In this issue: exciting news about our summer meeting, information on the fall Theology & Peace gathering, a letter from the Netherlands, plus reviews of books by Anthony Bartlett and Marcia Pally.


Letter from the President

Breaking News: COV&R in Bogotá

Martha Reineke
Northern Iowa University

Martha Reineke

I’m looking forward so much to seeing familiar and new faces at our upcoming meeting in Bogotá. It has been far too long since we last gathered in Innsbruck. With just over a month until we meet, I’m devoting my column to highlighting recent developments. Here’s a copy of the schedule.

Call for Papers and Schwager Essay Competition Deadline Extensions

Proposals and essay entries will be accepted until June 1. If you have been sitting on the fence about either, it’s time to jump and submit your work to share with us in Bogotá. Please see the conference website for details on each. 

Lock in the Regular Conference Registration Rate

Registration is open! Register now for the regular conference rate. The process is being run by PDC, and you will find that it is very easy to register. Please note, in particular, the options for two wonderful field trips and also the signup for daily transportation to/from the conference to the outlying hotels. 

Need a Roommate?

The Roommate Finder Forum has opened on the Member Pages. You will need your COV&R member ID, assigned by PDC when you last paid your dues, to use this service. A couple of the hotels have 1 and 2-bedroom suites which are ideal for roommate situations. 

Travel Grants

There remain a few travel grants available for $1000 US dollars for graduate students or practitioners who are attending for the first time and giving papers. 

Inaugural René Girard Lecture

I am delighted to announce a conference highlight: the first René Girard Lecture with funding graciously provided by Imitatio. On behalf of the Girard family, Martin Girard will offer opening remarks to commemorate this special occasion. The lecture will be offered by João Cezar de Castro Rocha. He is Professor of Comparative Literature at State University of Rio de Janeiro and a Researcher at CNPq, the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. He was President of the Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature (ABRALIC) in 2016-2017 and is the author of 13 books as well as editor of 30 titles. His latest publications are: Guerra Cultural e Retórica do Ódio. Crônicas de um Brasil póspolítico (2021); Culturas shakespearianas. Teoria mimética e os desafios da mímesis em circunstâncias não hegemônicas (2017; English translation: Shakespearean Cultures: Latin America and the Challenge of Mimesis in Non-Hegemonic Circumstances, 2019); and Cultures Latino-américaines et Poétiques de l’Émulation: Littératures des Faubourgs du Monde? (2015). Castro Rocha has received two national awards in Brazil: Prêmio de Crítica e História Literária da Academia Brasileira de Letras (Machado de Assis: Por uma poética da emulação, 2013); Prêmio Mário de Andrade da Biblioteca Nacional (Literatura e cordialidade: O público e o privado na cultura brasileira, 1998). A former student of René Girard, Castro Rocha is co-author, with René Girard and Pierpaolo Antonello, of Les origines de la culture: Entretiens avec Pierpaolo Antonello et João Cezar de Castro Rocha (2004), which received the “Prix Aujourd’hui.” It was published in English as Evolution and Conversion: Dialogues on the Origins of Culture (2008) and has been published also in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Korean, Japanese and Czech.

As you can see, Roberto Solarte and his team have planned a wonderful four days for us, with a compelling slate of speakers and excellent opportunities for daily socializing. I am going several days early to spend time in Bogotá as a tourist and hope that you too will come early or stay late. Bogotá is an amazing city with a fascinating history, great climate thanks to its elevation, multiple museums, a world-famous market, and gorgeous parks nearby. Most helpfully, the American dollar and the Euro go a long way in Colombia. 

With best wishes to all for your travel to Bogotá, 

Martie Reineke

Musings from the Executive Secretary

Persistent Crisis:
Old Inhumanities and My Cluelessness

Nikolaus Wandinger
University of Innsbruck

As many of us prepare for the upcoming conference in Bogotá, whose theme I have deliberately mutilated for the title of this column, a war rages in Ukraine that is indeed a crisis that the organizers had not meant when choosing their theme, but it forces itself into my—and I suppose some others’—attention, and I must admit, it leaves me somewhat clueless.

This is not because I had supposed such a war could not happen anymore or because I had believed in the Russian president’s peaceful intentions. Neither is the case. Rather, since 2007 it became more and more clear that Mr. Putin was testing the West’s supposed “red lines,” and he learned that they were nothing but hot air. Not everyone is convinced that deterrence works, and every conscientious person should know that even if it works, it is a highly dangerous business. But in this case no deterrence was built up. Mr. Putin could behave in whatever way he wanted and the consequences were naught. The message the West sent was: Actually, we don’t care; we are mouthing around but that’s all. I am not talking of military action here; but sanctions that were imposed after this year’s attack on Ukraine should have been imposed at the latest after 2014’s attack on Ukraine, even if that hit only the Eastern part of the country and Crimea. Instead, Western leaders still traveled to meetings with the Russian president and seemed to believe his absurd lies, which he himself contradicted a short while later.

