Introduction: Remembering Together
René Girard, Immortel de l’Academie Francaise, took his place among the immortals in the Communion of Saints on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. In the week that has followed, friends and disciples the world over have shared grief and gratitude, memories and lessons learned.
For many, Girard’s legacy has been noted in the annals of history as that of a great interdisciplinary scholar. But as our colleague Adam Ericksen has noted, “those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better.” For us, René Girard’s insight of mimetic theory is the lens through which we perceive what Jesus first revealed, “hidden since the foundation of the world.” Our world is built on victims; our violence runs deep. But if mimetic theory exposes the depth of our darkness, it also shines a hopeful light. It short, it illuminates what it means to be human and the intricacies and intimacies by which we are bound to each other. So for those of us who have studied mimetic theory in only some of its myriad applications, it frames our understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to be made in the image of the Triune, relational God. Girardians know that René was not simply one among many. We do not exaggerate when we say, “René Girard changed my life.”
Yet paradoxically, while Girard may stand out in our minds, if he taught us anything, it is that one never stands alone. We are all interdividuals, unique compositions of interconnections, made who we are by our relationships. We are quite literally nothing without each other. For Girardians, René’s insights have shed light on our relationships with family and friends, helping us understand both how conflicts arise and how to redirect the our energy from conflict to cooperation and compassion. We are grateful for the ways Girard’s insights have enhanced marriages, friendships, and relationships with our parents and our children and our siblings. And we are also grateful for the community we have found in each other.
Girardians from around the world have come together in real and virtual communities not only to study and learn, but to form relationships, which we know to be the building blocks of our humanity. At conferences such as the Colloquium on Violence and Religion and Theology and Peace, we have come together in fellowship and pursuit of knowledge, prayer and meditation, laughter and occasional tears. We keep our relationships alive through virtual communities, where we feed and reinforce our mutual desires for reconciliation with God and neighbor. Because of René Girard, we strive to live for everyone and against no one. We are all recovering scapegoaters seeking to hold ourselves accountable for our victimization, yet comforting one-another as we undergo the painful and redeeming metanoia of turning from violence to peacemaking. Those of us who never met René Girard in person met him in each other. René’s insights brought us together, where we can do so much more than we ever could apart, because we are so much more together than we are apart.
So it is only appropriate that we mourn and celebrate together. Accordingly, the Raven Foundation has compiled many (but by no means all) of the memorials and obituaries of René Girard together in this tribute. As we reflect on the life and teachings of our beloved mentor, let us remember that he lives on through us as we live through each other. And let us continue the mission he helped us understand, begun in Christ and given to us all, to cease our victimization and build upon the peace that comes from reorienting our desires from self to service. We can only achieve this mission in community and communion.
Rest in peace, René, and rise in the glory of the God whose love you helped illuminate.
The Flock at the Raven Foundation wrote multiple tributes to René Girard.
Adam Ericksen explains how Girard taught us about life and death through the exposure of the scapegoating mechanism. “Girard taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God.” Read more in The Truth About God, Life And Death: In Memory of René Girard.
Suzanne Ross links the work of Girard to that of Maria Montessori, showing how Girard’s illumination of the scapegoat complements Montessori’s revelation of how adults blindly scapegoat children when we misunderstand childhood. René and Maria both have gifted us with an awareness of our violence toward the most vulnerable… and how to turn such violence into compassion. Read more in Tears For Girard.
Matthew Distefano mourned and celebrated with René’s closest family and friends at his funeral. It was there that he found the words to commemorate Girard’s tremendous impact on all aspects of his life. Read his Farewell to René Girard.
Colleagues and Media Outlets eulogized Girard:
Fellow Stanford professor Cynthia Haven wrote a moving obituary from the perspective of one who knew him personally and professionally. “Girard was always a striking and immediately recognizable presence on the Stanford campus, with his deep-set eyes, leonine head and shock of silver hair. His effect on others could be galvanizing… Others were impressed, but Girard was never greatly impressed by himself, though his biting wit sometimes rankled critics.” Read more in Stanford professor and eminent French theorist, René Girard, member of the Académie Française, dies at 91.
Scott Cowdell, of Charles Sturt University, deftly summarizes Girard’s work for the Australia Broadcasting Corporation: “Girard knew that we cannot escape mimeticism, but we can follow worthy models of desire into non-rivalrous living, away from violent escalation and violent resolution, finding an ecclesial experience of unity without the need for enemies.” Read more in The ‘Darwin of the Human Sciences’: René Girard, A Theological Retrospective.
René Girard, philosopher – obituary, anonymously written in The Telegraph (UK), states the takeaway from a Girardian hermeneutic: “Jesus’s sacrifice is presented not as a means of appeasing an offended deity, but as an example of a loving God offering human beings liberation from this destructive cycle. The resurrection of the forgiving victim offers human life new foundations.”
