpaolo Antonello, “Maladaptation, Counterintuitiveness, and Symbolism: The Challenge of Mimetic Theory to Evolutionary Thinking,” in How We Became Human, 47-75; Ann Cale Kruger, “Imitation, Communion, and Culture,” in Mimesis and Sci-ence: Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion, ed. Scott R. Garrels (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2011), 111-127.
  39. See, for example, Zoey Reeve, “Mechanisms of Internal Cohesion: Scapegoating and Pa-rochial Altruism,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 161-185.
  40. Marcia Pally, ed., Mimesis and Sacrifice: Applying Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines(London: Bloomsbury, 2020), 5.
  41. 1See Pierpaolo Antonello and Paul Gifford, “Rethinking the Neolithic Revolution: Symbol-ism and Sacrifice at Göbekli Tepe,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 261-88, and Ian Hodder, ed., Violence and the Sacred in the Ancient Near East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
  42. Andrew N. Meltzoff, “Out of the Mouths of Babes: Imitation, Gaze and Intentions in Infant Research—the ‘Like Me’ Framework,” in Garrels, Mimesis and Science, 59.
  43. Meltzoff, “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” and Vittorio Gallese, “The Two Sides of Mimesis: Mimetic Theory, Embodied Simulation, and Social Identification,” in Garrels, Mimesis and Science, 87-108.
  44. William B. Hurlbut, “The Deepest Principle of Life: Neurobiology and the Psychology of Desire,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 101-119, and Hurlbut, “Desire, Mimesis, and the Phylogeny of Freedom,” in Garrels, Mimesis and Science, 175-192. For a survey placing mimetic theory within studies of violence in the social and behavioral sci-ences, see Melvin Konner, “Violent Origins: Mimetic Rivalry in Darwinian Evolution,” in Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 137-160, largely adapted from Konner, “Sacred Violence, Mimetic Theory, and War,” in Garrels, Mimesis and Science, 155-174.
  45. Jean-Michel Oughourlian, The Puppet of Desire: The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis, trans. Eugene Webb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991); Oughourlian, The Genesis of Desire, trans. Eugene Webb (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2010); Oughourlian, The Mimetic Brain, trans. Trevor Cribben Merrill (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2016).
  46. 6Scott R. Garrels and Joy M. Bustrum, “From Mimetic Rivalry to Mutual Recognition: Gi-rardian Theory and Contemporary Psychoanalysis,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture 26 (2019): 15.
  47. Martha J. Reineke, Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014). Kathryn M. Frost, “Exploring Girard’s Concerns about Human Proximity: Attachment and Mimetic Theory in Conversation,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture 26 (2019): 47-64.
  48. 8Mark R. Anspach, “Imitation and Violence: Empircal Evidence and the Mimetic Model,” Garrels, Mimesis and Science, 130. For partial exceptions, based on field observation rather than laboratory experiments, see Bruce A. Stevens and Scott Cowdell, “Mimetic Euphemism and Mythology: Group Therapy, Scapegoating, and the Displacement of Disquiet,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture 24 (2017): 37-56, and Feaster and Gruenler below.
  49. See Girard, Antonello, and Castro Rocha, Evolution and Conversion, 6 and 139-140. Girard’s own trajectory, beginning with literature and the Bible, eventually led him to engage with pioneering sociologists and anthropologists such as Gabriel Tarde, Emile Durkheim, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Gregory Bateson, and Claude Levi-Strauss. For a helpful overview, including applications to globalization and politics, see Harald Wydra, “Towards a New Anthropological Paradigm: The Challenge of Mimetic Theory,” International Political Theory 1.1 (2008):161-174. On how Girard can be seen as extending the work of Tarde, whose focus on imitation was displaced by the opposition of Durkheim, to the point that it is not mentioned in mainstream sociology, and how their work can combine with that of other overlooked “maverick anthropologists” to provide better tools for understanding social science and modernity than the currently dominant paradigms, see Arpad Szakolczai and Bjørn Thomas-sen, From Anthropology to Social Theory: Rethinking the Social Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). They justly criticize Girard for neglecting the foundational role of gift-giving for sociability, a gap that Mark R. Anspach addresses in Vengeance in Reverse: The Tangled Loops of Violence, Myth, and Madness (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2017). On donative sacrifice as prior to victimary sacrifice, see Pally, Mimesis and Sacrifice.
  50. See Roberto Farneti, Mimetic Politics: Dyadic Patterns in Global Politics (East Lansing: Michi-gan State University Press, 2015), and Matthew J. Packer, “‘More American than America’: Mimetic Theory and the East Asia–United States Rivalries,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis and Culture 25 (2018): 9-26.
  51. See for example Vern Neufeld Redekop, From Violence to Blessing: How an Understanding of Deep-rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation (Ottawa: Novalis, 2002); Vern Neufeld Redekop and Thomas Ryba, eds. René Girard and Creative Reconciliation (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2014); Duncan Morrow, “Northern Ireland: Breaking the Inheritance of Conflict and Violence,” in Can We Survive Our Origins? Readings in René Girard’s Theory of Violence and the Sacred, eds. Pierpaolo Antonello and Paul Gifford (Michigan State University Press, 2015), 169-189.
  52. André Orléan, The Empire of Value, trans. M. B. DeBevois (Boston: MIT Press, 2014).
  53. Paul Dumouchel, The Ambivalence of Scarcity and Other Essays (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014). See also Jean-Pierre Dupuy, “Detour and Sacrifice: Illich and Girard,” in Goodhart et al., For René Girard, 55-77. On Orléan and Dumouchel, see the article by Huegerich below.
  54. Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith, trans. M. B. DeBevois (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014).