An especially inglorious and mimetic interplay occurred between my home country, Germany, and the U.S. While then President Trump downplayed the dangers coming from Russia, admiring Mr. Putin for his macho style and trying to blackmail the Ukrainian government for his own political gain, he still—rightly—opposed the building of the North Stream II pipeline by Germany, a line that would circumvent Poland and Ukraine, making it possible to cut off their gas supply without endangering Germany’s, but in the process making Germany all the more dependent on Russian gas. Mr. Trump’s inconsistent argumentation and his boorish behavior towards then German Chancellor Angela Merkel mimetically encouraged Germany to hold fast to these building plans and made it easy to claim that President Trump only wanted to promote American liquified gas exports—which was probably true, but the mimetic reaction of spite on the German side contributed to their blindness: it would have been in Germany’s very own best interest not to be so dependent on Russia. Now, this dependence exists, and we have to fight it off again, which is much harder than avoiding it would have been.

It is things like that—mimetically explicable as they are—that leave me clueless. The same is true about the following: I would have preferred this war to be prevented by credible deterrence. This did not happen. However, does it follow from that that the West now should support Ukraine with heavy weapons? Will that really help or will it merely prolong the war and increase the number of casualties? But then: Don’t we somehow owe it to Ukraine for not preventing this war in the first place? We do not know what President Putin’s reactions would be: Would he use nuclear weapons, if his troops were in danger of being defeated? Would he command them to continue westward, if they were victorious? Either seems possible right now. So, what is the right path to take?

Hence, I am quite clueless as a concerned citizen, and maybe I am even more so as a theologian, whose task would be to look at that from the point of view of the gospel. I will not do so in this column; I will try to offer some thoughts on that in Bogotá—which brings me back to our upcoming conference.

I am very much looking forward to having an in-person conference again after three years. And I am intrigued by the location we will be in: for the first time in South America! Of course, this means for many that a large distance has to be covered to get there, which shows in airfares. However, I realized that the costs of staying are much lower than in many places we went to in the past. So, I would encourage those who are reluctant for financial reasons to check out the good rates in the hotels (use the currency converter on the conference web-site), and I want to remind you that COV&R offers travel grants for grad students or practitioners of mimetic theory that would not have the means to come otherwise. For the exact conditions and procedure, see the conference website and contact me, if you want to apply.

There are so many emerging and persisting crises in this world. Let us meet to make our tiny contribution towards alleviating them!

Editor’s Column

Gatherings and Publications

Curtis Gruenler
Hope College

In addition to COV&R’s annual meeting, here are some other opportunities to get together with like-minded folks.

The Corrymeela Centre in Northern Ireland, one of COV&R’s partner organizations, is holding “Nurturing Hope—A Learning Journey,” July 15-22, 2022. The event is an opportunity to convene different people and groups interested in becoming a dispersed learning community of practice around a five-book reflective resource, emerging from the reconciliation practice of Corrymeela, written by Derick Wilson, Duncan Morrow, J. Jean Horstman, and Dong Jin Kim. The foundation elements were inspired by working with the late Roel Kaptein, a friend of René Girard and founding member of COV&R. Links to more information and a contact email are available on the partner events page. The authors, four members of Corrymeela, will also be offering a 90-minute webinar on June 29, “Nurturing Hope—A Learning Journey: Creating Intimate Space to Experience Our Honest Differences,” sponsored by Mediators Beyond Borders International.

COV&R member Julie Shinnick will be hosting a weekly read-aloud on Zoom of the book Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross by Mark Heim (Eerdmans, 2006) beginning on Monday, June 6, at 6:00-7:30pm Central U.S. time. Heim’s book is a study from a Girardian perspective of the various atonement theories, treating their historical and theological contexts. As Julie says, “The beauty of a ‘live read’ is that there is no homework and that we can stop to discuss whenever anyone has a comment or question.” Please contact Julie at for more information or to receive the zoom invitation. Weekly attendance is not necessary; people can drop in as schedules permit. A weekly email with a summary of paragraphs read and of the discussion will help everyone keep up if they have to miss a session.

Per Bjørnar Grande has established a Girardian group in Scandavia, “Mimesis Scandinavis,” with Anders Olsson, head of the group who decides who receives the Nobel Prize in literature. They arranged a small conference on mimetic theory, where ten academics got together on December 6-7, 2021, and presented their work. 

