Violence and the Sacred (Continuum Impacts) by René Girard

By René Girard

René Girard (1923-) used to be Professor of French Language, Literature and Civilization at Stanford collage from 1981 until eventually his retirement in 1995. Violence and the Sacred is Girard's fabulous research of human evil. Girard explores violence because it is represented and happens all through background, literature and fable. Girard's forceful and thought-provoking analyses of Biblical narrative, Greek tragedy and the lynchings and pogroms propagated via modern states illustrate his vital argument that violence belongs to all people and is on the middle of the sacred. Translated by means of Patrick Gregory.

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Additional resources for Violence and the Sacred (Continuum Impacts)

Sample text

It remains concealed and draws its strength from this concealment, even as its self-created shelter begins to crumble. The acknowledgment of such a force allows us to assess our modern ignorance—ignorance in regard to violence as well as religion. Religion shelters us from violence just as violence seeks shelter in religion. If we fail to understand certain religious practices it is not because we are outside their sphere of influence but because we are still to a very real extent enclosed within them.

16 Both authors lose sight of a crucial point: the paradoxical nature of violence. Although religion grasps this paradox— and that only tentatively—mostly by means of such symbolic representations as that of blood, it differs radically from modern theory, which speaks of “phantasms” and “poetry” and does not even realize how real the sacrificial process can be and how appropriate the major metaphors and symbols through which it is expressed. Even the wildest aberrations of religious thought still manage to bear witness to the fact that evil and the violent measures taken to combat evil are essentially the same.

With his dying breath the centaur had told her that the shirt would assure the wearer’s eternal fidelity to her; but he cautioned her to keep it well out of the way of any flame or source of heat. Heracles puts on the shirt, and soon afterward lights a fire for the rites of sacrificial purification. The flames activate the poison in the shirt; it is the rite itself that unlooses the evil. Heracles, contorted with pain, presently ends his life on the pyre he has begged his son to prepare. Before dying, Heracles kills the servant who delivered the shirt to him; this death, along with his own and the subsequent suicide of his wife, contributes to the cycle of violence heralded by Heracles’ return and the failure of the sacrifice.

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