Violence and the Sacred

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Violence and the Sacred
Violence and the Sacred (French edition).gif
The French edition
Author René Girard
Original title La Violence et le sacré
Translator Patrick Gregory
Language French
Subject Anthropology
  • 1972 (in French)
  • 1977 (in English)
Media type Print
Pages 352
ISBN 0-8264-7718-6

Violence and the Sacred (French: La violence et le sacré) is a 1972 book by French anthropologist René Girard.


Written while Girard was distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Violence and the Sacred was the product of a decade's research, and represents the first substantial stage of Girard's exploration of the ramifications of his theory of mimetic desire in relation to anthropology, Greek tragedy, and mythology.[1]

The work was influenced by Georges Bataille.[2]


Girard offers a series of hypotheses about the generation and stabilization of cultural order in primitive societies and human communities in general. He argues that mimetic desire often leads inexorably to rivalry and conflict, and that the origins of cultural order and stability reside in repeated acts of collective violence against a lone victim or group of victims, the scapegoat. Girard postulates a hypothetical morphogenetic mechanism accounting for the generation of cultural and social order: the surrogate victim mechanism.[1]

Religion is seen by Girard as a way of regulating social violence and creating social cohesion. He argues that through sacrifice, the violence that threatens the community is ritually cast out, turned outwards rather than inwards on to the members of the community. Girard, who sees society as an affair of men and says this explicitly, relates sacrifice to religion: he sees the function of religion as keeping violence out of the community by means of the mechanism of the scapegoat, or the ritual which substitutes for it.[3]


Violence and the Sacred was greeted by a fanfare in Le Monde. G. H. de Radkowski gave it a laudatory review, asserting that it represented an enormous intellectual achievement, and a highly unique one: for Radkowski, it was "the first authentically atheistic theory of violence and the sacred". Violence and the Sacred was translated into English in 1977, and of Girard's works, it is the one which Anglophone theorists are most familiar with. Girard was awarded the Prix de l'Académie française for the book.[1] Classicist Norman O. Brown writes that while Violence and the Sacred is influenced by Bataille's work, it is better known. He sees the purpose of Violence and the Sacred as being to frighten people into returning to orthodox religion. According to Brown, Pope John Paul II liked the book.[2]

Nevertheless, Violence and the Sacred has been seen as hostile to religion.[1]

For Luce Irigaray, Girard's account of sacrifice and its function corresponds to the model of male sexuality described by Sigmund Freud: the model of tension, discharge, and homeostasis. Irigaray believes that there is a more fundamental sacrifice that Girard does not mention: mothers, who are a "totem prior to any designated totem". Relations between men and women are paralyzed because society does not recognize this initial sacrifice. Irigaray suggests that violence could be mediated in ways different from the mechanism characteristic of male violence described by Girard, and insists on the need for rites and paroles, words or symbolizations.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Fleming, Chris (2004). René Girard: Violence and Mimesis. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 1, 7, 8, 111. ISBN 0-7456-2948-2. 
  2. ^ a b Brown, Norman O. (1991). Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis. Berekley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 192. ISBN 0-520-07298-7. 
  3. ^ a b Whitford, Margaret (1991). Luce Irigaray: Philosophy in the Feminine. London and New York: Routledge. p. 145. ISBN 0-415-05969-0.