  55. See Scott Cowdell, René Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013) and the articles gathered in part IV of Alison and Palaver, The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 265-350.
  56. My fellow philologists may appreciate the degree to which this history is visible in uses of the word “scapegoat” itself, coined by William Tyndale in his translation of Leviticus 16:8 but taking most of the modern period to gain its current, non-religious sense that assumes the innocence of the victim. See David Dawson, Flesh Becomes Word: A Lexicography of the Scapegoat or, the History of an Idea (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2013).
  57. See Dumouchel, The Barren Sacrifice: An Essay on Political Violence (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015).
  58. Girard, The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 204-205, and John Ranieri, “An Epistemology of Revelation,” in Alison and Palaver, The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 173-178. On mimetic theory and phi-losophy of science, see Pablo Bandera, Reflection in the Waves: The Interdividual Observer in a Quantum Mechanical World (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2019). Phil Rose has suggestively explored the connections between mimetic theory and the transitions be-tween orality and various forms of literacy in relation to what might be called (following Owen Barfield) the evolution of consciousness; see “The Transition from Orality to Writing: Mimetic Theory and Religion” in The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, eds. Alison and Palaver, 127-133.
  59. See Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 43-45, and Sherwood Belangia, “Metaphysical Desire in Girard and Plato” Comparative and Continental Philosophy 2.2 (2010): 197-209.60Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 96-110.
  60. Palaver, René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, 96-110.
  61. Ibid., 73-88.
  62. 2Webb, Philosophers of Consciousness: Polanyi, Lonergan, Voegelin, Ricoeur, Girard, Kierkegaard (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).
  63. Andrew J. McKenna, Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992).
  64. Paulo Diego Bubbio, Intellectual Sacrifice and Other Mimetic Paradoxes (East Lansing: Michi-gan State University Press, 2018).
  65. See, for example, Joachim Duyndam, “Girard and Levinas, Cain and Abel, Mimesis and the Face,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 15.16 (2007-2008): 237-248. Gi-rard himself cites Levinas: “Once we apprehend the biblical criticism of mimetic contagion and its results, we can understand the biblical profundity of the Talmudic principle that Emmanuel Levinas often cites: ‘If everyone is in agreement to condemn someone accused, release him for he must be innocent’” (I See Satan, 118).
  66. “Sacred Violence: The Legacy of René Girard,” a panel discussion with William Cavanaugh, Jean-Luc Marion, and James B. Murphy at the University of Chicago, April 7, 2016, Lumen Christi Institute, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjnaUqZx9e8. Giuseppi Fornari integrates phenomenology with mimetic theory’s account of human origins in “A Media-tory Theory of Hominization,” Antonello and Gifford, How We Became Human, 187-214.
  67. See William Johnsen, “Mimetic Theory, Religion, and Literature as Secular Scripture” in Alison and Palaver, The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion, 303-309; Cesário Bandera, The Sacred Game: The Role of the Sacred in the Genesis of Modern Literary Fiction (Uni-versity Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994); Curtis A. Gruenler, Piers Plowman and the Poetics of Enigma: Riddles, Rhetoric, and Theology (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017); Anne McTaggart, “What Women Want?: Mimesis and Gender in Chau-cer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” Contagion: Journal of Mimesis, Violence and Culture 19 (2012): 41-67; Gruenler, “Desire, Violence, and the Passion in Fragment VII of The Canterbury Tales: A Girardian Reading,” Renascence: A Journal of Values in Literature 52.1 (Fall 1999): 35-56; Pierpaolo Antonello and Heather Webb, eds, Mimesis, Desire, and the Novel: René Girard and Literary Criticism (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015); Joshua Hren, “Acquisitive Imitation and the Gift Economy: Escaping Reciprocity in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit,” Contagion: Journal of Mimesis, Violence and Culture 24 (2017): 217-231; Gruenler, “C. S. Lewis and René Girard on Desire, Conversion, and Myth: The Case of Till We Have Faces,” Christianity and Literature 60.2 (Winter 2011): 247-265;Nikolaus Wandinger, “‘Sacrifice’ in the Harry Potter Series from a Girardian Perspective,” Contagion: Journal of Mimesis, Violence and Culture 17 (2010): 27-51.
  68. See Girard, “Theory and Its Terrors” and “Conversion in Literature and Christianity” in Mimesis and Theory: Essays on Literature and Criticism, 1953-2005, ed. Robert Doran (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 194-213 and 263-273.69Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, 77-83, and Knowing Jesus (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1994), 31-58.
  69. Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, 77-83, and Knowing Jesus (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1994), 31-58.
  70. The work of Tobin Siebers on disability studies is particularly compatible with a Girard-ian approach to identity. See his Disability Theory (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008).
  71. See Vittorio Gallese and Hannah Wojciehowski, “How Stories Make Us Feel: Toward an Embodied Narratology,” California Italian Studies 2.1 (2011), https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3jg726c2. Their proposal offers a bridge between the humanities and cognitive science, as well as its allied field of evolutionary psychology, that is more compatible with a Christian account of the human person than many other attempts at cognitive literary theory. I take the term “deep reading” from Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (New York: HarperCollins, 2018).
  72. oão Cezar de Castro Rocha, Machado de Assis: Toward a Poetics of Emulation, trans. Flora Thomson-DeVeaux (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015), and Shakespearean Cultures: Latin America and the Challenges of Mimesis in Non-hegemonic Circumstances, trans. Flora Thomson-DeVeaux (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2019).
  73. See Marie-Louis Martinez, “For a Non-violent Accord: Educating the Person,” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 6 (1999): 55-76.

Curtis A. Gruenler

Hope College
Curtis A. Gruenler is professor of English at Hope College.