Books about René Girard, Mimetic Theory, and Girardians

Books that help introduce, summarize, or give historical context to the work of René Girard and Mimetic Theory

Alison, James, and Palaver, Wolfgang, eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Mimetic Theory and Religion. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Cloth, 549 pages. Book description: draws on the expertise of leading scholars and thinkers to explore the violent origins of culture, the meaning of ritual, and the conjunction of theology and anthropology, as well as secularization, science, and terrorism.  Authors assess the contributions of René Girard’s mimetic theory to our understanding of sacrifice, ancient tragedy, and post-modernity, and apply its insights to religious cinema and the global economy. This handbook serves as introduction and guide to a theory of religion and human behavior that has established itself as fertile terrain for scholarly research and intellectual reflection.

Can We Survive Our OriginsAntonello, 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

Mimesis, Desire, and the NovelAntonello, 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 - Violence UnveiledBailie, 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.”

Burgis, Luke. Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life. St. Martin’s Press: 2021. Cloth, 304 pages. “Stunning, even revolutionary.” — Andrew Meltzoff § “This is the clear and concise book that I’ve wanted to write for thirty years, ever since discovering the groundbreaking, vital importance of Mimetic Theory for the survival of the human species.” — Paul Nuechterlein § “Luke Burgis’ Wanting is a brilliant exploration of the hidden and powerful dynamics of desire operating in our age of social media memes, commercial rivalry, and rising partisan scapegoating and violence. By helping us understand the destructive power of mimetic desire he offers a way to extricate ourselves and our communities from its harmful grip to form a more human, empathetic, and value-based world that seeks to build up people rather than products. It’s a call to discernment and a deeper fulfillment that lights a path beyond the darkness of our current world.” — Stephen Hanselman

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.

David Cayley, editor. The Ideas of René Girard: An Anthropology of Religion and Violence. Self-published, 2019. Paper, 121 pages. This is essentially the transcript of the radio program cited above. It provides a great introduction to Girard’s work. An Amazon reviewer says, “This book (or the CBC Radio audio version) should be the starting point for anybody interested in Girard. It is wonderfully concise, encompasses Girard’s expansive and complex theory, and at the same time is accessible for readers unfamiliar with his work or the corresponding academic disciplines he moves between.”

Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; and Hodge, Joel, eds. Mimesis, Movies, and Media. Volume 3 in the series “Violence, Desire, and the Sacred.” 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. René Girard and Sacrifice in Life, Love and Literature. Volume 2 in the series “Violence, Desire, and the Sacred.” 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.”

Cowdell, Scott; Fleming, Chris; and Hodge, Joel, eds. Violence, Desire, and the Sacred: Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines. Volume 1 in the series “Violence, Desire, and the Sacred.” 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.”

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.)

Dumouchel, Paul, ed. Violence and Truth: on the Work of René Girard. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988. Cloth, 289 pages. In this collection of essays from a symposium in 1983, authors from philosophy, ethnology, theology, psychology, history, economics, and sociology assess Girard’s work for their disciplines.

Fleming - RGFleming, 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 - RG and MythGolsan, 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.

Haven, Cynthia L. Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. MSU Press, forthcoming in 2018. Paper, 346 pages. “It is my humble opinion that, when the dust finally settles, René Girard will be considered one of the truly great thinkers of the twentieth century. Do I exaggerate? Read Cynthia Haven’s beautifully written biography and be your own judge. Here is a book that gives us Girard in all his genius and his generosity. I can’t recommend it enough.” — Morgan Meis

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 - Girard and TheologyKirwan, 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.

Palaver - Rene Girards Mimetic TheoryPalaver, 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.”

Warren - Compassion or ApocalypseWarren, 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.”

Warren, James. Jesus and the Magician. CreateSpace, 2016. Paper, 256 pages. “It is both a really fine and affecting memoir, telling the story of a coming of age and adulthood of a sharp and sensitive kid in the restless landscapes of the 20th century U.S., and at the same time a compelling intellectual chart of how we get to where we are in our struggle to be human today. Jim is a great magician, but when it comes to finding the truth he permits absolutely no sleight of hand!” — Anthony Bartlett

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.


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