Dr Rowan Williams in conversation with Paul Gifford author of Towards Reconciliation
Part 1. Names, terms and expressions in order of appearance.
Prof. John Milbank, University of Nottingham (emeritus), formerly Fellow of Peterhouse College Cambridge; co-founder from 1990 of the Radical Orthodoxy movement in theology, the theoretical foundations of which he laid in his work on social theory.
Prof. Sarah Coakley, FBA :leading Anglican systematic theologian and philosopher of religion, who held, between 2007 and 2018, the Norris-Hulse Chair of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. Interdisciplinary interests in God, Sexuality and the Self: an Essay on the Trinity (2013); and in evolutionary collaboration approached through game theory.
Cambridge Ritualists. Influential Cambridge based group, initially of classical scholars, who sought in the latter half of the nineteenth century, to elucidate myth and eventually Greek tragedy, as shaped by religious ritual, which they considered prior and founding. By association and by influence, this school nourished in turn the line of more sociologically and anthropologically oriented thinkers, whose views on ‘sacrifice’ Milbank reviews: Julius Wellhausen, William Robertson-Smith, Sir James Frazer, Frenchmen Hubert and Mauss; whose thought on sacrificial ritual links them to Emile Durkheim, the French founder of modern sociology; and to the prophet-philosopher of Positivism, Auguste Comte. Comte, notoriously, propounded the ‘three eras of man’ theory, discussed by Girard (see Towards Reconciliation, p.127): religious myth gives way to rational metaphysics which ushers in the definitive triumph of positive science.
Contagion, Journal of the Girardian organisation COV&R (the standing ‘Colloquium on Violence and Religion’, meeting twice a year, once in the US and once outside the US)
Marcel Proust, French novelist and author of In Search of Time Lost (A la Recherche du temps perdu).He is one of the five major European novelists studied in Deceit, Desire and the Novel, 1965 (Mensonge romantique, vérite romanesque, 1961),in which is first sketched Girard’s theory of mimetic desire. ‘La petite bande’ is the group of beautiful and mythically haloed teenage girls whom the Narrator watches and longs to enter at the (fictional) seaside resort of Balbec, on the Normandy coast. From among them will emerge Albertine, object –and victim– of the mature narrator’s possessive grand Passion.
Leo Ferrero. French literary and culture critic of Italian descent. ‘Passion is the change of address of a force which Christianity has awoken and oriented towards God’. Girard comments: ‘The negation of God does not suppress that transcendence, but it causes it to deviate from the beyond to the this worldly’; stating further that ‘as heaven becomes uninhabited, the sacred… flows back over the earth …deviated transcendence is the cariacature of vertical transcendence’ (Deceit, Desire and the Novel, p.78). Girard here displays, more than 30 years in advance, acute and strategic awareness of the crucial distinction Milbank indicts him for lacking. See also Towards Reconciliation, pp. 62-65 for the mimetic reading of this idea in Genesis.).
The ‘archaic sacred’: the religion of primitive and deviated transcendence that nevertheless helps humankind to cross the evolutionary threshold of hominisation. See Towards Reconciliation (esp. chaps 1 and 4), which argues that modern humankind is confused for want of that distinction and of the clarity it introduces into the ill thought-out notion of ‘religion’.
Esoterism. The fascinated cult of hidden things, felt as sacred in proportion as hidden.
‘Things hidden since the foundation of the world’: the expression comes from Ps 78, and is reprised in Matt 13:35. RG adopts it as title of the first major synthesis of his ideas (1978 in French, 1987 in English translation).
Logos.Greek word for rationality, purpose, intent – ‘the Word’ ( John 1:1).
The ‘mimetic’ gospel. See John 5:19 19Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Prof. Malcolm Bull, Professor of Art and the History of Ideas, Christ Church College, University of Oxford. See Seeing Things Hidden: Apocalypse, Vision, and Totality (Verso, 2000).
French Theory [Critical Theory] : poststructuralist and deconstructionist thinking, as pursued in the latter third of the 20th Century by a new type of ‘philosopher’ inspired by one or more of the human sciences. Discussed in Towards Reconciliation, p.
Sub rosa: latin expression meaning covertly or secretly.
Heuristic: an art or method of discovery.
Architectonic : having architectural qualities; relating to the systematic classification of knowledge.
Anthropocene: the name for the era of the Earth’s historical development characterised by emergence and predominant flourishing of humankind (from Gk: anthropos)
Blaise Pascal: 17th Century mathematician, physicist, inventor and Christian apologist. His unfinished ‘Pensées’ (1658) offer a series of distinct analogies of form , function and feeling with RG: a decentred universe, the knowledge of a hidden God, the dialectic of the ‘misère de l’homme sans Dieu’ (wretchedness of man without God) contrasted with the – underdeveloped -‘ félicité de l’homme avec Dieu’ (felicity of man with God).
