René Girard and Secular Modernity: Christ, Culture, and Crisis

University of Notre Dame Pess
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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?”
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About the author

Scott Cowdell is associate professor and research fellow in public and contextual theology at Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia, and canon theologian of the Canberra-Goulburn Anglican Diocese.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Notre Dame Pess
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Published on
Jun 30, 2013
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780268076979
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Religious
Philosophy / Social
Religion / Christian Theology / Anthropology
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Scott Cowdell
Australian theologian Scott Cowdell explores how "having faith" has changed under the influence of modernity and post-modernity in the West. He returns faith from pious sentimentality and arid philosophy of religion to the realm of "participating knowing," "paradigmatic imagination," and personal transformation where it belongs as a "form of life," shaped by encounter with Jesus Christ and worked out through the Eucharistic community. This is shown to have been the typical understanding of faith from Saint Paul to the Fathers to the medieval monastic theologians. Since the rise of nominalism, however, modern individuals reflecting a God newly remote from the world have struggled to maintain this participatory vision of faith as a formative habitat. Mysticism is as close as modernity got, while "officially" faith was annexed by modern Western culture, coming to share its anxious need for certainty and control--systemic, exclusive, and violent-tending.

Scott Cowdell has written a wide-ranging book, bringing together several normally separate debates while tackling the problem from a distinctive perspective. He explores faith against the backdrop of secularization, the collapse of community, and the encroachment of an intentionally destabilizing consumer culture. He expounds the nature of desire in terms of imitation and rivalry, and the violent false-sacred roots of cultural formation evident in the modern West's many victims, all according to the uniquely comprehensive vision of Rene Girard. Finally, he dismisses today's growing mood of militant religious skepticism as philosophically outdated and out of its depth before the resilient confidence of a genuine living faith. What Cowdell calls "abiding faith" emerges as a venerable yet strikingly contemporary possibility. This is good news for today's "homeless hearts"--there is the gift of a secure identity and a mature spirituality on offer, within a liberating, inclusive, world-affirming, ecclesial form of life.
Scott Cowdell
Australian theologian Scott Cowdell explores how "having faith" has changed under the influence of modernity and post-modernity in the West. He returns faith from pious sentimentality and arid philosophy of religion to the realm of "participating knowing," "paradigmatic imagination," and personal transformation where it belongs as a "form of life," shaped by encounter with Jesus Christ and worked out through the Eucharistic community. This is shown to have been the typical understanding of faith from Saint Paul to the Fathers to the medieval monastic theologians. Since the rise of nominalism, however, modern individuals reflecting a God newly remote from the world have struggled to maintain this participatory vision of faith as a formative habitat. Mysticism is as close as modernity got, while "officially" faith was annexed by modern Western culture, coming to share its anxious need for certainty and control--systemic, exclusive, and violent-tending.

Scott Cowdell has written a wide-ranging book, bringing together several normally separate debates while tackling the problem from a distinctive perspective. He explores faith against the backdrop of secularization, the collapse of community, and the encroachment of an intentionally destabilizing consumer culture. He expounds the nature of desire in terms of imitation and rivalry, and the violent false-sacred roots of cultural formation evident in the modern West's many victims, all according to the uniquely comprehensive vision of Rene Girard. Finally, he dismisses today's growing mood of militant religious skepticism as philosophically outdated and out of its depth before the resilient confidence of a genuine living faith. What Cowdell calls "abiding faith" emerges as a venerable yet strikingly contemporary possibility. This is good news for today's "homeless hearts"--there is the gift of a secure identity and a mature spirituality on offer, within a liberating, inclusive, world-affirming, ecclesial form of life.
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