Can We Survive Our Origins?

Readings in René Girard's Theory of Violence and the Sacred

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Pierpaolo Antonello, Paul Gifford
Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture
  • East Lansing, MI: 
    Michigan State University Press
    , January
     388 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Are religions intrinsically violent (as is strenuously argued by the ‘new atheists’)? Or, as Girard argues, have they been functionally rational instruments developed to manage and cope with the intrinsically violent runaway dynamic that characterizes human social organization in all periods of human history? Is violence decreasing in this time of secular modernity post-Christendom (as argued by Steven Pinker and others)? Or are we, rather, at increased and even apocalyptic risk from our enhanced powers of action and our decreased socio-symbolic protections? Rene Girard’s mimetic theory has been slowly but progressively recognized as one of the most striking breakthrough contributions to twentieth-century critical thinking in fundamental anthropology: in particular for its power to model and explain violent sacralities, ancient and modern. The present volume sets this power of explanation in an evolutionary and Darwinian frame. It asks: How far do cultural mechanisms of controlling violence, which allowed humankind to cross the threshold of hominization—i.e., to survive and develop in its evolutionary emergence—still represent today a default setting that threatens to destroy us? Can we transcend them and escape their field of gravity? Should we look to—or should we look beyond—Darwinian survival? What—and where (if anywhere)—is salvation?

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Pierpaolo Antonello is Reader in Modern Italian Literature and Culture at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St. John’s College. With René Girard and João Cezar de Castro Rocha, he coauthored Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture, and he is a member of the Research and Publications committees of Imitatio.

Paul Gifford is Buchanan Professor of French Emeritus at the University of St Andrews, where he also was Departmental Chair for seven years and directed the Institute of European Cultural Identity Studies for ten years. He is one of the very few non-French academics to hold the most prestigious of France’s many doctorates, the Doctorat d’ État ès Lettres.


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