The Scapegoat: René Girard's Anthropology of Violence and Religion

Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that he is revealing "things hidden from the foundation of the world."  In the same gospel he accuses "the teachers of the law" of having taken away "the key to knowledge."  René Girard takes these statements to be precisely true: the New Testament, in his view, does provide the key to knowledge by revealing both the violent origins of all human societies and the role sacrificial religion has played in inoculating these societies against this violence.  It's a theory of astonishing power and scope, and, when I first encountered it, it helped me to see the Christianity in which I had been raised in an entirely new light: no longer as a more or less doubtful body of "beliefs" but instead as a breakthrough in understanding.  In the fall of the year 2,000 I had the pleasure of spending several days with René Girard, and his wife Martha, recording interviews with René at their home on the campus of Stanford University in California.  The five shows that resulted were broadcast on Ideas early in 2001.  Several of Girard's friends and collaborators are also featured, including James Alison, Paul Dumouchel, Robert Hamerton-Kelly and Gil Baillie