2020 Annual Meeting Rescheduled to 2021
Robots, Mimesis, and Violence in the Age of AI”
July 7-10, 2021, at Purdue University, West Lafayette, INDIANA 47907
In our conference at Purdue in July 2021, we would like to open a conversation between Girardian thinking—especially René Girard’s ideas about mimetic desire, sacrificial violence, and scapegoating—and issues that arise in connection with artificial intelligence. Theorists of AI sometimes speak of a singularity by which they designate an anticipated moment when such systems become self-aware. As AI assumes increasing prominence in our lives, a host of questions arise for those of us who regard Girard’s ideas as important. Does self-awareness come with mimetic desire the way Girard claims it does for humans? If robots do become self-aware, and do desire, does that awareness and desire necessarily entail conflict or violence the way it does in human communities for Girard? Are we sure mimesis presupposes self-awareness? Could machines be hyper-mimetic without being self-aware? If we imagine machines modeling others, do they model others the way Girard shows humans do or do they respond exclusively to programmed instructions—stimuli, signals, algorithms and the like? If we imagine machines as appropriating desire, could humans begin taking machines as their models? We know humans already sometimes take machines as desirable objects. If machines borrow models, what are they? What will self-aware machines imitate? Other machines? Humans? Nearby or remote objects? A transcendental intelligence of some kind? Does consciousness presuppose mimesis or vice versa?
We invite papers that probe these and related questions from a wide variety of disciplines. We require only that some serious engagement with Girard’s ideas be a part of the mix. For example, Girard suggests that humans desire not according to objects or subjects but other individuals who model those objects and those subjects for us, and that such borrowed or appropriated desire almost always leads to violence. Or Girard suggests human communities are constituted by nature and origin as systems of management for such borrowed desires (and attendant conflict), and that the primary means for such social control is a wide variety of exclusionary behaviors—from individual projection to collective surrogate victimage and everything in between—and that a primary concern today remains how to avoid or dismantle such sacrificial lynching behavior. A third strain in Girardian thinking is the recourse to certain important texts—religious, literary, and the like—that expose such scapegoating practices and their history for us.
In this spirit, we invite papers from the fields of AI, robotics, theology, philosophy, anthropology, literary criticism, women’s studies, historical studies, physics, biology, sociology, film studies, cognitive science, psychology, religious studies, environmentalism, political science, the internet of things, and any other fields or disciplines that touch upon (or re-conceptualize) these issues in such a way that might help us advance serious reflection within the conversation we propose.
All registration fees paid in advance for this year’s planned event (July 2020) will be refunded in full and likewise any money paid for on-campus dormitory accommodations for this year will be refunded in full. Any arrangements registrants have made with off-campus partnering hotels should be handled individually but customarily no charges are made provided the individual cancels at least 24 hours in advance of the planned arrival.
The 2019 Conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) on “Imagining the Other: Theo-Political Challenges in an Age of Migration” examined how we imagine and how we image “the Other”, is a decisive element in the (theo-) politics of exclusion and desire that feed on these challenges. Aware that imagination is a mimetic process, the 2019 conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) wants to address these challenges by trying to illumine different aspects of this complex entanglement, asking whom or what we mean by “the other”: the stranger and migrant, the brother or sister, nature that envelops or defies us, the transcendent Other to whom religions refer or the other sex or gender …?
Videos of the plenary sessions are available. Papers presented in the concurrent sessions will be available soon.
The 2018 Conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) on “Religion, Politics, & Violence ‘after’ Truth” immediately suggests the supposedly “post-factual” cultural moment, having particular resonance with recent anxieties over “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and other pathologies of the contemporary political sphere. Yet “After Truth” also indicates “the pursuit of truth,” and it prompts us to think about where we are and who(se) we become both when truth is obscured and after it is disclosed. Truth, deception, and indifference to truth are foundational concerns of René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, and the moment is apt to revisit them. The 2018 meeting of The Colloquium on Violence & Religion invites scholars and practitioners to share research and experience related to this theme, engaging with Mimetic Theory across the disciplines. Our aim is a fruitful exchange of ideas exploring, developing, critiquing, and applying Girard’s Mimetic Theory in relation to this pressing contemporary matter.
The plenary speakers for the Annual Meeting covered a cross-section of Philosophy, Culture, Religion, and Literature. Videos of the lectures by Paul Dumouchel, Laura Kipnis, Jack Miles, and Rev. Kevin F. Burke are now available.
Many of the papers presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting in Denver are now available. Have your member number handy, because they are available only to members.
