Memory eternal: René Girard

René Girard, a major influence on my faith and theology, died yesterday.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

More here: Stanford professor and eminent French theorist René Girard, member of the Académie Française, dies at 91 | Stanford News Release

The article on the Stanford website is quite telling in that it makes little or no mention of Girard’s faith or his influence on modern theology. While Girard did seminal work in literary theory and art criticism, I believe it is his insights into the meaning of the Atonement that will have the most lasting impact on Western thought.

My preaching and the way I read the biblical narratives have been totally transformed by his work from the first day I read “The Scapegoat“.

My hope is that there will be a number of articles posted in the next few months that try to communicate what an earth shattering insight into human society his theories on mimesis and scapegoating have had. Those of us who have been studying his thought for years will have now look to his disciples Gil Baille, James Allison and others to extend his work.

Update: Additional articles are starting to be posted like this one by Adam Eriksen in which he writes:

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

 

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...