Transforming Violence: Cult, Culture, and Acculturation, June 30 - July 4, 2010

full name / name of organization: 
Ann Astell and Margaret Pfeil / Colloquium on Violence and Religion, University of Notre Dame
contact email: 

Violence transforms persons and communities. Violence is also transformed by those same, affected persons and communities, as they struggle to live in its wake or under its continued threat. René Girard's mimetic theory obviously applies to the sociology of assimilation, whereby members of a vulnerable minority group seek (often in vain) to become like the majority, sharing its values and blending into its culture so as to be lost (and thus protectively hidden) in it.

Assimilation is, however, only one of several patterns of acculturation, each of which retains a violent potential. Marginalized, the minority group may be refused avenues of assimilation. Alternatively, the minority group may refuse to assimilate, defining its communal existence as a prophetic counter-culture. Mimetic relations vary across a spectrum. Whether the minority group assimilates to, separates visibly from, haunts and troubles from within, or provokes the majority at its cultural margins, it dynamically affects the dominant culture — so much so that, in a pluralist scenario, the dominant culture imagines itself to be a colorful aggregate of minority cultures, a Girardian "interdividuality" writ large. What was formerly marginal can become symbolically central to the dominant culture's self-definition—a hopeful proof of its "rags to riches" opportunities, a humble badge of its acknowledged shame, a trophy of its religious (in)tolerance, an icon of its scandalous transgression, a memorial of past strife, perhaps also a symptom of its own perceived vulnerability.

For Girard, "culture always develops as a tomb" (Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, p. 83), a monument erected over the victims of mimetic rivalry. The apocalyptic end of a fundamentally sacrificial culture can only be projected, therefore, against the horizon of a "new heaven and new earth" (Rev. 21:1) of unconditional nonviolence, already revealed in Christ's Passion, death, and resurrection. What sort of cultural formations, then, result from the experience of social violence? How do they give and conceal evidence of their violent genesis? What determines whether or not a cultural form puts violence to rest, keeps it at bay, perpetuates it, or awakens its reappearance in yet another, related form? Can the "art" of violence become the "work" of peace? If so, how and under what conditions?

The Colloquium of Violence and Religion seeks to further its exploration of the transformation of violence into a myriad of cultural forms—religious, legal, political, economic, medical, artistic, literary, philosophical, and professional—at its annual meeting, held in 2010 on the campus of the University of Notre Dame (USA). Proposals for papers, panels, and seminar sessions on any aspect of mimetic theory are welcome. Of particular interest to the organizers of COV&R 2010 are studies of the complex role of religion in the lives of members of minority groups who have suffered and continue to suffer social violence—immigrants, refugees, convicts, conscientious objectors, the poor, the disabled, the indigenous, the Amish, African-Americans, Catholics, Jews, Hispanics, Asian-Americans.

Proposals for papers and panels are due March 19, 2010. They should be sent via e-mail attachment to Margaret Pfeil at