Why I have no time for Girard

In lectures and conference presentations, I often have occasion to mention the ransom theory of atonement, or the crucifixion more generally. As such, I am very, very frequently asked how my work relates to Girard. And my answer is: it doesn’t, because I have never read Girard, indeed never even held one of his books in my hand.

I don’t expect that I ever will. Why? Because — although I’m sure there is a vast archipelago of nuance and subtlety that I’m missing here — every summary of Girard that I have ever read or heard sounds like a simplistic social theory that just so happens to make Christianity unique and central. In fact, I suspect that it’s the simplicity of his theory that makes it such a go-to for Q&A sessions, because it makes Girard the one theorist of the cross everyone can remember.

Admittedly, I may be falling victim to the paralogisms of pure dismissal insofar as I’m giving reasons for dismissing Girard. And it could be the case that there’s a valuable counter-reading that I could find if I studied his work intently, reading against the grain, etc. But given the unanimity of the summary accounts, I just can’t imagine that there would be some amazing nuance that would save Girard and make his theory useful to me.

7 Responses to “Why I have no time for Girard”

  1. seanchristophercapener Says:

    Girard as the Joseph Campbell of mytho…

    Wait.

    Why is it that white dudes always seem to stumble across *the* simple master narrative that explains all other bodies of narrative mythology?

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Maybe we could inscribe this within the broader phenomenon of The Obligatory White Dude. For instance, isn’t it weird that in academic theology circles, I’m not constantly getting hounded about how my view squares with that of James Cone or Marcella Althaus-Reid? It’s partly my fault, of course, but one does not fully choose one’s audience or the composition of one’s field….

  3. seanchristophercapener Says:

    Whenever I’d talk to people about my MA thesis (also on atonement) the one I’d always get as a go-to reference for someone who had ‘solved’ the problems that I was highlighting was always J Denny Weaver. Never, e.g., a queer theologian, a black theologian, or a Latin American liberation theologian, etc. I developed a similar aversion to ever carefully reading Weaver as a result.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The irony is that Weaver does talk a lot about Black and Liberation Theology, somewhat appreciatively, though with a goal to supporting his own “narrative Christus Victor” theory. This may be an appropriate forum to mention that I find his book to be extremely pedantic in its approach, to the point of being nearly unreadable.

  5. Ruth Marshall Says:

    You’re right Adam, you’re not missing a thing. I found out the hard way – not having a clue about religious studies before I got here, I felt I should read something by this guy who came up all the time. I was like, wow, really? Also, can anybody explain to me why everybody always cites that Smith guy?

  6. Ruth Marshall Says:

    Or all those white dudes who simply made up all that mythology, Sean. People should read The Potlatch Papers by Christopher Bracken.

  7. Jenny S Says:

    Girard – for one shining moment he explains the cross in a way that makes everything seem clear and makes Christianity palatable to the disallussioned former church-goer who is looking for something to hold on to… and then one thinks about it for a moment.


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