Seminar Abstracts

Seminar 1:

Mimicry and Mimetic Theory
Seminar leaders: Ann W. Astell, University of Notre Dame; Ernest Cole and Curtis Gruenler, Hope College; and Andreas Oberprantacher, University of Innsrbuck
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In the December, 2009, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Steven Weitzman (Stanford University) draws upon Homi Bhabha’s post-colonial theory, with its emphasis on mimicry as a strategy for the colonized subject, to argue for the possibility of a “Non-Girardian Approach to Mimetic Rivalry.” How is the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (to which Weitzman refers in his article) to respond to his critique, which nonetheless credits Girard with powerful insight? Is Girardian theory incompatible with the case studies of “particular historical habitats,” for which Weitzman calls? What is the relationship of mimesis, as Girard understands it, to mimicry?
In this seminar we will read and discuss, against the background of Weitzman’s critique of mimetic theory, two papers by COV&R members that take up the relationship between mimicry and mimesis. Like Weitzman, Ernest Cole and Curtis Gruenler draw upon Homi Bhabha’s post-colonial theory in their study of mimicry and mimesis in the case of amputees in Sierra Leona. Andreas Oberprantacher invokes the diversionary formulas of Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe in conversation with the work of Girard to study the “impure” mimicry evident in contemporary practices of political dissent.

Assigned readings:

Steven Weitzman, Mimic Jews and Jewish Mimics in Antiquity: A Non-Girardian Approach to Mimetic Rivalry
Ernest Cole and Curtis Gruenler, Mimicry and Mimetic Rivalry: The Case of Amputees in Sierra Leone
Andreas Oberprantacher, Culture Jammed: The Art of Subverting Violence

Recommended Reading:
Homi Bhabha, Of Mimicry and Man in The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994): 85-92

Assignment: A brief response paper to one of the assigned readings (approximately 150 words)

Seminar 2:

Transforming Christianity: Resurrection and Apocalypse
Seminar leaders: Anthony Bartlett, Ph.D., theologian and writer, and Dorothy Whiston, D.Min., spiritual director. Tony and Dorothy are Board members of Theology and Peace
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In Battling to the End Girard says, “It is the Holy Spirit that teaches us that historical Christianity has failed and that the apocalyptic texts will now speak to us more than they ever have before.” (103) This seminar will be a dialogue between Rene Girard’s ideas about apocalypse set forth in Battling to the End and Anthony Kelly’s thoughts on the present-world impact of the resurrection in his book The Resurrection Effect: Transforming Christian Life and Thought. Kelly uses a phenomenological approach, following Jean-Luc Marion, and develops a startling view of the resurrection as “saturated phenomenon,” something which imposes itself on human receptivity. Girardian anthropology is itself evidence for Kelly of the overflowing of the resurrection in the world. The central question we’ll consider is whether we are really in the endgame of humanity – as Battling seems to say – or Christian faith has a “Second Spring” yet to come through the mimetic effects of the resurrection. We’ll use the insights of mimetic theory and the biblical teachings on apocalypse and resurrection, as well as the signs of our times, to guide our discussion.

Assigned Readings:
René Girard, Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre (Michigan State University Press, 2010): 96-120
Anthony J. Kelly, The Resurrection Effect: Transforming Christian Life and Thought (Orbis Books, 2008): 24-43.
Anthony J. Kelly, The Resurrection Effect, pp. 138-145.
Any biblical texts you would like to bring to the conversation

A brief response paper (approx. 150 words)

Seminar 3

Becoming vs. Copying: Proposing a “Right Brain” Solution to Intrapersonal Mimetic Desire/Rivalry
Workshop leader: John Appleton, teacher of the Alexander Technique, Springfield, MO
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Could it be that the bulk of body pains and postural problems humankind experiences are due to the effects of mimetic desire and rivalry, and that they persist because of our failure to name them as such? We tend to copy (or contrast) cultural norms, family norms, and other non-archetypal models. Is it possible that these behaviors produce the painful and ungraceful body structures and movement patterns we must generally admit to?

Posturally based body pain, discomfort, and fatigue are typically blamed on bad knees, crushed discs, and so forth… or lack of exercise, stressful work, or relationships. However, it is becoming more understood that it is the lack of skill in preventing damaging and unnecessary muscular habit, the lack of choice in our movement, and the lack of healthy archetypal models within us that prevents most of the resolution of these “psychophysical” problems.

In this workshop, we will explore these issues and work to kinesthetically experience new non-habitual states within ourselves. The Alexander Technique will be discussed and demonstrated. However, the major portion of the workshop will be understanding and experimenting with visual and tactile-kinesthetic imagery from Posture Release Imagery. Archetypal images from PRI, which act as guides for consciously manipulating our body surface sensations, are unexpectedly closely aligned to Judeo-Christian imagery. The images call for imagining/“becoming” the archetypal forms presented. This is in contrast to the imitating/“copying” that we habitually/”sinfully” do in creating our postures.

