Rene Girard is a French historian and philosopher. The premise of his works is summarized by Wikipedia:

  1. mimetic desire: all of our desires are borrowed from other people;
  2. mimetic rivalry: all conflict originates in mimetic desire;
  3. the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry;
  4. the Bible reveals the three previous ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.

Now, that is a super high level overview of his thoughts. I realize you can go down the rabbit hole with the third point as far evolution and origin of religion goes. However, I am more interest in his work as it relates to Gospels. If anyone has any more in depth knowledge of his work, I'd like to know how orthodox his theories are in relationship with what is taught in most mainline seminaries or theology programs today (or even if his work taught or touched on at all).

2 Answers 2


Mainline Seminaries I went to a very conservative seminary and read Girard's Scapegoat, though the overall position of the school disagreed with it. However, that we read it indicates its prevalence in academic institutions. Others I know who went to mainline seminaries, however, are very well versed in Girard.

In Rowan Williams' (former archbishop of Canterbury) stunning book, Resurrection, he writes in the forward to the revised edition, "At the time of writing, I had no knowledge of the writings of Rene Girard on the scapegoat theme; and it was not for a few years after the publication of the book that Girard's ideas began to circulate widely... The first chapter in particular needs to be read alongside Girard..." Given Williams' position as the then-head of the Anglican communion, I would say Girard is pointing toward something important.

Orthodox This is tricky and depends on where you are coming from. Conservatives will probably disagree. Liberals and moderates may often embrace it. (I can't back that up, though) But I'll point you toward some starting points. First, it strikes at the heart of your working understanding of Soteriology.

(1) Penal Substitution - Crudely defined in legal terms: A crime was committed, a judgement was rendered, Jesus became the saving substitute in the verdict. Adherents to this form of Soteriology are more conservative and will have nothing in common with Girard.

(2) Christus Victor - Jesus conquered sin, or death, or even the Devil with his work on the cross. This view doesn't directly address Girards claims. The beauty of Christus Victor is that it can often compliment other views. Therefore, many who identify very strongly with Girard's work may also hold some form of Christus Victor.

(3) Moral Transformation - Jesus was an example of how we ought to live. This definitely has tracking throughout the Church's history, but its more recent proponents have been fairly liberal. I would argue that proponents of this view feel very at home with Girard. In fact, the weaknesses of the view (apolitical, denies importance of death, etc.) are bolstered with the scapegoat theme.

  • This is a quick sketch. I hope someone can improve it because I think this is an important question. There are too many subjective statements at the moment. Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 2:52

I have been reading Girard for a while. His theory has transformed the way I understand Christianity completely. I can't praise his work enough.

At first glance the mimetic theory may appear at odds with the penal substitution atonement, especially if you stop at his book "Things Hidden" where he calls his view the "non sacrificial" approach. He was convinced by theologian Raymund Shwager later to keep to the term 'sacrificial' in talking about Christ's death.

I urge people to read his books before making up their minds. A good book to start with is "I See Satan Fall Like Lightening"

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