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Violence and the Sacred [Paperback]

by René Girard, Patrick Gregory
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1, 1979 0801822181 978-0801822186
"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.'

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Editorial Reviews


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.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (January 1, 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801822181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801822186
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
94 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will change your head! February 16, 2005
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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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
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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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars lucid and insightful -- an enlightening read June 29, 1998
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ritual Sacrifice Condoned, Condemned, and Codified! January 16, 2007
Author Rene Girard's groundbreaking text on ritual sacrifice and violence is nothing short of extraordinary.

Girard tackles the seemingly taboo origins of sacrifice, cultural order as a result, and how violence is as ingrained in our humanity as much as our need for nourishment. Particularly how the act of sacrifice (born out of violence) has influenced societies collective notion of what is "sacred" and what is not.

This aspect of necessary sacrifice and violence has manifested in religious rites, particularly the "theory of the surrogate victim." This key part of Girard's theory of generative violence offers an explanation of the primordial role that religion plays in primitive societies and of man's ignorance of this role.

Girard also discloses the nature of violence not only during life but after death. The passage into death, Girard asserts, "by a member of the community may provoke (among other difficulties) quarrels among the survivors, for this is always the problem of how to redistribute the dead man's belongings. In order to meet the threat of maleficent contagion the community must have recourse to the universal model, to generative violence; it must attend to the advice of the sacred itself."

From modern religious beliefs to the metaphorical tales and parables of mythology Girard shows that violence is a natural outgrowth and need of our physical composition and mental attributes. The truth of Girard's assertions can be found in the historical annals of every race and culture by examining their cultures and beliefs; all of which idealize instead of unilaterally eschew violence through sacrifice. This is not to be confused with the prohibition of murder, for example, which has been and is enforced in nearly every society.
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