Assigned reading:
John Appleton, ‘Becoming’ vs. ‘Copying’
John Appleton, Catastrophic Mimesis in Body Posture and Resulting Postural Pain –
Is there a cure in Judeo/Christian imagery?
, Paper presented at COV&R 2008. Available at:
Catastrophic Mimesis

Assignment: A brief response paper (150 words) and questions

Suggested readings:
Survey of material at Posture Release Imagery
Nicholas Brockbank, “What did Alexander Discover—and why is it Important?” at Dodman Organization

Seminar 4

Jean-Michel Oughourlian on Relationship and Rivalry
Seminar leaders: Frank C. Richardson, University of Texas-Austin. Professor Richardson is a recent past president of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. He and Kathy Frost have co-presented at past COV&R meetings.
To enroll: contact

Jean-Michel Oughourlian has made significant contributions to the theory of mimetic desire and highly original contributions to understanding psychological dynamics and psychopathology in terms of mimetic scapegoat theory, especially in his new book The Genesis of Desire. In this seminar, we will discuss Oughourlian’s stimulating new book in terms of our various standpoints and interests. At the outset, Frank Richardson will make some brief remarks about new perspectives in social and psychological theory that sketch a deeply relational or dialogical view of human selfhood or agency that parallel Rene Girard’s interdividual psychology and suggest a few ways these perspectives and Oughourlian’s clinical analysis of rivalry might complement and cross-fertilize one another.

Assigned reading: Jean-Michel Oughourlian, The Genesis of Desire, translated by Eugene Webb, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture Series (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2010).

“Girard and Psychology: Furthering the Dialogue,” a chapter by Frank Richardson and Kathryn Frost (email Frank for a copy at

Assignment: A brief response paper or outline of several issues or concerns for discussion (about 150 words)

Seminar 5

Theology and Film with a Mimetic Focus: A High School Theology Course.

Leaders: Betsy Hansbrough M.A., teacher of theology at St. Teresa’s Academy and Angelica DeSimio, Anna McTygue and Hayden Fudemberg – students at Saint Teresa’s Academy, Kansas City, Missouri
To enroll, contact Betsy Hansbrough at bhansbrough.

Films are rapidly becoming a primary means of passing stories and myths to high school students in our culture. Since 1950 we have all lived in a Disney world where Disney princesses have lives of early challenge and then live happily ever after. Our mythological world is a fine mix of Disney, religious teaching and popular culture imagery. Film is a means of examining that world in a focused manner.
In our film class we examine the primary teachings of mimetic theory, connect those teachings to Scripture and finally we examine violence and non violence in film and its connection to mimetic thought.
Mimetic theory has been a source of academic discussion for many years. However, in teaching it to high school students, it appears to be a real means of changing culture and personal integrity and behaviors.
Movies we will examine today are: The Godfather I; American Beauty; Lars and the Real Girl, and Young Frankenstein. As in our high school class we will examine them using a model of mimetic theory.

Assignment: most of you will have seen at least one of these films in the past. However, please see one of the films above that you have not yet seen and watch it with an eye toward mimetic thought.

Please write a short response paper (200 words) elaborating your observations about the film as one in which Girard’s ideas can be observed.

Write any questions you might have for the students who have prepared this presentation.

Seminar 6

Victims of Victims? The Mimetic Crisis in the Holy Land from a Sociolinguistic Perspective

Seminar leaders: David Burrell, professor of Ethics and Development at Uganda Martyrs University and Michael Elias, chairman Dutch Girard Society

To enroll: contact

Approaching the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation towering over the city of Nazareth, the visitor passes a huge billboard with the text “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers (Holy Quran)”. This statement, couched in terms of winners and losers instead of ‘dignity of difference’ (Jonathan Sacks), shows one of the numerous examples of mimetic rivalry in Israel, occurring on many different levels.

In the scenario of the Holy Land, the discourse of winners and losers is matched by ‘who is the victim’? After the establishment of the state of Israel, for at least two decades sympathy for Jewish victims who transformed themselves into winners predominated. But focus turned in the seventies to Palestinians as ‘victims of the victims’. Truth versus myth infected this battle of narratives, and is currently being exported to other countries. Rather than addressing the question ‘who is right and wrong’, or matching retaliation with revenge, we prefer to focus on some successful strategies for contextualizating diverse understandings in an effort to overcome mimetic rivalry. Let us begin with a resolve from the Declaration issued by the Galilee Peace Conference in 2009: “We commit ourselves to listening and to stop demonizing each other.”

Michael Elias’ paper Victims of Victims? proposes we use linguistic skills to avoid scapegoating, so expound a remedy for rivalry which leads to violence. Using a model for analyzing the pragmatics of cross-cultural communication, it tries to delineate the semantic fields of the terms in use as well as offer examples of successful speech acts in specific dialogue projects between Jews and Palestinians.

Recommended reading:
Robert Rotberg (ed.), Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict. History’s Double Helix (Indiana UP, 2006).
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations(London and New York: Continuum, 2003), revised edition.

Assigned readings:
Marc Rosenstein: Discovering the other in the Galilee
Declaration of the Galilee Peace Conference, May 1-2, 2009

Assignment: A brief response to the assigned readings.

Conference Contacts

Margaret Pfeil at or
Ann W. Astell at

115 McKenna Hall
voice (574) 631-6691
fax (574) 631-8083