  1. Hanna Mäkelä, “Mimetic Theory in Finland and Scandinavia”
  2. Annika Mörte Alling, “Triangular desire and bovarysm: Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert”
  3. Anders Olsson, “Strindberg from a Girardian perspective”
  4. Maria Kohnen Ludwigs, “Mimetic theory and narratology. The relationship between the narrator/narratee and implied author/implied reader”
  5. Jørgen Jørgensen, “One or more beginnings — on the relationships between mimetic theory and generative anthropology” 
  6. William A. Johnsen, “Aggravation and Violence in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler”
  7. Per Bjørnar Grande, “Mimesis and the Question on False or True Transcendence”
  8. Hélène Celdran (work in progress), “Une Ville en temps de guerre” by Djemaï seen from a mimetic point of view.
  9. Joakim Wrethed, “The Perpetual Return of the Scapegoat: N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy and Identity Politics”
  10. Anti A. Sundberg, “The Plague and the Scapegoat Mechanism in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex” 

If you are interested in future activities, please contact Per by email. And if you are planning gatherings that you think might be of interest to COV&R members, or anyone who might find our website, please contact the editor.

Publications and Calls for Papers

COV&R members should by now have received The Time Has Grown Short: René Girard, or the Last Law by Benoît Chantre, translated by Trevor Cribben Merrill, the newest volume in the series Breakthroughs in Mimetic Theory from Michigan State University Press. In MSUP’s series Studies in Violence, Mimesis & Culture, Toward an Islamic Theology of Nonviolence: In Dialogue with René Girard by Adnane Mokrani is due out in July 2022 and How to Think about Catastrophe: Toward a Theory of Enlightened Doomsaying by Jean-Pierre Dupuy in November. As described in Martha Reineke’s letter to members in February, new books in these two series will no longer be distributed at no cost to COV&R members because Imitatio has discontinued its funding for that program. Instead, members will receive a 20% discount on all titles in both series. The discount code for the back catalog is available on a members-only page of the COV&R website. When new books are available, COV&R will coordinate with the press to announce a discount code.

COV&R board member Erik Buys had the opportunity to write an extensive essay about the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross for Tertio, the Dutch equivalent of America Magazine. An English translation is available on the member articles page.

Comment magazine recently included an article on “Non-reactive Leadership: Lessons from René Girard and St. Ignatius of Loyola” by Dave Hillis, president of Leadership Foundations. Hillis turns to Girard for the anthropology of how, as he puts it, “we are shaped by our relationality long before our rationality.” Turning also to the work of James Alison, he articulates an approach to non-reactive leadership founded on engaging three questions: “How can I be free? How am I connected? How can I see?” The entire issue, on “the gift logic,” is worth a look.

As mentioned in previous issues, COV&R members who are familiar with mimetic theory’s connections to Dramatic Theology are encouraged to take a look at the call for papers for a special issue of Religions on Dramatic Theology. Contributions are welcome. The deadline for submissions is 5 September 2022.

Forthcoming Events

COV&R Annual Meeting

Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia
June 28-July 2, 2022

Emerging Crisis:
New Humanities and the Mimetic Theory

Complete information is available on the conference website. Proposals and entries for the Schwager Prize will be accepted until June 1. Information about lodging and travel grants is available here. Registration is open here.

Possible fields for paper proposals: 

We have focused our call for papers on the CRISIS. The crisis refers, on the one hand, to the new social movements, and to the excessive response of the public forces across almost all the planet. On the other hand, the pandemic caused by Covid-19, with an enormous death toll and serious economic effects, exposes the unjust distribution of wealth and opportunities in the world.

But new perspectives in the humanities have emerged in a context where the academy is under pressure to prioritize knowledge of the future and entrepreneurship, against the knowledge of the past and of what is not useful. This is an old crisis. But the situation of the last 50 years has produced movements in the humanities that only emerge in conflict against another form of the same humanities, fragmenting knowledge into rival ways of approaching the academic enterprise.

Our focus is on mimetic theory, its discussions in the different perspectives with which it is approached and what is assumed in the face of the different problems that are worked on. All papers that want to show their developments of and new discussions on mimetic theory are welcome.

In addition, working from mimetic theory and in dialogue with the new humanities, we would like to invite your proposals on:

  • Ways to understand the new social movements
  • Experiences of social mobilization that can be reflected from mimetic theory
  • Alternatives to reduce the violence of state security forces
  • Approaches to understand the crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic at local, national, regional and global levels
  • Responses to the effects that the pandemic has produced accompanied by the reflection unleashed by mimetic theory
  • Regional perspectives to approach mimetic theory, such as readings from the Global South, the heritage and developments of liberation philosophy and theology, and everything derived from the decolonial turn that affects issues related to ethnicity, power, gender, knowledge, and pedagogies

This is the reason why we invite people from different fields of knowledge to participate in this meeting, always with the reference of the mimetic theory proposed by René Girard and with the aim of having serious conversations in search of better understandings and solutions to the current crisis.

