Friday, November 13, 2015

René Girard (1923-2015) - RIP

René Noël Théophile Girard (December 25, 1923 – November 4, 2015) was a French Catholic historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy. He authored nearly thirty books, with his writings spanning many academic domains. Among his most basic ideas, which he developed throughout his career and provided the foundation for his thinking, was his view that desire is mimetic (i.e., imitative - all of our desires are 'borrowed' from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic rivalry, that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and one role of religion has been to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.

Born in Avignon on December 25, 1923, he studied medieval history at the École des Chartes, Paris (1943-1947). In 1947 he went to Indiana University on a one-year fellowship and remained in the United States for the rest of his career. He earned his doctorate at the same institution in 1950, and accepted teaching positions at Duke University and Bryn Mawr College from 1953-1957, after which he taught at Johns Hopkins University, where he became full professor in 1961, and State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1981 he became Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization at Stanford University, where he remained the rest of his career. He was Honorary Chair of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, whose cofounder and first president was the Roman Catholic theologian, Raymund Schwager. He was awarded his first honorary degree by the Free University of Amsterdam in 1985, and elected to the Académie française in 2005. He died on November 4, 2015 at his residence in Stanford, California, following a long illness.

Bishop Robert Barron, in "René Girard, Church Father" (Word on Fire, November 10, 2015), offers a concise assessment of the significance René Girard, which is worth reading and illuminating (apart from the fact that he unaccountably refers Girard as "Church Father").

See also Artur Rosman, "Lux Aeterna: RIP René Girard (December 25, 1923 – Nov 4, 2015)" (Patheos, November 4, 2015).

[Hat tip to Artur Rosman]