Books by, or with major contributions from, René Girard (in chronological order)
Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. [Originally published in French, 1961; translated by Yvonne Freccero.] Paper, 318 pages. Girard’s first major work, it introduces the first principle of Girardian theory, that of “mimetic desire” (called “triangular desire” in this first work) — through the study of novels by Cervantes, Flaubert, Proust, Stendhal, and Dostoevsky.
Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevsky. MSU Press, 2012 [English original: Crossroad, 1997; originally pub. in French, 1963, trans. by James G. Williams.] Paper, 167 pages. An extension of his first work, focusing on the life and work of Dostoevsky.
Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977. [Originally published in French, 1972; trans. by Patrick Gregory.] Paper, 333 pages. Girard’s second major work, it introduces the second principle of Girardian theory — namely, his anthropology of the mechanisms of victimage, or “scapegoating,” that lie behind all of human culture — through a study of classical Greek drama, Freud, and Levi-Strauss.
Violence, the Sacred, and Things Hidden: Discussion with René Girard at Esprit (1973). Translated by Andrew J. McKenna. MSU Press, 2021. “This text lets us into a pivotal moment in Girard’s thought. It was here that, for the first time, he brought together the discussion of the scientific nature of the insight developed in Violence and the Sacred, and the role of Christianity in bringing rationality to light, which he would go on to develop thereafter. These pages are also a reminder of just how brilliant Girard was in question and answer sessions, as those of us who were privileged to see him in action can attest. Andreas Wilmes and Andrew J. McKenna offer very helpful context and commentary. A gem.” — James Alison
Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. Research undertaken in collaboration with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987. [Originally pub. in French, 1978; trans. by Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer.] Paper, 469 pages. Girard’s magnum opus. The third of his major works, it programmatically lays out Girard’s entire theory in dialogue form, structured into three major “Books” entitled “Fundamental Anthropology,” “The Judaeo-Christian Scriptures,” and “Interdividual Psychology.”
“To Double Business Bound”: Essays on Literature, Mimesis, and Anthropology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Paper, 229 pages. A wide-ranging collection of essays.
The Scapegoat. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. [Originally published in French, 1982; trans. by Yvonne Freccero.] Paper, 216 pages. Girard takes a different starting point, a mid-fourteenth century “text of persecution,” to unravel his theory of myths and then to show how biblical texts demythologize the mythical viewpoint; roughly, one-half theory of myth and one-half biblical commentary. This is the book by Girard that I would recommend as best for an introduction. I think that it gives the best entry into his work as a scientific anthropology and then makes the transition to many of his most important biblical insights.
Job: The Victim of His People. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987. [Originally published in French, 1985; trans. by Yvonne Freccero.] Cloth, 173 pages. Girard uses and expounds his theory through a uniquely enlightening commentary on the biblical Book of Job.
Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation. Hamerton-Kelly, Robert G, ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1987. Paper, 275 pages. Record of a scholarly conversation held in 1983; it contains an important statement by Girard on the basics of his theory.
A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare. St. Augustine’s Press, 2004. [Originally pub. by Oxford University Press, 1991, out of print.] Paper, 366 pages. Girard provides a comprehensive analysis of Shakespearean drama using his theories. It is a masterpiece of literary criticism befitting the master dramatist of the English language. Even the most learned of readers may discover a whole new Shakespeare (which is actually the same old Shakespeare understood in a whole new light).
When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer. East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 2014. [Originally published in French, 1994.] Paper, 152 pages. In this lively series of conversations with writer Michel Treguer, René Girard revisits the major concepts of mimetic theory and explores science, democracy, and the nature of God and freedom. Girard affirms that “our unprecedented present is incomprehensible without Christianity.” Globalization has unified the world, yet civil war and terrorism persist despite free trade and economic growth. Treguer, a skeptic of mimetic theory, wonders: “Is what he’s telling me true…or is it just a nice story, a way of looking at things?” In response, Girard makes a compelling case for his theory.
The Girard Reader. Edited by James G. Williams. New York: Crossroad, 1996. Cloth or Paper, 310 pages. An anthology of basic texts designed to give a substantive introduction to Girard’s thought and work, with an emphasis on his more recent positions; includes a brief biography, an interview, and a glossary of Girardian terminology.
I See Satan Fall like Lightning. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001. [Originally published in French, 1999, trans. by James G. Williams.] Paper, 256 pages. Girard addresses his concern to more clearly elaborate the relationship between myth and Gospel. I hold it as a close second to The Scapegoat as a good introduction by Girard himself. It begins in Part I by laying out his thesis with biblical concepts such as covetousness, skandalon, and Satan. Part II parallels the beginning of The Scapegoat, which used a 14th century “text of persecution”; here he uses a myth of the 2nd century, as between ancient myth and “texts of persecution” in development, to give another helpful entry point into mimetic theory’s understanding of mythology. Part III parallels ch. 15 of The Scapegoat, “History and the Paraclete,” by elaborating the work of the Spirit in the uniqueness of the biblical texts and in the modern “concern for victims” and reactions against it (such as Nietzsche and Nazism).