The approximate length of papers to be delivered will be 9000 words (approx. 30 min.). Proposals should include contact information, a title and a 300-word abstract. All submissions should include a statement at the end of the proposal listing technology needs. Proposals must be submitted in English.


The organizing committee also welcomes proposal for practitioner-focused, interactive workshops that relate to the work of Girard or the conference theme. Such sessions could take different forms (e.g., workshop-style, forum, discussion group, panel) and may cover areas of interest for a significant group. Please provide a description and rationale for an inter-active workshop on a particular topic to be facilitated for approximately 45 or 90 minutes by appropriately qualified persons. Working groups can be proposed in Spanish.

Proposals should be emailed to Mr. Ronald Rico.

Schwager Prize:

To honor the memory of Raymund Schwager S.J, the Colloquium on Violence and Religion is offering an award of $1,500 shared by up to three persons for the three best papers given by graduate students at the COV&R 2022 meeting. Receiving the award also entails the refund of the conference registration fee. The winners also receive a certificate.

Students presenting papers at the conference are invited to apply for the Raymund Schwager Memorial Award by sending a letter to that effect and the full text of their paper in an e-mail attachment to Roberto Solarte, organizer of the COV&R 2022 meeting and chair of the three-person COV&R Awards Committee. The paper should be in English, maximum length: 10 pages double-spaced. Because of blind review, the author name should not be stated in the essay or in the title of the PDF file. Winners will be announced in the conference program. Prize-winning essays should reflect an engagement with mimetic theory; they will be presented in a plenary session and be considered for publication in Contagion. 

Theology & Peace Summit

Nashville, TN
November 14-17, 2022

Scarritt-Bennett Center
Theology & Peace will convene a gathering, sponsored by the Raven Foundation, at the Scarritt Bennett Center, a conference and urban retreat center on ten peaceful acres just off Nashville’s Music Row. As organizer Sue Wright puts it, “This gathering will be a significant event! Given the war in Ukraine, the political polarization in the United States, and the environmental threat to all life on the planet, the work of Theology & Peace has never been more important. We hope to gather as many folks as we can! We wholeheartedly encourage our COV&R friends to participate! We’ll do serious work during the day, then relax and enjoy each other’s company in the evenings!” Stay tuned to the Theology & Peace website for more information.

Letter from…The Netherlands

Girard for a Prophetic Trialogue

Wiel Eggen
Dutch Girard Society

This 2022 war-torn Lent, I felt urged to evaluate my Girard-inspired interreligious efforts ever since I returned to Africa with his study on sacred violence in my bag, some 50 years ago. Our age is dripping with blood resulting from a three-way rivalry in Gospel interpretations. Western Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam are rife with hateful rivalry as they honor Jesus’ message. The former is mainly built on Paul’s theologia crucis, which dominates the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), while Eastern Orthodoxy stresses the theology of eschatological glory, highlighted by the Fourth Gospel. But there is the third tradition of the Q-text, a source used notably by Matthew and Luke, which focuses Jesus’ prophetic message of agape. Muhammad, who had seen the Christians’ infighting, drew (partly) on this third source of sayings by Jesus (Isa in the Quran’s Arabic). Girard’s  theory and evangelic concerns made me reflect on the rivalries issuing from these differences.

Before reading Girard, I had seen priests in Ghana use a faulty etymology to read the divine name Mawu as “the Unsurpassable.” Then, reading Violence and the Sacred as I prepared a pastoral center in Central Africa, I noted insensibility for the ethnological curiosity of a patrilineal Banda-tribe using the word eyi (meaning: mother) to express superiority and mastership. Later, while lecturing on such peculiarities in Girardian perspective, I was asked, as a secretary to the foreign affairs unit of the Dutch Council of Churches, to help in world-wide mediation efforts, from South-Africa and Israel to the Balkans. 

The Balkans’ rivaling three brother-nations, each claiming to be the true, God-fearing adepts of Jesus/Isa, led me to ruminate on Girard’s view of the Bible’s prophetic message. I did value St. Paul, translating his saving encounter with the risen Crucified near Damascus as a theologia crucis, yet I sensed how, bound to Platonic and other metaphysics, this theology rooted Western hierarchical structures in a sacrificial reading of Jesus’ reconciliation of sinners to the Absolute. Both the Reformation and the secularizing Enlightenment stayed in this groove, although the Pauline-Synoptic hermeneutics were recognized as one-sidedly underrating the Johannine tradition, so dear to Eastern Europe. 