The processes of identity formation may follow different paths. These processes might pursue a narrative, a ritualistic, a mythological, or a political trail, among others. Nationalisms, indigenisms, religious revivals, political and economic protests, movements of the masses, and therefore, the dynamics of identity are today becoming increasingly more complex. Spain has been a country of culture clashes or encounters, rivalries, conflicts and fratricidal wars, but it has also been the homeland of great artists such as Cervantes, Velázquez, Calderón de la Barca, Goya, García Lorca and Picasso. Their contributions to the understanding of t human nature have been revolutionary and Girard’s predilection for Cervantes is well known. We like to believe that Spain constitutes a privileged vantage point from which to evaluate the possibilities and limits of identity construction processes in our world.
In COV&R 2017 in Madrid, scholars explored the roots of identity; the ways rivalry survives and rises over the centuries as a force of destruction and foundation. Jean-Michel Oughourlian, Cesáreo Bandera (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Charles Powell (Real Instituto Elcano), Jon Juaristi (Universidad Alcalá de Henares), Roland Hsu (University of Stanford), and Carlos Mendoza-Álvarez (Universidad Iberoamericana de México) were plenary speakers. Wolfgang Palaver and Sandor Goodhart discussed Identity and Inter Religious Dialogue. The Raymond Schwager Memorial Prize was awarded to Lyle J. Enright of Loyola University Chicago. Pankaj Mishra spoke on the Geopolitics of Mimicry. Prior to the beginning of the annual meeting, a refresher course on mimetic theory was offered.
One of the most pressing issues of our time is the outbreak of extremist violence and terrorism, done in the name of religion. Much has been written on this topic, particularly in the context of Islamic terrorism. However, there is much misunderstanding on this topic, presenting the need for a well-grounded analysis.
Further, a Girardian lens has not been comprehensively applied to this major issue of our time, even though mimetic theory opens up many possibilities for a new and in-depth analysis. This conference seeks to address this issue, with a range of experts in mimetic theory, Islamic studies and terrorism studies.
In particular, the conference will critically analyse the link made between religion and violence, and explore contemporary instances of violence done in the name of religion, such as Islamist terrorism and radicalization in its various political, economic, religious, military and technological dimensions.
We aim to analyse religious violence from multiple disciplinary perspectives (as the range of conference speakers attests). We particularly aim to bring together the insights of René Girard, the premier theorist of violence in the 20th century, with the latest scholarship on religion and violence, particularly exploring the nature of extremist violence.
The conference is open to academics, professionals, religious practitioners, military, police, and anyone interested in engaging this topic in respectful dialogue. The conference will have a special "Tribute Dinner for René Girard (on his death)” at the Park Hyatt, East Melbourne. We are hoping that the international Girardian community will make an effort to participate in this important conference and pay tribute to the memory of René Girard.
We have an exciting range of internationally acclaimed speakers who will present at the conference, including:
- Professor Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University, USA)
- Professor Anne Aly (Edith Cowan University, Western Australia)
- Rev Dr Sarah Bachelard (Australian Catholic University, Canberra)
- Professor Greg Barton (Deakin University, Melbourne)
- Reverend Professor Frank Brennan SJ (Australian Catholic University and Charles Sturt University)
- Associate Professor Kathleen Butler (University of Newcastle)
- Professor William T. Cavanaugh (De Paul University and author of The Myth of Religious Violence), who will give the Raymund Schwager Memorial Lecture
- Professor Jean-Pierre Dupuy (École Polytechnique, Paris / Stanford University, California)
- Dr Chris Fleming (Western Sydney University, NSW)
- Most Rev Dr Philip Freier (Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne/Primate of The Anglican Church of Australia)
- Professor Wolfgang Palaver (the University of Innsbruck)
- Ms Naomi Wolfe (Australian Catholic University)
Extended biographies are available on the keynote speakers page.
The format of the conference will include evening keynote addresses, followed by morning panel sessions on the same topic as the keynote. The morning sessions will have extended time for discussion and questions to explore the key conference themes, such as the relationship between religion and violence, and an analysis of contemporary religious violence, especially Islamist extremism. The conference will also feature a panel on violence and religion in Australian-Indigenous history.
The conference is hosted by the Australian Catholic University. It is co-organised with the Australian Girard Seminar (AGS) and will incorporate its 6th annual conference.
