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Violence and the Sacred Paperback – January 1, 1979

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801822186 ISBN-10: 0801822181

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Editorial Reviews

Review

His fascinating and ambitious book provides a fully developed theory of violence as the 'heart and secret soul' of the sacred. Girard's fertile, combative mind links myth to prophetic writing, primitive religions to classical tragedy.

(Victor Brombert Chronicle of Higher Education)

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (January 1, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801822181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801822186
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Daniel M. Hobbs on February 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Violence and religion have gone hand in hand as far back as we have records, from Dionysian revels and ancient human sacrifice to contemporary fundamentalisms that would destroy entire nations or races to preserve some particular version of Truth. In "Violence and the Sacred," Rene Girard attempts nothing less than to expose the entire history of this alliance.

It is impossible to give an adequate summary of this comprehensive and closely reasoned book. But briefly, Girard argues that - pre-historically - it was precisely acts of communal violence and the resulting shock and collective repression that resulted from these acts that generated our very sense of the sacred. And our continuing violence, in all its forms, is a history of attempts to re-experience transcendence.

(A word of caution: Early on, those with religious convictions may be tempted to conclude that Girard is reducing religion to a form of collective guilt. **He is not.** Girard is a Christian, and has progressed from literary criticism to critical theory to active efforts to promote methods of constructive, peaceful conflict resolution.)

In fleshing out this theory, Girard leans heavily on his insights into the mimetic and violent nature of desire (see his earlier "Deceit, Desire, and the Novel"), and he links mimetic desire, our tendency to marginalize and scapegoat those who are "different," our tendency toward violence, and our experience of ultimate otherness (the sacred).
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Lumpkin on September 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
By focusing primarily on Greek tragedy, "primitive" religions, and psychoanalysis, Rene Girard attempts to show the inextricable link between violence and the sacred. Mimetic desire, the scapegoat mechanism, and sacrifice produce a system in which unrestrained violence can be controlled. Through the sacralization of these elements, religion becomes a way for the community to maintain internal peace and harmony and prevent the recurrence of reciprocal violence.

Because violence is self-propagating, if uncontrolled, it will overflow and flood the community. Against tradition, Girard holds that sacrifice is not meant to appease a deity. Rather, it is a means to restore harmony within a community, by protecting the community from its own violence. Without sacrifice, violence does not have an outlet and would devastate the whole community. The only way to rid the system of violence is to deflect it onto a sacrificial victim. The sacrificial victim must resemble, yet remain different from, the community, and the victim must lack a champion: the community can strike down the victim without fear of reprisal. Because violence is seen as impure and religion is concerned with ritual impurity, the sacrificial victim must be considered pure of the contagion of violence. The function of ritual then is to purify violence.

The first link to impure violence is the sacrificial crisis. The sacrificial crisis occurs when both cathartic rites and the difference between purity and impurity disappear. The sacrificial crisis can then be defined as the dissolution of natural differences or distinctions, which effects cultural disorder. Social values, order, and peace erode leaving fertile ground for reciprocal and unrestrained violence.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
Those who read contemporary French criticism will understand where Kristeva and others culled their best insights. Girard shows how violence both generates and destroys cultural order. Religious attempts to curtail violence, and modern secularists remain more ignorant than ever of the "virus" of violence, which they displace onto the secondary realm of sexuality. Girard is most brilliant when revealing how myths occlude persecution, scapegoating, and surrogate victimization. Essential reading for feminists as Girard indirectly reveals that women (via Freud) have become the surrogate victims du jour of man's power to evade confronation with his own violence.
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32 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Yousif-carlson@worldnet.att.net on June 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book was an unexpected pleasure. Mythology and cultural anthropology have always been of interest to me, but Girard's scintillating and illuminating ideas, in my opinion, blast through the ubiquitious shadows which cling to and obscure our broader vision. I loved it -- not because of the often revolting realities of human nature which it illuminates, but because of it's unswerving quest for truth. Great!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Myers - Writing at RedeemingGod on March 13, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unless you are a sociologist or philosopher, you probably don’t want to read this book. Relying heavily on cultic myths and practices of various religions, Girard attempts to explain why violence is at the center of all societies and religions, and why, in fact, violence gave birth to religion.

He ultimately argues that there was an original act of violence which ultimately led to the possibility of the destruction of all people in the community, and so to avoid the ever-increasing cycles of violence, the community selected a ritual victim (a human or an animal) that would both carry the guilt of the community as well as the violent tendencies into death, thus satisfying the demands for revenge and the blood lust that comes with it.

He argues that much (all?) of our violence comes from a desire to imitate or have what belongs to another, and this desire leads to a violent action by which we seek to obtain the belongings or knowledge of the other being.

There is much more that Girard argues, but I do not recommend it for the average reader. His method of argumentation is laborious and while a discerning reader will benefit much from what Girard writes, the amount of work it takes to find these insights makes this book hardly worth the effort. Though I have not read them yet, I expect that “Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World” and “The Scapegoat” will prove to be more reader-friendly.
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