When I was asked to help Polish students apply Girard’s mimetic theory to Catholic sacramentology, we pondered the split of New Testament studies along tripartite lines, calling for a re-harmonization. We understood Jesus’ order to imitate his Eucharistic gesture to mean a partaking in his self-donation as mutual food, rather than the consumption of his saving sacrificial graces; his Cana wedding-sign didn’t intend to free sexuality of “inherent sinfulness” by some ritual blessing, but to engage in liberating gendered links from the Eden Fall into rivalries; baptism means breaking with the narcissistic grip of one’s self-image; and ordained ministry is a daily exposure to contentious servitude. While sacraments thus disclosed their prophetic depth, we were shocked by the Christian divide along Poland’s Eastern border getting a murderous face, as the Kremlin chose to blow up Poland’s presidential plane, with the President and 95 top-functionaries on board, bound for the 2010 ceremony at Smolensk’s memorial for 22,000 Polish POWs Russia executed in WW II. This widely ignored clue to Putin’s further designs—a revenge for the Polish Catholic Pope’s role in the Warsaw Pact’s demise—fed on an age-old Christian feud and on a church-backed, embittered design to save Eastern-Europe from the West’s deviated faith. While the West hailed uprisings in Ukraine, Belarus and Arab lands, Putin’s resolve got stiffened in religious rhetoric. 

I leave it for others to apply mimetic theory to the atrocities that now sully our screens; I just want to spell out some of our subsequent Girardian musings. Given exegetical studies’ move away from research on the historical Jesus to redactional themes in various NT-texts—although this had Mohammed cry foul for falsifying Jesus’ Gospel/Injil—we noted that Synoptic and Johannine visions were increasingly complemented by findings from the Q-tradition. Mark’s gospel itself, counting as the prime synoptic text, shows a tripartite blend, with an atonement model that modified the sacrificial take on Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. While citing Isaiah, it leans heavily on Daniel’s vision of God replacing the Temple by His own eschatological presence in His “new people,” celebrating the divine liturgy and living in a charitable ummah—as advocated by the Qur’an. It made us perceive a triad of Orthodox faith singing the divine glory, Muslim-type charitable solidarity, and a Western future-oriented hope of Christ’s redemption, including its humanist reformulation. A three-way biblical hermeneutics, with Q-accents proving pivotal. An ecumenical call to halt the bickering about the new Jerusalem’s prophetic ideals. Keeping Girard’s innovation of the human sciences in mind, while seeing the global weight shift to the Pacific, we perceived this call for a Jesus-inspired trialogue. 

Meanwhile, the Dutch Girard group reflected on Islam’s denial of Jesus’ sacrificial death and explored Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s compatibility to mimetic theory. About a century ago, this Muslim reformer, seeking to remedy his people’s lethargy, had reconstructed Islamic thought in line with Western sciences, with Bergson, and with Whitehead’s process-thinking. His texts about selfhood seemed open to the interdividual positive mimesis of Girardian-Augustinian ilk, stressing God’s work in us to turn us into mutually inspirational models, not unlike the neo-patristic personalism in Orthodox authors like Zizioulas. Here again, a Girardian outlook on a trialogue emerged, integrating the three hermeneutics. While valuing the paschal symbol of Jesus’ saving presence in the Eucharist, it resents opposing the atonement rhetoric of sacrificial redemption vs. the celebration of God’s eschatological presence. Referring to the Abrahamic-Mosaic covenant-tradition, it rather reads the blood of Mark 14: 24 not as a redemption of past guilt, but as a purifying symbol in building the self-in-community by undoing mimetic rivalry. 

Sensitizing people by Jesus/Isa’s inspiration for a constructive bonding in the spiritual union of God’s creative force and compassionate grace may thus form the way to integrate the Gospel/Injil’s three hermeneutic lines. And the West’s recent affronts with the Orthodox and Muslim co-heirs of the Jewish prophetic message may hopefully be remedied with the help of mimetic theory soothing these rivalries and enabling such a timely trialogue. A dream worthy of turning into an agenda!

Book Reviews

For inquiries about writing a book review or submitting a book for review,
contact the book review editor, Matthew Packer.

Signs of Change: The Bible’s Evolution of Divine Nonviolence

Scott Cowdell
Charles Sturt University

Signs of Change: The Bible’s Evolution of Divine Nonviolence

Anthony Bartlett,  Signs of Change: The Bible’s Evolution of Divine Nonviolence, Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2021, Pages: xxix + 214 pages.

This new volume by Anthony Bartlett is the fruit of sustained biblical reflection and teaching over many years. It follows on from its companion volume, Theology Beyond Metaphysics (Cascade, 2020), and Bartlett’s published articles on Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics.