Randall Frederick of the Huffington Post writes that Girard “has helped many recontextualize violence and the role of violence in religion and historical practice.” Read more in René Girard (1923 – 2015) in Contemporary Philosophy.
Bishop Robert Barron, writing for The National Catholic Register and The Catholic World Report, describes Girard’s “permanent and unsettling contribution” as “the recovery of Christianity as revelation, as an unmasking of what all the other religions are saying,” in René Girard, Church Father.
Quentin Hardy, of the New York Times, touches on the ways Girard’s mimetic theory manifest in economics and social media, among other things, in René Girard, French Theorist of the Social Sciences, Dies at 91.
And Girard’s friends and disciples have written loving tributes in his honor:
Michael Hardin, of Preaching Peace, whom René has called his “best interpreter” (except for his wife, Martha), writes, “What do you say about the person of whom you can say they absolutely changed the way one thought about things, about life, about the Gospel, about God? I cannot imagine my life or my theological work apart from mimetic theory.” Read My Tribute To René Girard.
James Alison, Catholic priest and Girardian theologian, explains the broad appeal of Girardian thought, transcending bounds between layperson and scholar and appealing to a wide spectrum of political ideologies as well. He believes this is because “At the center of Girard’s thought is an understanding of how both order and disorder are created,” with people on the right attracted to his understanding of order and people on the left attracted to his explanation of disorder. See the memorial video: James Alison On René Girard.
Andrew Marr, Benedictine Monk and Girardian author, writes of Girard’s generous spirit and kindly manner: “I realized that Girard does not have followers; he has colleagues. That’s how he treated people. And not only colleagues, but friends.” Read more: In Memorium: René Girard: 1923 – 2015.
Artur Roseman, professor and channel manager of Patheos Catholic, has written several blog posts commemorating Girard in the last week and a half. His memorial is Lux Aeterna: RIP René Girard (December 25, 1923 – November 4, 2015).
He has also written a very useful article explaining how Girard’s influence has spanned multiple disciplines. “You cannot hope to escape him, and you can barely even contain him.” Read TOP10 Books: The Girard Option of Interdisciplinary Influence.
Andre Rabe, author of Desire Found Me, writes, “Thank you René – somehow I think he can hear us – thank you for the courage to think and communicate so clearly. Because of you I know myself and others a little bit better, and most significantly, I have a greater awareness of the God who is not the product of our own violent projections, but the One who saves us from our own delusions.” Read more in Before and After René Girard.
Erik Buys, on his blog, Mimetic Margins, explains how Girardian wisdom helps us transcend idolatry and envy: “Once we find ourselves loved for who we are, we can enjoy the talents of others without feeling threatened, or without the tendency to downplay the unique gifts they bring to the table.” Read more in Killing Idols: Commemorating René Girard’s Spirituality.
He has also compiled moving obituaries in several languages from around the world here.
Tom Truby finds Girardian wisdom in the tale of the widow who gave out of her poverty. “Girard’s thinking has made us more aware of the poor widow sacrificed on the altar of exploitive religion and culture and of how she and all those at the bottom are actually the hidden and unjust foundations upon which everything else is built.” Read more in his Special Wednesday Sermon: In Memory of René Girard.
Other friends have voiced their gratitude and condolences:
René Girard passed away this morning. For those of you who know me well, you would understand that his work has informed the last 25 years of my life. Sorrow for all who knew him and for his wife Martha and their children.” ~ Betsy Hansbrough (who also scoured the internet finding many obituaries in many languages).
I wrote a book about his thought, but never met him. I was a few miles from his home three years or so ago, with an appointment all set, when Martha called to tell me he had to be rushed to the emergency room — and I had to fly back to NY. Always sad about that; but having his thoughts change my life has been consolation for missing out on knowing the man. Blessings on those who knew him and grieve the man, and blessings on René Girard, who, through his powerful insights, has kept many of us within the Christian flock. ~ James Warren
So grateful for the life of René Girard. Prayers for Martha and all who love him. I can’t even express how much he meant to me. I’m not even sure I actually know. Strange that I’d never even met him. Though is that true when you read someone? Was channeling him just this morning. I’m sad. ~ Katy Piazza
René Girard died early today. His journey was extraordinary, from France to the U.S., from literature to apocalypse, from theology to anthropology. His work represented the dark suspect underground of glittering postmodernism. He showed us the blood on the tracks. I followed those tracks personally, from England to the U.S., from postmodernism to the coming of compassion. Although he’s gone from view, René’s journey will most surely continue. ~ Anthony Bartlett
And many, many more…
David Hayward, also known as the Naked Pastor, expressed his tribute to René Girard through art, with the featured image on this tribute page. The lone scapegoat in the desert mourns Girard, who spoke for him. We must all speak for the scapegoats now, until the world learns to live without them.
Is there a great tribute to René that we missed? Link to it in the comments and it will be added! Please voice your own memories there as well! As Girard taught us so well, we are interconnected, and our shared stories become a part of us all.