Violence and the Sacred

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Violence and the Sacred
Violence and the Sacred (French edition).gif
Cover of the first edition
AuthorRené Girard
Original titleLa Violence et le sacré
TranslatorPatrick Gregory
SubjectThe sacred
PublisherEditions Bernard Grasset, Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages455 (first edition)

Violence and the Sacred (French: La violence et le sacré) is a 1972 book by the French anthropologist René Girard. The book received both positive and mixed reviews.


Violence and the Sacred was written while Girard was distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.[1] Girard was influenced by the work of Georges Bataille.[2]


Girard discusses the ritual role of sacrifice. He reevaluates Sigmund Freud's Totem and Taboo (1913), writing that while it has been widely rejected, he views the work differently. He notes that Freud's concept of collective murder is close to the themes of his own work.[3]

Publication history[edit]

Violence and the Sacred was first published in 1972 by Editions Bernard Grasset. In 1977, an English translation was published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Subsequent English editions include those published by The Athlone Press in 1988 and Continuum in 2005.[4]



Girard was awarded the Prix de l'Académie française for Violence and the Sacred.[1]

Mainstream media[edit]

Violence and the Sacred received a positive review from G. H. de Radkowski in Le Monde and a mixed review from Winifred Lambrecht in Library Journal.[1][5] The book was also reviewed by the critic Victor Brombert in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Frank McConnell in The New Republic and discussed by Joseph Bottum in First Things and Leo D. Lefebure in The Christian Century.[6][7][8][9]

Lambrecht credited Girard with raising important questions and bringing together many different fields of inquiry, but argued that his work depended on controversial assumptions and that he "has a tendency to generalize data that might better have been left as particular examples."[5]

Academic journals[edit]

Violence and the Sacred received a positive review from Vincent Farenga in Comparative Literature and a mixed review from James A. Aho in SA: Sociological Analysis.[10][11] The book was also reviewed by John E. Rexine in The Modern Language Journal,[12] and discussed by Eric Wilson in English Language Notes,[13] George Hardin Brown in Renascence,[14] Yann Robert in University of Toronto Quarterly,[15] William A. Johnsen in English Language Notes,[16] Robert Hampson in Yearbook of English Studies,[17] Peter Mahon in ELH,[18] Anthony White in emaj: Electronic Melbourne Art Journal,[19] Vanessa Avery-Wall in Reviews in Religion & Theology,[20] Michele Rozzi in Universitas Philosophica,[21] Leonhard Praeg and Michael Baillie in Politikon,[22] Daniel Cojocaru in Religion Compass,[23] Geneviève Souillac in Peace Review,[24] Celucien L. Joseph in Theology Today,[25] and Ludger Hagedorn in the Journal for Cultural & Religious Theory.[26]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The classicist Norman O. Brown writes that Girard's purpose in Violence and the Sacred is to frighten people into returning to orthodox religion; Brown claims that Pope John Paul II liked the book.[2]

The religious studies scholar Catherine Bell writes that Girard uses "Freudian notions of desire, guilt, and an original murder at the hands of the group" to present "a theory of ritual sacrifice as the central act of a cultural system generated by primal violence." Bell finds Girard's views similar to those of the classicist Walter Burkert, as expressed in his book Homo Necans (1972).[27]

Chris Fleming writes that Violence and the Sacred has been seen as hostile to religion.[28]