Bartlett’s goal in the earlier work was to reimagine revelation and conversion semiotically, following breakthrough insights about the nature of signs that he draws from C. S. Peirce and Umberto Eco. Our world changes as our sign systems change, and the change that Bartlett champions is nonviolence. Specifically, he seeks to offload the long-established cultural burden of divine violence, which has provided a warrant for so much self-justifying human violence. We can become new creatures of this new sign system, beyond the mistaken identification of holiness with purity and exclusion.

Such violence is typically associated with the capricious and genocidal deity regularly encountered in infamous Hebrew Bible/Old Testament texts. But Bartlett is convinced that this seldom-disputed take on God is actually being offloaded by both Testaments. The Bible represents the evolutionary emergence of a radically new way of being, beyond scapegoating violence and its implicit place at the root of culture that Girard theorized. The Bible, which Girard called a “text in travail,” shows how founding, sustaining violence is being gradually revealed and undermined.

The emergence of this new voice happened slowly across the period of Hebrew Scripture. Genesis and Exodus set the tone with programmatic set pieces challenging violent rivalry and vendetta through forgiveness. Job upends the wrathfully underwritten social control of Deuteronomy, while the powerless Ruth rises to prominence. Daniel and Jonah variously testify to nonviolent compassion, while the suffering Servant of 2nd Isaiah introduces God’s nonviolence into a context that would normally give rise to anything but that.

Jesus’s decisive transforming praxis is set out in terms of decisive semiotic transformation, with Bartlett regarding Paul as the supreme interpreter of this Christ event. Following Douglas Campbell, in The Deliverance of God, Bartlett shows how Paul (seen as the author of Ephesians and Colossians) upends divine wrath with his teaching on justification. Indeed, Bartlett identifies justification by works as the same thing as divine violence, because it is only attained at the expense of the other. Paul’s total rejection of that idea, celebrating instead the justification of the ungodly in Christ, undoes a whole sacred cosmology.

Bartlett concludes his New Testament reflection with the Book of Revelation and its slain lamb. Rather than a further instance of scapegoating the innocent, Bartlett reads this image as a great final instance of how the New Testament exposes that entire misunderstanding.

Concerning Girard, it is very interesting to see how Bartlett responds both sympathetically and critically. Girard is behind everything he does, and those familiar with Girard’s biblical interpretation will be at home reading Bartlett. The crucial place of biblical hermeneutics in mimetic theory is affirmed by Bartlett. Mimetic theory is seen to exemplify the way that textual signs mediate transformed reality according to the semiosis that he commends. But Bartlett does not regard Girard as fully committed to the radicality of his own semiosis.

“Although Girard derived a great deal from semiotics,” as Bartlett acknowledges, “…his claimed method was rational and scientific.… What Girard’s thought was processing was not so much the gospel (he always protested he was not a theologian) but what we might call anthropo-mimetics, a rational analysis of the human world as such. In contrast, the gospel is eruptive and self-validating” (xx). Hence, Bartlett concludes that “at the heart of the Girardian project lies an effect he did not take account of, but which is crucial for the results he intuits” (xxi).

Bartlett thus seeks to develop mimetic theory by exploring the phenomenology of its transforming impact (if we could call it that), as mediated by scripture. Bartlett knows that Girard does not claim to be only a rationalist and social scientist, however—the false sacred is only undone by the real sacred, the Holy, thanks to an agency and an intelligence beyond what the human system of meaning-making can contribute. Girard is clear about this. But the nature of that transforming process goes largely untheorized by Girard, apart from pointing to the role of new models of desire and the Holy Spirit’s work as “advocate for the defence” of victims.

So, we can certainly thank Tony Bartlett for raising an issue in Girardian studies that would repay further research. Someone out there should write a Contagion article on this challenge that Bartlett brings to Girard. We can chiefly thank him, however, for his powerful reclaiming of the Bible for the cause of human liberation from self-justifying divine violence. He joins James Alison at the forefront of bringing the Bible back to life.

White Evangelicals and Right-Wing Populism: How Did We Get Here?

Martha Reineke
University of Northern Iowa

Marcia Pally, White Evangelicals and Right-Wing Populism: How Did We Get Here? Routledge Focus on Religion Series, 
Routledge, 2022, 
Pages: 140

In this contribution to “Focus on Religion,” the Routledge book series on religion and contemporary politics, Girardian scholar Marcia Pally sets out to answer how white evangelicals in the United States, who for three hundred years contributed to American progressivism, have become right-wing populists. Although Pally’s answer to the question “How did we get here?” is not explicitly grounded in Girard’s mimetic theory, her analysis, beginning with her definition of “populism” and continuing throughout the book, is informed by it. As a result, this book should be of significant interest to readers of the Bulletin. 

Laying groundwork for her argument, Pally relies on the “Bebbington Quadrilateral,” a definition of evangelicalism developed by David Bebbington. “Evangelicalism” consists of Biblicism (all truths are found in the Bible), crucicentrism (a focus on atonement through the cross), conversionism (humans need to be converted), and activism (one responds to the gospel through action). According to Pally, “populism” is defined as “a way of understanding and responding to economic, status loss, and way-of-life duress that finds solution in us-them binaries.” In what scholars of mimetic theory recognize as scapegoating, an “us” group sets out to constrain, attack, or expel the offending “them” in order to eliminate the cause of its duress. For example, the “them” may be recent immigrants or African-Americans. Binaries of populism can draw both from the political right (real people vs. an elite) and the political left (workers vs. the rich).

Pally argues that a shift in perspective to an us-them binary not only is a common response to duress but also a tragic one. Duress distorts understanding and taints solutions, sustaining and even magnifying not only the duress but also the emergent us-them dynamic. These misrepresentations are mimetic (although Pally does not label the process as such): Duress “makes one’s understanding of the past (historico-cultural resources) and of present circumstances into a reflection of itself, creating a prism of anxieties, fears, and self-protective anger.” As a result, as always happens with scapegoating, conflict is not resolved and distressed communities fall into repetitive rounds of us-them conflict. Pally will argue that, in the U.S., we’re stuck in that blame-cycle in our present politics. The cultural influence on populism is well known; what is distinctive in Pally’s approach is her attention to the early American experience.  

Pally traces the roots of contemporary evangelicalism to early America when its adherents’ forebears responded to religious persecution they had endured in Europe by forming strong community bonds, demonstrating wariness of authorities, and bounding off outsiders, while also emphasizing personal responsibility in order not to rely on “fallen” governments. Today, suspicion of outsiders and authority, especially government power, are the “linchpin of American right-wing populism.” Yet, as Pally will demonstrate in the primary argument of her book,   suspicion of government and wariness toward outsiders did not have to result in us-them polarities that now fracture the American landscape. A skeptical mindset about government could apply to government per se, not to a government overseen by one group’s political opponents. Imbued with such an understanding, people could focus on developing policies that mitigate the damaging effects of government per se, rather than on ridding government of their opponents, who are characterized as a monolithic, threatening “them.” And people could focus on building bonds of mutual support and self-reliance absent a suspicious and defensive posture. Pally will show in the remainder of the book that it is only under duress that these historically constructive features of “American vibrancy,” are transformed, resulting in the conflict-prone, suspicion-fueled, us-them dynamics that feature prominently among white evangelicals who increasingly exhibit an outsized presence on the American political landscape.  Citing Arizona State University political scientist Amit Ron and Senior Global Futures Scholar Majia Nadesan, Pally notes, “‘people do not react to populism because they belong to any particular group; they support it because they find it appealing.’” 

Pally’s goal in the book is to account for that appeal among white evangelicals. In Chapters 1 and 2, she explains how populism draws on a “pool of ideas” circulating in history and culture from early America to the present, which helps populism seem “reasonable, even ‘natural.’” The duresses to which populism aims to respond are the focus of Chapter 3: employment challenges, anxiety over challenges to traditional ways of life posed by “changes in technology, the globalized economy, gender roles, and demographics.” Pally’s discussion is robust and supported by an extensive bibliography. She considers also how evangelicals feel marginalized in a nation that is increasingly secular, multicultural, and socially liberal. Pally extends this discussion in chapters 5, 6 and 7, during which she looks at white evangelicals’ political positions (e.g. small government, industry deregulation, gun rights, and “biblical” gender roles) as well as at the role of white evangelicals in slavery, white supremacy, segregation, and refugee/immigration issues. 

Pally does not see “a direct progression” from the Civil War to the Klan to today’s Christian right; nevertheless, because a “reservoir of racial animus” exists that constitutes a pool of beliefs and practices “available to be animated and inform present attitudes and socio-politics,” the past does inform the present. This happens because populism—an existential response to a lived threat that creates an us-them binary—is a constant that links that past and present. 

Pally’s investigations in Chapter 4 and 8 are among the most intriguing of the book. She argues that white evangelicals are “heirs” to a particular historico-cultural background traceable to early America, through the Civil War, to the present that prepares them, under conditions of duress, to mobilize binary, us-them possibilities. Quoting political scientists J. Sides, M. Tesler, and L. Vavreck, she describes populism’s appeal to white evangelicals as “hunting where the ducks are.” By contrast, in Chapter 8, she sheds light on white evangelicals who participate in progressive and centrist activism, demonstrating that the evangelical landscape has a more varied terrain that some imagine. Of particular concern to Pally is that the distorted reception of the historical cultural narrative among the larger body of white evangelicals, a misrepresentation fueled by their duress and distress, hobbles efforts other white evangelicals are making to identify and implement solutions to this duress. Wanting to advance a progressive vision that also is rooted in early American history, they must first neutralize defensiveness among other white evangelicals.

Reading Pally’s book through a Girardian lens, I find fascinating what I take to be her assumption that, by definition, populism is what Girard describes in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel as a metaphysical illness—a response to a lack of being that fuels human desire—which manifests in scapegoating. Indeed, populism is a distinct and exceedingly dangerous variant of that disease to which Girard has claimed all humans are vulnerable. She writes that populism not only reflects an outcome of the experience of duress (economic, way-of-life, loss of status) but also a way of understanding duress and seeking solutions. Under conditions of duress, persons vulnerable to populism experience loss as threatening. What has happened to them is not fair; moreover, they have fallen “below” those who are “above.” The dynamics of response among those drawn to populism are framed by desire. According to Pally, populists don’t crave status itself; rather they want what they have lost to others. Resentment drives populism. Perceiving that those in power, who could restore to populists what they have lost, are not working for them, populists look to others to close an “efficacy gap” between their desire to have their concerns addressed by government and other authorities and their feelings that they are being ignored or that the leaders are ineffectual. Populist leaders portray themselves as responsive to their followers’ desires and are trusted to make good on their promises. Not only do these leaders speak of a “we” to which they are making this promise, but also they identify over against this “we” an enemy “them.” The populist leader will restore to his followers what Girard would describe as the fullness of being, ridding them of their profound sense of vulnerability and redressing their “efficacy deficiency.” However, because the solutions promised by the leader do not address the “existential” nature of the followers’ grievances and misrecognize the source of loss by pinning blame on a scapegoated “other,” populist solutions will not relieve duress. Rather, the solutions will continue to feed them, increasing polarization that divides the “us” from the “thems” and hobbling political and legislative efforts to address the economic and cultural factors that fuel the frustration of desire among the populists. 

If white evangelical populism is an expression of metaphysical illness, as described by Girard and argued by Pally, what of the white evangelicals Pally describes in Chapter 8 who are not bound up in a defensive stance and therefore do not respond to external threats with us-them binary thinking that is increasingly open to violence as a solution to duress? Pally sees reason to hope in umbrella terms—Kingdom Ethics and Christian Humanism—espoused by nonpopulist white evangelical leaders. These leaders emphasize a servant relationship that counters a defensive and suspicious posture toward government and society. As described by David Gushee, these leaders seek common ground and support a “distinctive Christian identity, action based on hope and not fear, critical distance form earthly powers…the common good, and efforts to practice what we preach.” Pally works back from 2021 to 1970 in order to show how, at multiple inflection points, non-populist white evangelical thought was not a reactive antithesis to current populism; rather, it drew energy from its deep roots in forms of evangelical Christianity not oriented around an us-them binary. Pally’s detailed commentary—a “who’s who” of white evangelicals engaged in the critique of their fellow evangelical Christians’ populism—is a helpful introduction for individuals like me for whom the leaders and their organizations previously have been unknown. Chapter 8 is especially important for the uninformed, lest critics of white evangelical populism, condemning with broad brush strokes everyone who self-describes as a white evangelical, hide from view openings within evangelical Christianity for non-populist activism. 

In her conclusion, Pally addresses the question of how white evangelicals, who share Scripture, history, and much doctrine, come to drastically different interpretations and views of the world in which they live. Why does one group beset by duress respond with us-them binary thinking oriented toward scapegoating and the other toward inclusive servant leadership? Pally reminds us that, throughout her discussion, she has described populism as, by definition, a dysfunctional response to an existential threat. It is the product of a political and religious history that, in Girardian language, constitutes a metaphysical disease. Features of this history that emerged in early America and contributed to American vibrancy—self-reliance, localism, well-reasoned wariness of government overreach and of outsiders—were skewed under duress and transformed by us-them dynamics. The result was and remains a distorted understanding of the past and the present, of the origin of threats and the means to ease “embattled pain and self-protective ire,” and a misplaced faith in solutions that cannot effect relief because they are distorted by the experience of duress. Quoting John McCormick, Pally concludes her book stating that populism is, first of all, “a cry of pain.” Evangelical Christians can move forward, she suggests, when they address that trauma with what Katelyn Beaty describes as “‘their commitment to hospitality, compassion, solidarity with the poor, generous giving, and embolden verbal proclamation of the gospel.’” 

Pally’s book is a valuable contribution to the Routledge Focus on Religion series, succeeding in accomplishing exactly what the series promises: In a compact argument, packed with bibliographic support, the book addresses a pressing issue in the arena of religion and politics, offering readers a concise introduction to white evangelical populism and information sufficient to prepare readers to read and reflect further on their own. 

Bulletin 72 – May 2022