Ref. HRA 2002/1
Human Rights Awareness


The work of René Girard: 
Flashes of Light in the Darkness of Violence 


We met the French author René Girard on May 22, 2001. Prof. Girard was in Italy as a distinguished guest to receive a degree Honoris Causa from the university in Padua and for the presentation of a volume entitled Between Dioniso and Christ - The Greek Wisdom and Western Civilization, published in Italy by his former student Giuseppe Fornari (Pitagora Editrice - Bologna). René Girard, anthropologist and literary critic, has taught in several prestigious American universities and has aroused a big interest in Italy where some works of his have been published by Adelphi. Among them, we remember: The violence of the sacred (1980), Things hidden since the foundation of the world (1983), The scapegoat (1987). Several of his essays appeared in 2000 with the title The Discarded Stone.

The conference allowed to bring attention on the central theme of René Girard’ analysis: the ancient and unfortunately always new phenomenon of violence. A violence that, according to the French author, is connatural with man and especially with the social man, forced to find remedies that can in turn originate other violence or disguise it. Although is inappropriate to reassume in a few lines the original thoughts of the writer - and it is much better to look at his writings – we are able to affirm that the principal thesis is contained in the concept of the scapegoat. Man answers to his anguishes and tensions giving birth from the social provision always with an equal mechanism, perverse and self-perpetuating: to identify the guilty one, the sacrificial victim on which to polarize anxieties of the community, creating unity in the group compacted against an enemy, a guilty one that becomes victim and at the same time savior of  society. But if the killing of the victim involves a temporary decrease of tension, it creates a sense of guilt that will grow up and eventually make it necessary to find a new scapegoat to be quenched. There was room for references to concrete situations that show like the foreigner, the black, the Hebrew, immigrates, the different one, become from time to time victims, embodying the perverse mechanisms of social operation perfectly uncovered by Girard. In this desolating panorama, the French author finds in the Christian proposal a beacon of light that breaks the infernal self-perpetrating mechanism of violence. Jesus Christ is the one who, as innocent victim, with his sacrifice, unmasks the things hidden since the origin of the world, giving rise to a new era. A bold reflection, a polished contribution on the huge matter of violence and the offer of cultural tools for the comprehension of a phenomenon that dismays when, day by day, we see facts of chronicle or sometimes look inside ourselves. Girard’s thinking is fertile, and it is above all edifying in the etymological sense of the term, where the stone discarded by the builders becomes key of time. To the reader the invitation to close to these writings for a reflection that becomes discovery and emotion. Read the Italian original of this text.

Contributed by Dr. Francesco Stevanato