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Catastrophe and Conversion: Culture, Conflict, and Violence in the Hermeneutics of René Girard

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Abstract

This chapter discusses the work of French theorist of violence René Girard (1923–2015) with a focus on the themes of crisis, catastrophe, and conversion. Girard’s influence is wide-reaching, extending from his foundational works of literary analysis to the study of myths and religious texts from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The chapter describes how desire and mimetic rivalry are woven into the production of cultural meaning, with a focus on the dynamics of contagion and the relevance of sacrificial crisis. The second section examines Girard’s exploration of Carl von Clausewitz’s famous thesis On War, as it exposes the cultural and religious resonance of apocalypse for modern history and political order. The chapter ends with reflections on Girard’s faith-based proposal for a Christian response to violence. Despite the deep pessimism of Girard’s overall critique, the chapter argues that his philosophical anthropology and account of the human-violence nexus contain significant insights for modern cultural hermeneutics. Its bold understanding enables a constructive critique of modern narratives about human violence, war, and peace, in which conversion and restoration may counteract the forces of contagion and escalation.

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Souillac, G. (2020). Catastrophe and Conversion: Culture, Conflict, and Violence in the Hermeneutics of René Girard. In: Morgan, W.J., Guilherme, A. (eds) Peace and War. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48671-6_8

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