The 2015 Conference took place at Saint Louis University, from July 8-12. It was keynoted by Shawn COPELAND, a professor of theology at Boston College. She gave a talk on Friday July 10th called, “The Risk of Memory, The Cost of Forgetting.” James ALISON delivered a keynote on the evening of Wednesday July 8th, which served to open the conference. It is titled “Taking Cinderella to the Ball: how a mimetic anthropology restores the theological virtue of hope to its rightful place.” The conference was excited to have Peter THIEL back to give a keynote on the evening of July 9th. We also had a plenary panel on the future of mimetic theory and theology (July 10th) with Nikolaus WANDINGER, Brian ROBINETTE (theology, Boston College) and David BENTLEY HART (current occupant of the Danforth Chair, Saint Louis University). In addition, the lynching project, now in its fifth year, organized a keynote panel around the theme of Ferguson and race. As usual, we had a keynote devoted to the Schwager Award winners. We were especially happy to have a panel devoted to the founding and history of COV&R to celebrate its “Silver Jubilee.” James WILLIAMS, Martha REINEKE, and Gil BAILIE will recall their memories of the early years of the conference.
The memory of the outbreak of the First World War a hundred years ago raises far-reaching questions concerning the source and course of violent confrontation. This can be seen in recent publications about the subject such as: Christopher CLARK’s The Sleepwalkers (2012), Ernst PIPER’s Nacht über Europa (2013) and Herfried MÜNKLER’s Der große Krieg (2013), among others. The nature and proportions of the First World War led some theoreticians to define it as a breach in human history and as the great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century. Such an event calls for a wide-ranging analysis of the different aspects of the war itself, something that Herfried MÜNKLER carried out with unprecedented detail and rigor in his monumental book about the Great War. Never before had the relationship of attack to defense implied such an escalation towards the total deployment of antagonist forces on a global level. However, it is not only the trans-European character of the conflict or the brutality of trench warfare that raises significant questions about this singular event, but the transformative character and the dissemination of violence that can be located before and after the war itself: on the one hand, the Napoleonic and the FrancoPrussian wars in the 19th century; on the other hand, the Russian, Chinese and Spanish civil wars and the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century. In this sense, the First World War can be seen as a crystallization point of what René GIRARD – against the Hegelian understanding of history – has called “the law of human relations”: an escalation of violence even at the risk of total destruction.
In his discussion with Benoît CHANTRE on the escalation of violence originally published under the title Achever Clausewitz (English translation Battling to the End, German translation Im Angesicht der Apokalypse. Clausewitz zu Ende denken), René GIRARD draws on the resources of mimetic theory to analyze the problematic of the “escalation to the extremes”, or more specifically: the inability of politics to contain the reciprocal intensification of violence, the transformation in the nature of warfare from the 18th to the 20th century and the implications of the French-German conflict (from the Franco-Prussian war to the battle of Verdun) with regard to the new forms of worldwide violence in the 21st century. GIRARD’s book Battling to the End offers as coordinates three axes of reflection which situate the thematic nucleus of this conference: sacrifice and the modalities of the sacred (from the “archaic” to the “corrupted” sacred); the nature and implications of warfare; and the transformation of violence on a global scale. These thematic questions articulate a complex field of research and pose challenging questions to GIRARD’s sense of mimetic theory. Is Christian revelation the only possibility of identifying the ultimate injustice of sacrificial mechanisms, and, if so, is it doomed to failure by its very elimination of sacrifice as the means to temporary and partial pacification? Do we live in a world in which political institutions can no longer provide a counterweight to the disseminating and ever increasing violence perpetuated by humans? Does the Girardian use of the term “absolute war” apply to our contemporary reality, despite the decentered character of warfare after the collapse of states? These questions call for discourse among different disciplines – like philosophy, theology and anthropology, as well as political and social sciences – in order to shed light on the problematic of the escalation of violence and victimization. They also show the challenges of modern Western culture in reflecting upon the role of peace in educational contexts and how important Girard’s mimetic insights into desire and rivalry are in this respect.
GIRARD declares in his book the necessity of producing “a quite different kind of rationality” (Battling to the End, p. 2) in order to grasp the radical nature of violence. Accordingly, the conference will seek to compare the contribution of mimetic theory with the insights of other theories and disciplines. The phenomenology of “donation” developed by Jean-Luc MARION points to important aspects in this context. MARION’s approach to the problem of evil and vengeance in Prolegomena to Charity runs parallel to several lines of the Girardian analysis of the scapegoat mechanism, not only in the relationship between aggression and victimization, but also in the role of charity as providing the only escape from a subjectivity imprisoned by the destructive mechanisms of rivalrous desire. In order to think beyond this “logic of evil”, MARION seeks to develop what GIRARD declared a cultural desideratum: an alternative type of rationality. That is in the broad sense the purpose of MARION’s “third reduction”, a reduction no longer to the appearance of objectivity (HUSSERL) or to the beingness of being (HEIDEGGER), but to donation itself. The implications of this step beyond the purview of phenomenology lead inter alia to quite another view of sacrifice, related to the very comingover that delivers the gift from any kind of conditioning: sacrifice as something that does not require destruction, exchange or even contract, but a radical approach to the infinite – a line of thought prominent also in the works of Emmanuel LEVINAS and Jan PATOČKA.