  1. ^ a b c Fleming, Chris (2004). René Girard: Violence and Mimesis. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-7456-2948-2.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Norman O. (1991). Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis. Berekley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 192. ISBN 0-520-07298-7.
  3. ^ Girard, Réne (2005). Violence and the Sacred. New York: Continuum. pp. 1, 204. ISBN 0-8264-7718-6.
  4. ^ Girard, Réne (2005). Violence and the Sacred. New York: Continuum. p. iv. ISBN 0-8264-7718-6.
  5. ^ a b Lambrecht, Winifred (1978). "Violence and the Sacred (book)". Library Journal. 103 (1): 101.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  6. ^ Brombert, Victor (1978). "A Fertile, Combative Mind". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 15 (23): 15–16.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  7. ^ McConnell, Frank (1978). "Violence and the Sacred (book)". The New Republic. 178 (13): 32–34.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  8. ^ Bottum, Joseph (1996). "Girard among the Girardians". First Things (61): 42–45.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  9. ^ Lefebure, Leo D. (1996). "Victims, violence and the sacred: The thought of Rene Girard". The Christian Century. 113 (36): 1226–1229.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  10. ^ Farenga, Vincent (1980). "Violence and the Sacred (book)". Comparative Literature. 32 (4): 419–424.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  11. ^ Aho, James A. (1980). "A Fertile, Combative Mind". SA: Sociological Analysis. 41 (1): 89–90.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  12. ^ Rexine, John E. (1978). "Violence and the Sacred (Book)". The Modern Language Journal. 62 (5/6): 288–289.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  13. ^ Wilson, Eric (1996). "The blood wrought peace: a Girardian reading of Beowulf". English Language Notes. 34: 7–30.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  14. ^ Brown, George Hardin (1999). "Royal and ecclesiastical rivalries in Bede's History". Renascence. 52 (1): 19–33.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  15. ^ Robert, Yann (2005). "The Theatre and the London Liberties: The Place of the Sacrificial Stage". University of Toronto Quarterly. 74 (4): 957–963. doi:10.1353/utq.2005.0273.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  16. ^ Johnsen, William A. (2006). "The Religious Turn: René Girard". English Language Notes. 44 (1): 5–11.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  17. ^ Hampson, Robert (2007). "Ritual Unbound". Yearbook of English Studies. 37 (1): 248–249. doi:10.2307/20479292.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  18. ^ Mahon, Peter (2010). "Blood, shit, and tears: the textual reinscription of sacrifice, ritual, and victimhood in Bernard MacLaverty's Cal". ELH. 77 (1): 71–104.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  19. ^ White, Anthony (2010). "The Trouble with Twins: Image and Ritual of the Yoruba ère ìbejì". emaj: Electronic Melbourne Art Journal (5): 1–23.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  20. ^ Avery-Wall, Vanessa (2010). "Girard's Use of Mimetic Theory Girard and Theology – By Michael Kirwan". Reviews in Religion & Theology. 17 (3): 364–369. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9418.2010.00589.x.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  21. ^ Rozzi, Michele (2010). "La interpretación filosófica y política de La Violencia y lo Sagrado de Renė Girard, y su influencia en la anthropología Latinoamericana". Universitas Philosophica. 27 (55): 67–74.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  22. ^ Praeg, Leonhard; Baillie, Michael (2011). "Sexual Violence: Mythology, Infant Rape and the Limits of the Political". Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies. 38 (2): 257–274. doi:10.1080/02589346.2011.580126.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  23. ^ Cojocaru, Daniel (2012). "Mimetic Theory and the Miners' Strike: Probing the Implications of René Girard's Theory on Political Religion". Religion Compass. 6 (1): 72–81. doi:10.1111/j.1749-8171.2011.00331.x.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  24. ^ Souillac, Geneviève (2014). "Violence, Mimesis, and War". Peace Review. 26 (3): 342–350. doi:10.1080/10402659.2014.937991.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  25. ^ Joseph, Celucien L. (2013). "The Rhetoric of Suffering, Hope, and Redemption in Masters of the Dew: A Rhetorical and Politico-Theological Analysis of Manuel as Peasant-messiah and Redeemer". Theology Today. 70 (3): 323–350. doi:10.1177/0040573613495226.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  26. ^ Hagedorn, Ludger (2015). "René Girard's theory sacrifice, or: what is the gift of death?". Journal for Cultural & Religious Theory. 15 (1): 105–118.  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  27. ^ Bell, Catherine (1992). Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-19-507613-3.
  28. ^ Fleming, Chris (2004). René Girard: Violence and Mimesis. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-7456-2948-2.