Thursday March 03, 2016
The Scapegoat: The Ideas of René Girard, Part 1
According to French thinker René Girard, human beings copy each other's desires and are in perpetual conflict with one another over the objects of our desire. In early human communities, this conflict created a permanent threat of violence and forced our ancestors to find a way to unify themselves. They chose a victim, a scapegoat against whom the community could unite. Biblical religion, according to Girard, has attempted to overcome this historic plight. From the unjust murder of Abel by his brother Cain to the crucifixion of Christ, the Bible reveals the innocence of the victim. It is on this revelation that modern society unquietly rests.
Girard's ideas influenced social scientists over his long career as a writer and teacher, until his death in the fall of 2015. In this classic IDEAS series, David Cayley explores the thought of René Girard. The series continues on March 4, 10, 11 & 17.
"Religion is the means through which the order created, the peace created by the first murder, turns gradually into a cultural system. Humanity is the child of religion, in a way religion is like the placenta which protects the new-born and gets discarded when he's really born." -- René Girard
René Girard's ideas fit no academic niche but they've attracted many followers during his long career as a teacher and writer. A large annual conference called The Colloquium on Violence & Religion is devoted entirely to his ideas, as is a journal called Contagion. Many of those who take part believe that Girard's insights are an intellectual breakthrough.
René Girard was born in the southern French city of Avignon in 1923, and emigrated to the United States in 1947. He taught throughout his career at American universities, retiring from Stanford in 1995. The first of his nine books, Deceit Desire & the Novel, was published in 1961.
René Girard's books were generally written originally in French and later translated into English. Publication dates are for the English versions. These are only a few of his books
- Deceit, Desire and the Novel, 1966
- Violence and The Sacred, 1977
- The Scapegoat, 1986
- Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, 1987
- Job, The Victim of His People, 1987
- The Girard Reader, 1996
- I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 2001
Listen to other episodes in the series: