Entitled Opinions: "René Girard on Ritual Sacrifice and the Scapegoat"

Girard, René. Interview by Robert Harrison. " René Girard on Ritual Sacrifice and the Scapegoat." Podcast. Entitled Opinions. Stanford University. 4 Oct. 2005. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. <http://french-italian.stanford.edu/opinions/girard.html>

René Girard, in talking with Robert Harrison on Entitled Opinions, explains his theory of how ritualized violence became a part of religious ritual because of the way mimetic desire can lead to scapegoating (n. pag). Girard notes that when people want the same thing, it is because of mimetic desire, and this creates conflict; this conflict will spread contagiously across a community until it becomes a “mimetic crisis” of rivalry on a massive scale (n. pag). Looking at myths, Girard theorizes that eventually this animosity becomes focused on a single person, a scapegoat (n. pag). When the community kills the scapegoat, they become peaceful again (n. pag). The community then worships the victim as a hero who saved the community, a process of apotheosis that creates gods of dual nature: hated for the initial violence, but loved for saving them all (n. pag). The ritualization of violence begins when conflict arises again, and they remember how killing a victim brought peace, so they do it again (n. pag).

Girard notes the limitations of what anthropologists had determined, and says they may have missed the centrality of lynching to ritualized violence and ultimately religion

“because our society is very reluctant to think that there might be something in human beings which would fundamentally lead to violence, and this is what indeed this myth demonstrate[s], that societies have a tendency to go wrong when you have more and more mimetic rivalry. That is why all rules of societies are in effort to prevent mimetic rivalry” (n. pag).

Girard and Harrison go on to examine mimetic rivalry, scapegoating, and ritualized violence in various contexts (n. pag). Girard notes that the Judeo-Christian tradition promotes moving away from human sacrifice and violence, giving Abraham and Joseph as examples of mercy (n. pag).

According to Girard, the only way to avoid scapegoating and resolve mimetic crises of reciprocal violence is through nonviolence, through non-retaliation (n. pag).  

RhetoricKatie Ancheta