Towards Reconciliation: Understanding Violence and the Sacred after René Girard

By Paul Gifford

A compelling analysis of the connection between violence and the sacred, using René Girard’s mimetic theory to point the way towards Christian reconciliation.

ISBN: 9780227177082


Why do humans sacralise the causes for which they fight? Who will decipher for us the enigma of ‘sacred violence’?

Paul Gifford shows that the culture theorist and fundamental anthropologist René Girard has in fact decoded the obscurely ‘foundational’ complicity between violence and the sacred, showing why it is everybody’s problem and the Problem of Everybody.

René Girard’s mimetic theory, especially his neglected writings on biblical texts, can be read as an anthropological argument continuous with Darwin, shedding formidable new light to a vast array of dark and knotted things: from the functioning of the world’s oldest temple to today’s terrorist violence, from the Cross of Christ to the Good Friday Agreement. Such insights illuminate superbly (‘from below’) the ways of creation, revelation, redemption – which is to say, ultimately, the Christian enterprise and vocation of Reconciliation.

Here is a novel and exciting resource for scanning the hidden ‘sacrificial’ logic that still secretly shapes cultural, social, and political life today. Girard puts us ahead of the game in the key dialogues required if we are to avoid autogenerated apocalypses of human violence in the world of tomorrow.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 164

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Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Paul Gifford is Buchanan Professor Emeritus of the University of St Andrews, where for ten years he directed the University’s Institute of Cultural Identity Studies. He worked with René Girard as Invited Scholar at Stanford University and as Visiting Research Fellow of the Girardian foundation, Imitatio. He has co-edited two collections of Girardian essays published by Michigan University Press: Can We Survive Our Origins? (2015) and How We Became Human (2015).



1. What Is ‘Sacred Violence’?
2. Violent Origins, Origins of Violence
3. Girardian ‘Founding Murder’
4. Violence, the Archaic Sacred and Judaeo-Christian Revelation
5. Passion, Resurrection – and How We Come by Reconciliation
6. Taking Thought for Reconciliation

Appendix: ‘From Animal to Human’, ‘On Religion’ – Conversations with René Girard
Cited Texts and Further Reading



Articles and Media

  • Watch the author Paul Gifford in conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Endorsements and Reviews

Informal in tone and remarkably accessible, this book makes a compelling case that the reconciliatory potential of Christian faith can’t be realized without a theory of scapegoating. Masterfully presenting René Girard’s anthropology as the definitive resource for this effort, Gifford weaves references to film, literature and scripture into a narrative that traces a sure path from toxicity to reconciling relationships. The definitive guide to Girard for 21st century readers.
Martha J. Reineke PhD, Professor of Religion, University of Northern Iowa, and President, Colloquium on Violence and Religion

I’m so glad that a wider readership can now join those listeners in Coventry who were lucky enough to hear the original lectures. This book offers a stunningly complete overview of René Girard’s thought and shows how to begin applying his insights, with so much wisdom and finesse in the interpretations. The range of examples offered is just wonderful: I’d never heard of Croghan man, but what a perfect find …
James Alison, Catholic Priest and Theologian

From the Irish Peace Process and work in conflicts elsewhere, I know that Rene Girard’s work needs to be better understood. With his characteristic eloquence and vigour, Paul Gifford introduces these ideas, but for those who are already familiar he points up the deeper understanding they bring to religion and violence just when we urgently need to halt the descent into mimetic violence. Its timeliness and relevance cannot be doubted.
Professor, the Lord Alderdice FRCPsych, Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford

Amid the blame-shifting, the lure of identity politics and the failure of secularised societies to understand either the danger or the redemptive force of religion, Paul Gifford’s book offers clarity and hope. Introducing Rene Girard’s revolutionary understanding of the connection between violence and the sacred, he shows how this is progressively undermined and finally overthrown in the texts of Western Christianity. A wonderfully lucid exploration of the dark side of human civilisation, this is also a challenge to confront the lure of sacred violence while we have time.
Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford and Canon of Honour of Portsmouth Cathedral

Gifford puts us in his debt by introducing
us to the Girardian reading of scripture, hopefully enabling us to
scour ourselves free of those forms of Christian ‘sacrality’ which so profoundly
inhibit the possibilities for reconciliation in our own time. Ann Loades, in Modern Believing 64.3 SUMMER, pp. 280-281, 2023