August 15, 2010
I’ve blogged about the French-born anthropologist Rene Girard before (here’s my summary of key Girardian ideas); what I find particularly insightful in his work is the emphasis he places on how our desires develop through mimesis. In other words, we learn what to desire often just by imitating others. A few Girardian moments this summer reminded me of the validity of this point.
The first came at the first birthday party of my niece, the adorable Chloe, who I’ve mentioned before. Chloe has idiosyncratic tastes; she’s as often interested in gnawing on someone’s shoe or a newspaper as she is in playing with her toys. The one thing you can do to make her more interested in the toys, however, is to start playing with them yourself. Once Chloe notices someone else playing with a toy, she crawls resolutely across the floor and takes it from them! Mimetic desire starts early.
I thought of Girard again in northeast India when the fifth graders in the remote mountain village where I taught started flashing gang signs whenever I took their picture. Of course, when I asked them what they were doing and why, they had no real idea—they were just imitating something they had seen on TV.
I should back up a bit here and say that even though the village where I worked has no telephone connections, paved roads, refrigeration, radio reception, or indoor plumbing, nearly every house has satellite TV. An enduring image of the journey will be that of The Dish sticking out from under the thatched roofs of bamboo huts.
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April 20, 2010
When I first began writing for Whosoever Desires, one of our readers suggested I should say something about my two years in Kazakhstan and, in particular, about the state of the Kazakhstani Church.
I worked in Kazakhstan from 2002-2004, straight out of college, well before the thought of becoming a Jesuit had crossed my mind; my concerns and inclinations at the time were, I confess, decidedly more worldly than they are today. I found that there are two basic drives motivating Peace Corps volunteers: an idealism trying to make the world a better place and a thirst for adventure. Like most, I possessed a bit of both.
First a few basics about Kazakhstan. Read the rest of this entry »
April 14, 2010
Two weeks ago I offered a summary of René Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Girard’s insights into the origins of violence and the violent origins of civilization are worth serious consideration. The social insights that come out of his theory are often unsettling. For example, he realizes that Christianity’s concern for victims has been largely absorbed into contemporary society, though this concern itself can be perverted by mimetic contagion: “we practice a hunt for scapegoats to the second degree, a hunt for the hunters of scapegoats.”
There’s fruit for several posts in that sentence alone, but when I first read Girard it was in the context of sacramental theology. So today I’d like to turn to a couple of questions having to do with the Eucharist. Here, to be clear, we start to move beyond Girard’s views to my own musings.
Girard’s analysis highlights one of the more disquieting aspects of the Passion accounts for those living in contemporary Western culture: the role of the crowd. Read the rest of this entry »
March 28, 2010
With Holy Week here, it’s natural for our thoughts to turn to the Cross and Christ’s self-sacrifice. Of late I’ve had the pleasure of being drawn into conversations with a number of Girardians, here at Loyola and elsewhere, so as I’ve contemplated the Passion this year, I’ve done so in light of the work of René Girard.
My knowledge of Girard comes mainly from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), in which the French-born anthropologist summarizes many of his ideas in a form accessible to theologians. Girard’s work is refreshingly insightful because he takes seriously two notions most of his secular colleagues are afraid to touch: Christianity’s claim to uniqueness among world religions and the religious foundations of civilization itself. Girard, in fact, refers to I See Satan Fall Like Lightning as an apology for Christianity made on anthropological grounds. Though he is clear in stating that he is not a theologian, it is well worth puzzling out the theological implications of his unique “apology.”
But since some of our readers are likely unfamiliar with Girard, it’s perhaps best to begin with a summary of the key ideas he develops in I See Satan this week and then turn to their applications in a second post two weeks from now. This will also give others a chance to correct my non-expert misinterpretations. Read the rest of this entry »