Humanity is more than ever the author of its own fall because it has become able to destroy its world. -René Girard
From July 10-14, 2013, the University of Northern Iowa will host the annual meeting of COV&R. The theme of this year’s conference is “A Land between Two Rivers: Space, Place, and Mimetic Theory.” This theme is an appropriate one to consider in Iowa, because visitors to the state find most memorable the vast expanses of land and sky. But the land, which has been central to Iowa’s economy and to the nation’s food supply, is undergoing massive change as industrial agriculture replaces family farms. With Iowa as a focus point for reflection, conference participants will consider how mimetic theory can illuminate ecological issues, contribute to environmental ethics, and inform our reflections on interconnections among organisms and varied forms of life.
Our conversation will be facilitated by three keynote addresses on the conference theme. Laura JACKSON, who holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University and is a professor of biology at UNI, will help lay groundwork for our discussion, drawing on her expertise in ecology and sustainable agriculture. JACKSON will speak about the demise of the family farm and the rise of industrial agriculture, which is posing serious ecological challenges. Her presentation is “Restoring Ecological Health in an Agricultural Sacrifice Zone.”
Our second keynote speaker, Whitney BAUMAN, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University and a graduate of Graduate Theological Union, will offer the Raven Foundation Lecture. The driving question behind BAUMAN’s specialization in the area of religion and ecology is: How do religious beliefs, insights, doctrines, and practices shape the material-physical worlds around us? Even if one does not adhere to or practice a given tradition, religions have shaped the cultures in which humans live. In BAUMAN’s work, he analyzes how answers to the “big questions” with which religions have grappled have shaped the human relationship with the rest of the natural world. He is especially interested in analyzing how these “big questions” are changed by forces such as global climate change and globalization. In the end, he understands these religious questions to be questions about ethics: how ought we to live responsibly as human beings vis. a vis. the rest of the natural world. Bauman will speak on “Religion, Ecology, and the Planetary Other: Opening Spaces for Difference.” Following his lecture, there will be a reception sponsored by the Raven Foundation.
Our final keynote speaker will be Mark WALLACE from Swarthmore College. WALLACE, a graduate of the University of Chicago, will deliver the Raymund Schwager, S.J. Memorial Lecture. Early in his career, WALLACE edited Curing Violence: Essays on René Girard with Thee SMITH. He has not been engaged directly with mimetic theory in recent years and views the invitation to join us this summer as an opportunity to forge links between his early and current work. WALLACE’s research and writing now are situated within the emerging field of religion and ecology. Noting an affinity between religion and ecology, WALLACE sees the intellectual wager of this discipline as follows: the often unknown wellsprings of human beings’ perspectives on the environment must be tapped if we are to understand adequately how individuals and societies have conceived of their place in the natural world. WALLACE reflects on questions such as: Are human beings part of or beyond nature? Do human beings have obligations to other life forms? Does the cosmos have an inherent purpose or function? For WALLACE, these questions are religious, moral, and ecological at the same time. They animate WALLACE’s writing, especially in regard to the role Christianity has played in both deepening and ameliorating the environmental crisis in our time.
In order to facilitate our conversations with the keynote speakers, BAUMAN’s and WALLACE’s addresses will be followed by breakout sessions in which session participants will discuss the lectures in small groups. There also will be a “wrap-up” session on the keynote addresses that will afford the small groups an opportunity to share insights from their discussions when we reconvene in the auditorium. So also will all three keynote speakers engage each other in discussion on the conference theme. This synthesizing session will be facilitated by Wolfgang PALAVER.
We will continue our special emphasis on lynching during a plenary session. Julia ROBINSON, Barbara THIEDE, and Joseph WINTERS from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will speak on “Literary Lynchings: Mimetic Theory, Race, and Lynching in Jewish and African American Literature. “ René GIRARD’s treatise of the term “lynching” captures the socially constructed imaginary of perpetrators, the maleficence of rivalry and the dubious monsterization of their victims. Further, the term exposes the depths of mimetic transference of a society’s deviant propensities to reclaim and revalorize a communal identity over against a mythic surrogate. As GIRARD states, “The representation of lynching in myth is always found in a context that necessitates the inference of its reality, because only that inference can illuminate that myth as a whole in all its details.” The study of lynching, amid its multifaceted forms within global communities, promises to reveal the central efficacy of collective acts of violence, thereby unveiling the paradigmatic patterns of thought and behavior that shape oppressive ideologies. Lynching then, can become a lens by which to expose and even deconstruct historically reified and culturally defined narratives of race, religion, and even, gender. This year’s plenary on the study of mimetic theory and lynching addresses African American and Jewish literary productions.
