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Girard on Apocalypse and Terrorism


The Cambridge Companion to Religion and TerrorismChapter summary

Although highly disputed, the French-American philosophical anthropologist René Girard’s theory of violence and archaic religion has had a major impact on the current theoretical discussion. From the 1960s and onward, Girard has put forward and continually developed his thought in different phases: first, he established the theory of mimetic desire, second, he elaborated its consequences for archaic religion and sacrifice, and third, Girard elaborated his Judeo-Christian deconstruction of sacrificial myths. Soon after the attack on the Twin Towers, on September 11, 2001, Girard expressed the opinion that “What is happening today is mimetic rivalry on a global scale.” Taking his cue from this, Girard has gradually developed what might be regarded as a fourth phase of his thought, in which he links religious terrorism and Biblical apocalypse in order to shed light on the structure of violence in the contemporary world. “I see it [9/11] as a seminal event, and it is fundamentally wrong to minimize it,” says Girard in an interview. He continues: “I personally think that it represents a new dimension, a new world dimension.” According to this view, though limited in scope, terrorism nevertheless announces a new historical state – one that, however, has long been underway.

In an attempt to spell out in more detail the implications of Girard’s view of apocalypse and terrorism, their internal logic and historical dimensions, it is first necessary to prepare the ground with a sketch of Girard’s general conception of religion and violence.

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