Books that Help Introduce Mimetic Theory
Antonello, Pierpaulo, and Gifford, Paul, eds. Can We Survive Our Origins? Readings in René Girard’s Theory of Violence and the Sacred. MSU Press, 2015. Paper, 388 pages. “The importance of studies such as the ones contained in this book is that they both underline the urgency of the cultural crisis and open up impressive possibilities for conversation between Girardians and others in the mainstream of our discourse. If Girard and most of the contributors to this volume are right, such conversation is anything but a luxury.” — Rowan Williams
Antonello, Pierpaulo, and Gifford, Paul, eds. How We Became Human: Mimetic Theory and the Science of Evolutionary Origins. MSU Press, 2015. Paper, 406 pages. “Most of the time, the promise of ‘interdisciplinary’ inquiry remains precisely that—a promise. This collection, however, makes good on such a promise in the most decisive fashion. The description ‘indispensable’ rarely applies to collections; in the case here, the label is unavoidable.” — Chris Fleming
Antonello, Pierpaulo, and Webb, Heather, eds. Mimesis, Desire, and the Novel: René Girard and Literary Criticism. MSU Press, 2015. Paper, 358 pages. “This is the kind of collection that many of us have been waiting for years to see—first-rate scholars reflecting intelligently, critically, and nondogmatically on René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, especially as it relates to the novel. The contributors to this volume do full justice to the complexity, nuances, and incomparable heuristic power of Girard’s theory, which represents one of the most important contributions to literary criticism in the twentieth century.” — Robert Pogue Harrison, Stanford University
Bailie, Gil. Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads. New York: Crossroad, 1995. Paper, 293 pages. Brings a bouquet of texts together, including many biblical texts, to give an insightful interpretation of our modern situation from a Girardian perspective. Sam Keen says, “The single most important book of social analysis and prophetic theology to appear in our generation.”
Cayley, David, with René Girard and others. “The Scapegoat: René Girard’s Anthropology of Violence and Religion.” A CBC radio show, in the “Ideas” series, which provides an excellent introduction to Girard’s work. A 4.5 hour production that aired over five evenings, March 5-9, 2001, primarily crafted out of interview material with Girard interspersed with narrative explanation by Cayley. An audio cassette version of the program, as well as a 53 page transcript, were available for many years. A podcast of the broadcast: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; and Hodge, Joel, eds. Mimesis, Movies, and Media: Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, Volume 3. Bloomsbury, 2015. Cloth, 256 pages. “A theater professor once said that Girard’s book on Shakespeare was head-and-shoulders more insightful than anything else she had ever read on the playwright. This collection of superb essays takes the powerful insights of Girard’s mimetic theory and applies them to the contemporary analogs of Shakespeare: films, television shows, and popular literature. … This program is not an abstract, ivory tower, exercise, but an effort to understand the world we live in.” — Charles Bellinger
Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; and Hodge, Joel, eds. Violence, Desire, and the Sacred: Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines. Bloomsbury, 2012. Cloth, 312 pages. “The collection showcases the work of outstanding scholars in mimetic theory and how they are applying and developing Girard’s insights in a variety of fields.”
Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; and Hodge, Joel, eds. Violence, Desire, and the Sacred, Volume 2: René Girard and Sacrifice in Life, Love and Literature. Bloomsbury, 2014. Cloth, 304 pages. “Following in the footsteps of Girard, whose explorations span the humanities and social sciences, the contributors to this interdisciplinary collection demonstrate how mimetic theory continues to illuminate a broad range of phenomena in areas such as politics, cultural studies, psychology, and literature.”
Culbertson, Diana. God in a World of Violence. Villa Maria, PA: The Center for Learning, 2003. Paper booklet, 52 pages. Written for adult education in the Christian congregation, this booklet provides an excellent introduction to Girardian anthropology for the life of faith (but no longer available). (Diana Culbertson was an original member of COV&R and long-time officer on its Board.)
Fleming, Chris. René Girard: Violence and Mimesis. (Series: Key Contemporary Thinkers.) Cambridge, Eng.: Polity Press, 2004. Paper, 211 pages. Apt description from the cover: ‘This is an impressively lucid and complete account of the major phases of Girard’s thought, and it should be read with profit by anyone who wants a clear, comprehensive explanation of Girard’s key ideas.’
Golsan, Richard J. René Girard and Myth: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2001 (originally, Garland Publishing, 1993). Paper, 237 pages. A book that Girard himself has recommended as a good introduction to his work.
Goodhart, Sandor; Jorgensen, Jorgen; Ryba, Thomas; Williams, James G.; eds. For René Girard: Essays in Friendship and in Truth. East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 2009. Paper, 289 pages.
Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G, ed. Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987. Paper, 275 pages. Record of a scholarly conversation held in 1983; it contains an important statement by Girard of the basics of his theory.
Hardin, Michael. The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity with Jesus. Foreword by Brian McLaren; afterword by Walter Wink. Lancaster, PA: JDL Press, 2010. Paper, 317 pages. Walter Wink: “I scarcely know how to find words to do justice to this brilliant study. The Jesus Driven Life is nothing less than a magisterial synthesis of much that can be known about Jesus and the early centuries of Christianity and their continuing relevance for today.”
Heim, S. Mark. Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. Paper: 346 pages. Publisher’s Description: “The cross has long been not only a scandal but also a profound paradox: filled with saving significance and power, it is at the same time a sobering tragedy. In Saved from Sacrifice theologian Mark Heim takes on this paradox, asserting that the cross must be understood against the whole history of human scapegoating violence. In order to highlight the dimensions of his argument, Heim carefully and critically draws on the groundbreaking work of French theorist and biblical scholar René Girard. Yet Heim goes beyond Girard to develop a comprehensive theology of the atonement and the cross through his fresh readings of well-known biblical passages and his exploration of the place of the victim.”
Kaptein, Roel. On the Way to Freedom. Columba Press, 1993. Paper, 142 pages. An early, readable introduction to Girard’s thought by a sainted practitioner of peacemaking in the late 20th Century Northern Ireland.
Kirwan, Michael. Discovering Girard. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2005. Paper, 137 pages. René Girard says, “Really wonderful; an elegantly written initiation into the mimetic theory. I am lucky to have interpreters who understand what I want to say and who can write so well.”
Kirwan, Michael. Girard and Theology. London: T&T Clark / New York: Continuum, 2009. Paper, 165 pages. “The work of the French American theorist René Girard (1923-2015) has been highly influential in a wide variety of intellectual disciplines…. Mimetic theory is an account of how religion, culture and violence are interrelated. Its three principal parts consist of: an assertion of the ‘mimetic’ (i.e. imitated or derivative nature of desire); the function of ‘scapegoating’ as a means of achieving and maintaining social cohesion; the gospel revelation as the means by which these truths of the human condition are made known to us…. Kirwan looks at these ideas and their relevance to theology as well as their reception in the development of ‘dramatic theology’ and new theological concepts of atonement and sacrifice.”
McKenna, Andrew J, ed. René Girard and Biblical Studies. Semeia: an experimental journal for biblical criticism, No. 33. Decatur, GA: Scholars Press (for the Society of Biblical Literature), 1985. Paper: 171 pages. An excellent collection of essays on Girard’s work as it pertains to biblical criticism.
Oughourlian, Jean-Michel. The Genesis of Desire. E. Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2010. [Originally published in French, 2007; translated by Eugene Webb.] Paper, 174 pages. From the book description: “How can a couple be saved when they have declared war on one another? By helping them realize that desire originates not in the self but in the other. There are strategies that can help, which Dr. Oughourlian has prescribed successfully to his patients. This work, alternating between case studies and more theoretical statements, convincingly defends the possibility that breakups need not be permanent.”
Palaver, Wolfgang. René Girard’s Mimetic Theory. E. Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2013. [Originally published in German, 2003; translated by Gabriel Borrud.] Paper, 403 pages. Andrew Marr writes, “This survey of René Girard’s though is clear, comprehensive, and insightful to a degree that is not surpassed…. Particularly valuable is the way Palaver explores the contest of Girard’s thought in the intellectual and cultural world around him, featuring interactions between his thought & Freud, Marx, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Hegel & many others.”
Rabe, André. Desire Found Me. Lengthy subtitle: “Exploring the unconscious movements of desire — how they form us, connect us, shape our greatest ideas, mold our societies, influence human history and ultimately, how they are unveiled.” Andre Rabe Publishing, 2014. Paper, 346 pages.
Warren, James. Compassion or Apocalypse?: A Comprehensible Guide to the Thought of René Girard. Christian Alternative, 2013. Paper, 380 pages. Brian McLaren writes not only a strong endorsement for this book but also for the importance of Girard’s work: “I’m convinced that the seminal work of René Girard is the single most promising and productive contemporary resource capable of stimulating fresh readings of the Bible, constructive critical thought about Christian theology and practice, and incisive inducement to productive activism. Several scholars are engaging productively with Girard’s thought, but James Warren has written the best popular introduction and overview — substantial and thorough yet accessible and delightfully written.”
Williams, James G. Girardians: The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, 1990-2010. Zurich: LIT Verlag, 2012. Paper, 336 pages. There is no better person to give a fair, thorough, and personal account of the ‘Girardian’ movement and community — not just the historical details but also the ebb and flow of theological and theoretical issues.