The concluding plenary of the conference on Saturday afternoon, offered with the support of the Raven Foundation, will feature Brian MCLAREN and James ALISON speaking on “Exploring the New Paradigm: Girard and the Christianity of the 21st Century.” With reference to the new curriculum, Jesus The Forgiving Victim, which is being launched, MCLAREN and ALISON will explore some of the differences which GIRARD makes to how we read the Bible, how we might live the reality of Church, and what sort of worldwide networks we might find ourselves getting involved in as this understanding of Christianity takes wing. ALISON, whose work is informed by the thought of René GIRARD, is the author of many books including The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin through Easter Eyes and On Being Liked. He is featured in Jesus: The Forgiving Victim. MCLAREN founded Cedar Ridge Community Church, an innovative, transdenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region. He recently left the pastorate to devote full time to writing and speaking. His books include, The Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, Finding Our Way Again, and A New Kind of Christianity.
Other conference highlights will include a showing of the documentary Hellbound? A panel discussion of the film moderated by Adam ERICKSEN will feature filmmaker Kevin MILLER, Michael HARDIN, and Vanessa AVERY. Book sessions will feature The Girardians by James WILLIAMS, Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts by Jeremiah ALBERG, and René Girard’s Mimetic Theory by Wolfgang PALAVER. Vanessa AVERY will offer a workshop about a new training program that has been designed to help institutional leadership, management and staff to identify the stages of scapegoating in the workplace, find effective ways to intervene, and ultimately transform organizational culture into a culture of healthy, above-board, generous relationality. She will present an overview of the training, (with a focus on the scapegoating model developed out of GIRARD’s thought), and some initial reflections from having completed the first run of the pilot program. In addition, over sixty papers will be featured in concurrent sessions at the conference.
I look forward to welcoming everyone to Iowa. In addition to hosting a conference that promises to be dynamic and engaging, I also will be introducing you to the history and distinctive culture of the area. Special events during the conference will acquaint participants with some interesting and unique aspects of rural life and small-town America. These will include a “Friday night down-town” evening of dining and entertainment on Cedar Falls’ Main Street, an award winning shopping and dining district that is quintessentially Midwestern. There are three Saturday morning excursions from which to select. Some participants will travel to the Amana Colonies, site of one of America’s longest lasting Utopian communities that was settled by German Pietists in 1855. Others will visit the Seed Saver’s Exchange, a world-famous repository for heirloom seeds that features gardens, orchards, and White Park cattle. Because most seed companies produce only a few varieties of seed, seed repositories play a critical role. Large-scale agriculture favors genetic stock in which quantity of production and ease of transport (e.g. fruits impervious to bruising in transit) are more important than quality (e.g., taste). Further, large-scale agriculture crops lack genetic diversity. If diseases wipe out a particular crop, in the absence of a seed stock that is genetically different, the entire plant species may go extinct. The Seed Saver’s Exchange preserves genetic diversity as a protection against plant extinction. The Exchange also makes available to the individual gardener genetically diverse fruits and vegetables that enrich our eating experiences. The third excursion will be to the Cedar Hills Sand Prairie and will include a showing of the award winning documentary: America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie. The conference will conclude with a wine and cheese reception and the traditional banquet. “Mimetic Magic,” a show by New York magician and Girardian, James WARREN, will follow the dinner.
A disaster that so perfectly combines natural and human elements, means that we cannot forget those who suffered and those who suffer still. Our opening and closing plenary session will touch on this matter directly.
Prof. Norio AKASAKA has used mimetic theory extensively in his research over the last twenty years. He is the author of over twenty books, many dealing with the Tohoku region which was so severely afflicted by the catastrophe. In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation he was named to the government’s committee on rebuilding Tohoku. He has spent the last 14 months laboring tirelessly for the people of this region.
Prof. Jean-Pierre DUPUY is well known to the members of COV&R. He will open the Conference with a paper titled, “Catastrophes and Near-Misses”. His work, Petite métaphysique des tsunamis, has already been published in Japanese, so his thoughts on this latest disaster are highly anticipated in Japan as well in other parts of the world. He will think through the meaning of being “that close” to annihilation in terms of human history.