The One by Whom Scandal Comes. East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 2014. [Originally published in French, 2001.] Paper, 152 pages. “Why is there so much violence in our midst?” René Girard asks. “No question is more debated today. And none produces more disappointing answers.” In this landmark text, Girard continues his study of violence in light of geopolitical competition, focusing on the roots and outcomes of violence across societies latent in the process of globalization. The volume concludes in a wide-ranging interview with Maria Stella Barberi, where Girard’s twenty-first century emphases on the continuity of all religions, global conflict, and the necessity of apocalyptic thinking emerge.
Sacrifice. East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 2011. [Originally published in French, 2003; trans. by Matthew Pattillo and David Dawson.] Paper: 104 pages. Based on lectures, Girard interrogates the Brahmanas of Vedic India, exploring coincidences with mimetic theory that are too numerous and striking to be accidental.
Oedipus Unbound: Selected Writings on Rivalry and Desire. Edited by Mark Anspach. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. Paper (or cloth), 216 pages. A collection of three major, hard-to-find essays by Girard, never available before in English, on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and its implications for anthropology. These essays bridge his writing between Deceit, Desire, and the Novel and the developing thesis for Violence and the Sacred.
Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture. With Pierpaolo Antonello and Joao Cezar de Castro Rocha. London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2007. [Originally published in French, 2004.] Paper, 282 pages. This book in many ways is a 25-year retrospective on Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, even done in the same dialogue form. A newer element is not only the comparison to Darwin’s theory but also greater clarity that Girard’s theory is very much an evolutionary anthropology — that is to say, homo sapiens was selected to survive among the various homonids on the basis of the scapegoat mechanism. But 100,000 years is a relatively short time in evolutionary theory, so the story of homo sapiens’ survival as a species may still be in question — which leads to Girard’s next major book, Achever Clausewitz [Battling to the End].
Christianity, Truth, and Weakening Faith: A Dialogue. René Girard and Gianni Vattimo. Edited by Pierpaolo Antonello and translated by William McCuaig. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. [Originally published in Italian, 2006.] Cloth, 124 pages. “Through an exchange that is both intimate and enlightening, Vattimo and Girard share their unparalleled insight into the relationships among religion, modernity, and the role of Christianity, especially as it exists in our multicultural world.”
Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2010. [Originally published in French as Achever Clausewitz, 2007.] Paper: 256 pages. “Girard engages Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), the Prussian military theoretician who wrote On War. He shows us a Clausewitz who is a fascinated witness of history’s acceleration and pushes aside the taboo that prevents us from seeing that the apocalypse has begun. Human violence is escaping our control; today it threatens the entire planet.” — publisher’s website. Clausewitz is placed alongside two of his contemporaries, Hegel the philosopher and Hölderlin the Christian poet, as well as the Christian apocalyptic texts (e.g., Mark 13). This is an immensely important book that promotes the only true foundation for hope. As Girard says in the Introduction, “Like Hölderlin, I think that Christ alone allows us to face this reality without sinking into madness. The apocalypse does not announce the end of the world; it creates hope. If we suddenly see reality, we do not experience the absolute despair of an unthinking modernity, but rediscover a world where things have meaning. Hope is possible only if we dare to think about the danger at hand, but this requires opposing both nihilists, for whom everything is only language, and ‘realists,’ who reject the idea that intelligence can attain truth: heads of state, bankers and soldiers who claim to be saving us when in fact they are plunging us deeper into devastation each day.” (p. xiii)
Anorexia and Mimetic Desire. East Lansing, MI: MSU Press, 2013. [Originally published in French, 2008.] Mixing theoretical sophistication with irreverent common sense, Girard denounces a “culture of anorexia” and takes apart the competitive impulse that fuels the game of conspicuous non-consumption. He shows that showing off a slim physique is not enough—the real aim is to be skinnier than one’s rivals. Featuring a foreword by neuropsychiatrist Jean-Michel Oughourlian and an introductory essay by anthropologist Mark R. Anspach, the volume concludes with an illuminating conversation between René Girard, Mark R. Anspach, and Laurence Tacou.
Mimesis & Theory: Essays on Literature and Criticism, 1953-2005. Edited with an Introduction by Robert Doran. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008. Cloth, 310 pages.
René Girard and Raymund Schwager: Correspondence 1974-1991. Volume 4 in the series “Violence, Desire, and the Sacred.” Translated by Chris Fleming and Sheelah Treflé Hidden. Edited by Scott Cowdell, Chris Fleming, Joel Hodge, and Mathias Moosbrugger. Bloomsbury: 2016. Cloth, 218 pages. This volume presents the important correspondence — …the personal relationship between two great thinkers that led to the development of a significant break-through in the humanities.
Reading the Bible with René Girard: Conversations with Steven E. Berry. Edited by Michael Hardin; foreword by Scott Cowdell. JDL Press, 2016. Paper, 196 pages. “One of the many gifts of René Girard is his ability to unfold his theory in interviews … many of these dialogues open new perspectives on mimetic theory. Reading the Bible with René Girard is a wonderful example of this.” ~ Wolfgang Palaver
Conversations with René Girard: Prophet of Envy. Edited by Cynthia Haven. Bloomsbury, 2020. Paper, 232 pages. “A vital book. It gave me René Girard as I’ve never before encountered him in a text: like looking at a diamond from eighteen different sides. Each interview reveals the fecundity of his thought and the brilliance of a mind that was able to probe the human condition in a singular way. It’s full of fire.” ―Luke Burgis