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René Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis [Kindle Edition]

Scott Cowdell

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Book Description

In René Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis, Scott Cowdell provides the first systematic interpretation of René Girard’s controversial approach to secular modernity. Cowdell identifies the scope, development, and implications of Girard’s thought, the centrality of Christ in Girard's thinking, and, in particular, Girard's distinctive take on the uniqueness and finality of Christ in terms of his impact on Western culture. In Girard’s singular vision, according to Cowdell, secular modernity has emerged thanks to the Bible’s exposure of the cathartic violence that is at the root of religious prohibitions, myths, and rituals. In the literature, the psychology, and most recently the military history of modernity, Girard discerns a consistent slide into an apocalypse that challenges modern ideas of romanticism, individualism, and progressivism.


In the first three chapters, Cowdell examines the three elements of Girard’s basic intellectual vision (mimesis, sacrifice, biblical hermeneutics) and brings this vision to a constructive interpretation of “secularization” and “modernity,” as these terms are understood in the broadest sense today. Chapter 4 focuses on modern institutions, chiefly the nation state and the market, that function to restrain the outbreak of violence. And finally, Cowdell discusses the apocalyptic dimension of Girard's theory in relation to modern warfare and terrorism. Here, Cowdell engages with the most recent writings of Girard (particularly his Battling to the End) and applies them to further conversations in cultural theology, political science, and philosophy. Cowdell takes up and extends Girard’s own warning concerning an alternative to a future apocalypse: “What sort of conversion must humans undergo, before it is too late?”

"Scott Cowdell's book is the first comprehensive study of modernity and secularity in René Girard's thought. Cowdell brings Girard's theory into a fruitful dialogue with leading approaches on secularization like those of Max Weber, Hans Blumenberg, Peter Berger, and Charles Taylor. Scholars and students of theology, philosophy, and sociology will benefit from this wide-ranging overview of the relationship between religion, modernity, and secularization." —Wolfgang Palaver, Institute of Systematic Theology, University of Innsbruck


"In a stunning analysis, Cowdell shows that Girard’s sustained intellectual pursuit, which began in the 1960s with his mimetic analysis of modern realist fiction, has always been about the (Durkheimian) religiosity of the modern and postmodern social condition, even when it has dealt explicitly with the religious origins of antique culture. Cowdell demonstrates the 'highly explanatory and predictive' quality of Girard’s cultural anthropology, within which the 'secular' does not (and indeed cannot) escape the 'religious.' This is a powerful book." —Ann W. Astell, University of Notre Dame 


"Scott Cowdell is one of the most interesting theological voices of his generation. The themes in Cowdell's work are always cosmic and vast in scope. This is a remarkable reading of our contemporary situation through the lens of René  Girard. Accurate, informed, and illuminating, Cowdell has written a fabulous book. For the person needing a way into Girard and for the person who is already using Girard's work, Cowdell brings out the implications of Girard for the moment in which we live. An absolutely essential addition to your personal library." —The Very Rev Dr. Ian Markham, Virginia Theological Seminary

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More than any other study devoted to Girard, Cowdell incorporated Girard s more recent writings and interviews into a total picture of mimetic theory and brings it into conversation with modern secularism. . . . [His] book deserves a place among the pantheon of works that show the importance of mimetic theory for Christian theology. "Theological Studies""

About the Author

Scott Cowdell is associate professor of theology at Charles Stuart University. He is author and editor of a number of books, including "Violence, Desire and the Sacred: Girard's Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines" (edited with Chris Fleming and Joel Hodge).

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1949 KB
  • Print Length: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 1st Edition edition (30 Jun. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #975,496 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars important book for the present time 26 Aug. 2013
By Andrew Marr - Published on
René Girard's take on the role of Christianity in modern secularism has been commented on in many books discussing Girard's ideas as well they should since the dismantling of the primitive sacred through the Gospel's revealing the truth of sacred violence is a major element in his thought. This book, however, is the most thorough that I know of in evaluating modern so-called secular culture through Girard's thinking. As with most books on Girard, Cowdell introduces and explains the three pillars of Girard: mimetic desire, unveiling sacred violence & the Gospel as the primary unveiler of the first two. However, throughout these explications, the effect of these ideas on modernity is noted time and again. The last two chapters are more focused on the present time, noting how the breakdown of hierarchy has loosened mimetic rivalry to epidemic proportions. Cowdell describes the institutions that have been serving as a "katechon" in modern times but with diminishing success. ("Kathechon" is a New Testament word for imposed restraint.)Government and law have served as such with ambiguity as both act violently in many cases with capital punishment, for example, being a modern mode of sacred violence. Moreover, as Thomas Cavanaugh has argued, states create a sacred aura and a false transcendence that make the ersatz sacred institutions. Moreover, the state is abdicating its restraining power to the capitalist market more and more. The capitalist market has also served as a "katechon" through trying to create plenitude so that there are more haves than have nots who would be envious. The built-in mimetic rivalry of the capitalist system makes this unstable and this instability is increasing as mimetic issues intensify to the point where the powerful are creating scarcity for more and more people. Cowdell also examines the apocalyptic violence that results from our situation with particular reference to Girard's book "Battling to the End." This is the most constructive and probing examination of this troubling work that I have seen. It is unflinching in facing the perils of our time but refuses to relinquish all hope. The reason for this is that Cowdell in grounded in the Gospel and Christian practice. He brings both knowledge and experience of contemplative Christianity into his assessment of modernity and explores how it can give us the tools for living in the present time without being torn apart by mimetic strife. His references to the dark night of the soul in St. John of the Cross are very suggestive for the sense of unmooring that the Gospel causes by weaning us from the fellowship of victimization to a vision of opening our hearts to the forgiving victim. A very important book for out time.
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable review of the mimetic theory in relation to secular modernity 15 April 2015
By James G. Williams - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cowdell's book not only provides a helpful focus on René Girard's response to secular modernity, but it is also a thorough, well-balanced review of the works of Girard and a considerable number of books about Girard and his mimetic theory. He has enhanced his presentation with application of the mimetic theory to some of his experiences as a teacher and pastor.
1 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Preach this; practice that 27 Oct. 2013
By Nancy Corbett - Published on
The author does a fair job of explaining the ideas of Rene Girard and theory about the origins of violence and what must occur if we are to avoid violence. The silences in the book, however, begin to beat in the reader's ear even before one reaches the book's conclusion where the author offers his extensive "enemies list" : "postmodern relativeists, angry feminists, Catholic-minded theologians concerned that he ontologizes violence, Protestant-minded ones declaring him inadequate on the atonement, and religious pluralists deploring his emphasis on 'Christ alone'" (170). These, then, are Griard's rivals, whom he (and Cowdell) do battle with? Another glaring, but telling, oversight is the failure to make any mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a book about the roots of violence and modernity. (He does mention Nelson Mandela, though, but only in passing). Another glaring silence is any mention of the most innocent of victims of violence--children. One suspects that to bring up violence against children in a text featuring Christianity as the ultimate and only means of ending violence might call to mind the ongoing revelations of child sexual abuse by priests. It may also be that Girard's mimetic theory meets its limits there.
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