Prof. Paul DUMOUCHEL will be joined by a distinguished panel to discuss his important monograph published last year, Le Sacrifice Inutile.
Prof. Chris FLEMING, the author of the outstanding René Girard: Violence and Mimesis, will deliver a paper dealing with Hiroshima and the Holocaust. He will be examining some of the different moral and cultural impacts of these two quite different “events.” The title for the paper is “Apocalypse and Modern Victims.”
Prof. Eric GANS has given much thought over the years in his Chronicles of Love and Resentment to the meaning of various twentieth-century catastrophes such as the Shoah, and Hiroshima as he has developed his theory of Generative Anthropology. COV&R welcomes him again as he addresses us with a paper titled “Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Victimary Era.”
Profs. Sandhor GOODHART and Julia ROBINSON will hold a session that investigates the phenomenon of lynching.
Prof. Shoichiro IWAKIRI is the translator of Girard’s I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening. He will be “translating” again as he addresses us on the topic of “‘It is all like a strange dream.’— The Girardian Structure and the Dionysiac elements.”
Ms. Somaly MAM is known for her work helping the victims of the sex-trade and human trafficking in Cambodia. A victim herself, she tells her own story in The Road of Lost Innocence. She has received a number of rewards and recognition for her work, being named Glamour’s Woman of the Year and one of CNN’s Heroes in 2006. In 2009 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Somaly MAM’s extraordinary personal strength and ongoing struggle for a just world COV&R Bulletin 40 (May 2012) 3 where human beings are no longer enslaved and exploited, earned her the first Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in 2008. I would urge COV&R members to look at her foundation’s website.
Prof. Richard SCHENK, O.P. was recently selected as President of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Germany (2011-2016). SCHENK’s publications have centered on issues in the history and systematics of philosophical and theological anthropology and interreligious relations. We are honored to have him deliver the 2012 Raymund Schwager, S.J. Memorial Lecture.
"B. C. Hearing you, someone could take you as a defender of order.
R. G. And he would be wrong! (...) In a society without crisis, completely stabilized in the absence of violence, cannot be history." -René Girard, Achever Clausewitz
In René Girard’s latest book, Achever Clausewitz, the continuum of disorder and order in history and politics is considered from an apocalyptic standpoint. In the case of Clausewitz facing Napoleon, the encounter between the imitator and his model turns into an escalation which inexorably propagates to the whole of Europe. At the end of his analysis, Girard comes to the conclusion that there is no difference between chaos and order any more. Neither political aims, nor objects or victims make the difference. It is only the escalation to the extremes! which will drive — from now on — the relationship between doubles. Can we agree with Girard that the mimetic clash between enemy brothers will eventually lead to sheer mutual destruction? This is the starting point of the Conference.
Within the framework of current international politics, this critical issue may be further developed. Are we approaching the day when the civilizations influenced by the West will play a global role, without further need for a legitimizing model?
Hence a third group of questions, which America as well as Europe is concerned with. Will the West accept a ‘painless decline’? Or will it, rather, face a future of mimetic chaos, where more and more violence will be daily news? Can that really be the last word from the West about the mimetic roots of human culture? Of course, it is not our intention to launch some sort of pathetic call for the support of Western culture. We might rather feel challenged to prove the persistency of its roots. In the course of its own mimetic crisis, will the Western culture be able to face up to disorder and rivalry by establishing a model for creative mimesis?
The main topic of the conference: disorder/order in history and politics will be developed through four sections of study.
- Europe: the land opposite.
- The Mediterranean sea: what are we doing in here?
- Revenge: get your own back
- Realism and sacrifice in figurative arts, literature and cinema
Violence clearly transforms persons and communities. Violence is also transformed by those same, affected persons and communities, as they struggle to live in its wake or under its continued threat. What sort of artistic, expressive forms and cultural formations result from the experience of violence? How do they give and conceal evidence of their violent genesis? What determines whether or not a cultural form puts violence to rest, keeps it at bay, perpetuates it, or awakens its reappearance in yet another, related form? Can the “art” of violence become the work of peace? If so, how and under what conditions?
Co-organizers: Ann W. Astell and Margaret Pfeil, Department of Theology
Graciously co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Religion and Society, Center for Social Concerns, Department of Theology, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Institute for Church Life, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Mendoza College of Business, Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Office for the Vice President of Research, Program in Catholic Social Tradition, Program of Liberal Studies, School of Architecture, School of Law, Religion and Literature, and Snite Museum of Art, as well as Imitatio, Inc., and the Raven Foundation.
