Recently, in a brief and passing discussion, Aramis and I spoke of (1) the impact of the oeuvre of René Girard in the field of cultural anthropology, “mimetic theory,” (2) how it rests upon the revelation of Sacred Scripture and Tradition (the deposit of faith) and (3) how indebted we two are, personally, for the way that Gil Bailie, author and lecturer, explicated the great man’s work for us both over the past the last eleven or twelve years. (The rest of the sentences will be shorter, I promise.)
To take just one example of the way mimetic theory can help bring clarity and understanding, look briefly at the upsurge of terrorism in general and Islamist terrorism in particular. It has been explored economically (Saudi petro dollars at work), politically (EU-rabia), educationally (technically, evolution-emphasis, etc.), morally (It ISN’T a religion of peace! Is TOO!), and sociologically (gang theory, etc.) by nearly all the academic social scientists and internet pundits able to point and click.
But mimetic theory -- at least the way that Gil Bailie helped us see -- doesn’t stop at the themes promulgated by Islam. Mimetic theory says, “Look at the structure, not the themes talked about! Structure of violent action is comparable. Themes are blind alleys and misleading rabbit chases.”
It is here that Girard’s mimetic theory can begin to apply the way in which the Gospel unveils the inner workings of the mechanism(s) of violence, universally. And so, Bailie could say in my hearing as early as September 1997 at the Servant Leadership School, Washington, DC, that like earthquake research, mimetic theory as revealed in the “anthropology of the cross” doesn’t look at “broken fence posts and sidewalks.” It goes much deeper, to the “tectonic plate level.”
To stop at the merely economic, sociological, or other conventional social science level is a recipe for failure to understand jihadists (or irhabis – ‘false warriors’). To point fingers at Saudi petro-dollars providing “education” in progressive schools will be inadequate. Even to state the obvious – our radical dependence on oil provides terrorists with capital – is not enough.
But mimetic theory can’t be summed up in soundbytes catch phrases. The great man wrote (and James Williams translated a portion) still, to me, the finest analysis on irhabist terrorism and their “unholy war” (hirabah) in the Le Monde interview, "What Is Occurring Today Is a Mimetic Rivalry on a Planetary Scale." It’s a starting place.