Mimesis. The Girardian key concept of imitation-in-reciprocity, is fundamental to human relationality. It constitutes a relational structure developing in ‘bad’ (rivalrous, conflictual. violent) and ‘good’ (peaceful, Other-affirming, loving) realisations. See Towards Reconciliation, pp. 22-34.
Epistle to the Hebrews. Focus of RG’s contention in Things Hidden that the Church has remained, to a disturbing extent, rooted in and wedded to an archaic-sacral understanding and practice of ‘sacrifice’ This position evolved in dialogue with Fr Raimund Schwager of Innsbruck who showed him how this Epistle represents a transitional case. See Towards Reconciliation, pp. 137-38.
Simone Weil (1909-1943):- French-Jewish philosopher, mystic and political activist; author of such works as Gravity and Grace, Waiting for God, and Pre-Christian Intuitions. She is quoted by Girard on the cover of his last book of Biblical exegesis I see Satan fall like Lightning, 2001 (Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair, 1999). ‘The Gospels, before becoming theology (that is to say: a science of God) are anthropology (that is to say: a science of man)’
Raimund Schwager, Swiss Jesuit theologian, like-minded author of Must there be Scapegoats? (1978) and Jesus in the Drama of Salvation: Toward a Biblical doctrine of Redemption (1990). . He corresponded with RG for eleven years, mediating between RG and orthodoxy, enhancing his appreciation of theological stances and positions.
James Alison, multi-lingual English Catholic theologian who has pioneered a Girardian style of theology, freshly exploring the sense and meaning of doctrine, spirituality, and even the liturgical and regulatory life of the Church. See eg; The Joy of being wrong. Original Sin through Easter Eyes (NY Crossroads: 1998); Raising Abel: the Recovery of the Eschatalogical Imagination (London: SPCK, 2010)
Grant Kaplan, American Catholic theologian (Associate Professor of Theological Studies at St Louis University), author of René Girard, Unlikely Apologist. Mimetic Theory and Fundamental Theology (University of Notre Dame Press, 2016)
CS Lewis (1898-1963): Anglican,Irish-born scholar, novelist, and author; Professor of Mediaeval English Literature at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. From his conversion in the early 1930’s,he became a prolific and celebrated writer of works of Christian apologetics, both fictional and expository, in many areas of ‘fundamental theology’.
GK Chesterton (1874–1936). Catholic convert, English writer, philosopher, lay theologian; literary and art critic. Created the fictional priest-detective Father Brown, and wrote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologetics apologetic works of wide appeal: Orthodoxy , The Man who was Thursday (1908), The Everlasting Man (1925)
Michael Kirwan SJ, author of Discovering Girard (Darton Longman Todd, 2004) Girard and Theology (Continuum, 2009) and (with Ahmed Achtar, eds.), Mimetic Theory and Islam, The Wound where the Light gets in (Palgrave McMillan, 2019).
Bernard Perret, Penser la foi chrétienne après René Girard (Paris: Ad Solem, 2018)– ‘Thinking Christian faith after RG’ — not yet translated into English.
Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988),Swiss Jesuit priest considered among the foremost theologians of the 20th century, author ofthe trilogy Glory of the Lord, Theo-Drama, and Theo-Logic. Girard read his analysis of Mimetic Theory, which in turn evolved in the light of RG’s post 1978 work. ‘ Die Wahrheit Girards’ (‘Girard’s truth’) is said by UvB to be ‘capable of being integrated into a full theology of the Cross’.
Protestant interest in Girard has been widespread, if concentrated mainly in field of Biblical Studies and Culture Theory. See Willard M. Swartley ed, Violence renounced. Rene Girard. Biblical Studies and Peacemaking (Pandora Press US, 2000) for excellent analyses of collaborative engagement and ‘negotiation’ of the interdisciplinary ground. Introductory, lively (‘Does the gospel speak to the modern world?’) and informative: Michael Hardin ed, Reading the Bible with René Girard. Conversations with Steven E. Berry (JDL Press, Lancaster P.A., 2015).
Supercessionary anti-semitism (i.e. what RG is not advocating): the notion that the Christic revelation supercedes i.e. takes over from, displaces and replaces, the truth of Judaism. One further shared point was chopped off by the failing battery life of the equipment used in the recording session. Christian revelation has always, in its search for intelligibility accessibility and persuasiveness, sought some sort of alliance with contemporary secular thought forms: Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian etc. Why would not the same logic lead it in the 21st Century to seek re-energising reso