Keynote speaker Professor Tariq Said RAMADAN is an internationally renowned commentator on Islam. Professor RAMADAN is Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and President of the European Muslim Network. He has written extensively on Muslim themes, including the challenges of globalisation, modernity and European identity, and will give the Raymund Schwager Lecture on the opening evening of the conference. A response from COV&R’s President Wolfgang PALAVER, will set out the parameters for a discussion of Mimetic Theory and Islam.
This is an important turning point for COV&R. Are we committed to the claim that the resources for non-violent transformation – that is, the overcoming of violent mimesis and the rejection of scapegoating – are to be found with the Judaeo-Christian tradition alone? What, then, are we to make of the presence of pacific spiritual resources within other religious traditions? We have felt that this important theme required a sustained and focussed dialogue: on Thursday 9th July we will be further guided by Dr Michael BARNES SJ and Professor Gwen GRIFFITH-DICKSON. Dr BARNES is a specialist in the Theology of Inter-Religious Dialogue at Heythrop College, with a background in Indian religions. He is the author of Theology and the Dialogue of Religions, and runs the de Nobili Inter-Faith Centre in Southall, West London. Professor GRIFFITH-DICKSON is the Director of the Lokahi Foundation, which seeks to progress a more diverse and harmonious society through research and grassroots activity. Her academic background is in philosophical theology and the theology of religions; she is also Visiting Professor at King’s College, University of London.
Scholars from the three Abrahamic traditions will converse together on themes of mutual concern. Dr Reza SHA-KAZEMI, who researches at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, has a background in international relations and politics, as well as the study of religion. He is the founding editor of the Islamic World Report, and has written extensively on Shi’i and comparative spirituality. Jonathan GORSKY and Ahmad ACHTAR lecture in Jewish and Islamic Studies, respectively, at Heythrop College; while Dr Peter TYLER is Senior Lecturer in Spirituality at St Mary’s University College, with specialist interest in Carmelite spirituality and the philosophy of Ludwig WITTGENSTEIN. Dr Nur MASALHA directs the Holy Land Research Project at St. Mary’s University College. He is the editor of Holy Land Studies, a multidisciplinary journal, and the author of several works on Palestinian politics. Sheelah Treflé HIDDEN and James ALISON will present insights on these themes from the perspective of mimetic theory. Sheelah is a research student at the University of Wales at Lampeter, with specialist interest in the dialogue between the contemplative traditions of the Abrahamic religions. James is the Director of Educational Projects for the Imitatio Foundation, and a freelance theologian with numerous books on mimetic theory to his name, including The Joy of Being Wrong and Faith Beyond Resentment. We hope to confirm the name of at least one high-profile Muslim woman speaker for these sessions.
The rest of the Colloquium will explore more widely the implications of mimetic theory, specifically (on Friday 10th July) via a series of parallel workshops, to which participants will be invited to sign up at the beginning of the Colloquium. The purpose of these groups will be to consolidate existing insights, such as: the convergence between the thought of René GIRARD and Bernard LONERGAN, and the fecundity of mimetic theory for new paradigms in science. These sessions will also enable new breakthroughs – not least geographical, as we explore the reception of mimetic theory in the countries of ‘the South’, and in central and eastern Europe twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Participants who have a special interest or expertise in these workshop themes are invited to think how they might contribute, however informally.
Jean-Pierre DUPUY (Stanford / Ecole Polytechnique) has distinguished himself as one of the world’s leading experts on catastrophe. His now classic Pour un catastrophisme éclairé: Quand l’impossible est certain (Toward an Enlightened Doomsaying: When the Impossible is Certain, Seuil 2001) will be translated into English along with selections from his recent work on catastrophe. Professor DUPUY was also among the many researchers working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice-President Al GORE.
Thanks to the generosity of the Raven Foundation we will also have Jack MILES (UC Irvine), winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for God: A Biography, and a MacArthur fellow. His second book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2002. His talk, “The Missionary Moment: Christian America and the World War of Ideas,” will discuss the notion of conversion in terms of the relations between the US and the Muslim world.
The renowned Italian philosopher and former European Parliament member Gianni VATTIMO will be addressing the conference. His most recent work has dealt with the relation between philosophy and religion, and includes: Religion (Stanford, 1998); Belief (Polity, 1999); After Christianity (Columbia, 2002); and The Future of Religion (Columbia, 2005, with Richard Rorty).
The first Lecture in Honor of Raymund SCHWAGER will be given by W. J. T. MITCHELL, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, and, since 1978, editor-in-chief of the leading interdisciplinary journal in the humanities, Critical Inquiry. His The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon (Chicago, 1998) was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2006, Professor MITCHELL was awarded the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize for What Do Pictures Want? (Chicago, 2005). He is currently working on a book entitled Totemism, Fetishism, Idolatry: Images and Others.
There will be a special session devoted to René GIRARD’s latest book, Achever Clausewitz (2007). Professor GIRARD’s talk, “Clausewitz and the Apocalypse,” will introduce the major theses of his book, and will be followed by a round table discussion with current COV&R President Wolfgang PALAVER, Robert HAMERTON-KELLY (Stanford / Imitatio), and Jean-Pierre DUPUY, all of whom have developed the theme of the apocalypse in their recent work.
The commission preparing the Colloquium on Violence & Religion (COV&R) 2007 in Amsterdam proposes to link up with Mak's challenge to rethink the concepts of tolerance in different social and political contexts. The developments in the Netherlands do not stand alone. They epitomise fundamental questions concerning vulnerability and tolerance in today’s world. We invite the participants to explore the significance of the connection of tolerance and vulnerability in their respective disciplines and in their various professional or personal experiences using the models of mimetic theory in their analyses.
Participants are invited to explore the possibility that the concept of creative mimesis can help develop a framework for constructive, mutually-empowering human relationships that can avert violence when it threatens, and develop life-affirming responses when it occurs. When mimetic desire becomes creative, reconciliation and active flourishing occur as individuals or communities consciously create alternatives to scapegoating.
The question as to whether imitation of Christ is an activity of human beings or a matter of God's grace, the alternatives of either-or turns out to be false in the Christology that emerges from the reflections of three thinkers - Bonhoeffer, Schwager and Girard.
The theme of the symposium was nature and human nature in light of mimetic theory. The environment of Ghost Ranch confronts one with a starker sense of the difference between the total environing world and the routine social worlds with which we are familiar.
Has the media of communication become the new "church," outside of which there is no salvation?
Given the history of conflict and misunderstanding between Judaism and Christianity, the planners of the conference had as their objective to reduce the potential for violence by using the mimetic theory to explore what these two traditions have in common.
For the first time, Girard's work was set in a wider philosophical context. His primary conversation partners for this meeting were Charles Taylor and Gianni Vattimo.
The format of the conference was a plenary session devoted to reach of the five major religious traditions, with the time divided in each for the presenter's summary of his paper (which had been circulated prior to the conference), the comments of a respondent, and open discussion. Major papers were given by Robert Daly, S.J., Paul Neuchterlein responding; Reuven Dimmelman, Sandor Goodhart responding; Qamar-ul Huda, Robert Hammerton-Kelly responding; Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Julia W. Shinnick, responding; and Christopher Ives, Leo D. Lefebure responding.
In his introductory remarks, conference organizer Thee Smith raised a number of questions. Do theorists of violence, such as most members of COV&R, have the imagination, vision, or fortitude for attempting to reduce violence, an effort that engages most practitioners? Should we not become "more publicly accountable concerning the consequences for the practice of the theories of violence that we explore"?
The conference team sought out contributors from many fields, some of whom were not involved with the mimetic theory, to address the symposium topic. Papers covered many topics including violence and education.
The fact of violence in our cultural substructures as represented in film came home to those present while watching a number of films which included Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction, Bad Lieutenant, Ulysses' Gaze, and Underground.
The symposium took up the topic of conflict in the context of international politics. Speakers included René Girard, four speakers from (CISAC) Center for International Security and Cooperation - Byron Bland, Jonathan Mercer, Melanie Greenberg, and Dan Froats, as well as others from interdisciplinary programs at Stanford.
The symposium included sessions on criminal justice and reduction of violence plus two controversial papers on the "postmodern" positions of feminist thought and a challenging theology of the church.
One of the conclusions presented at the conference was the market society contains violence in the double sense; it possesses the elements for potential violence and at the same time it holds it back.
The interdisciplinary range of the presentations included reflections on the divine and the sacred were given in the treatments of texts in French, Spanish, Italian, English, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, and biblical literature.
The symposium concluded the shift from civil rights to multiculturalism the politics of the "trickle down" effect, that is, trying to solve the problem of race relations from the top down.
René Girard's presentation, "A Venda Myth Analyzed", was the centerpiece of the conference. His analysis of the myth of Python and his two wives provided an excellent source for his application of his argument two actual events lie behind the myth - a crisis in the community and a scapegoat.
Held in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, the fledgling COV&R organization enjoyed papers presented by Walter Wink, James G. Williams, Michael Hardin, Edwin Hallsten, and Wolfgang Palaver.