THE CONFERENCE ON CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE is an interdisciplinary society dedicated to exploring the relationships between Christianity and literature. Organized formally in 1956, CCL is dedicated to both scholarly excellence and collegial exchange and includes hundreds of members from a variety of academic institutions and religious traditions from the United States, Canada, and more than a dozen other countries.
A TRIBUTE TO ROGER LUNDIN
By Jeremy Begbie (Duke University)
I count it a huge honor to be invited to offer a tribute to my friend Roger Lundin for The Conference on Christianity and Literature, a body he often mentioned to me with great warmth. It is certainly an intimidating brief: to address a group whose core interest is effective language, and to try to honor in words someone whose verbal eloquence vastly exceeded my own. Read more
BEYOND MOURNING: René Girard
By Gary M. Ciuba (Kent State University)
René Girard, the Andrew B. Hammond Professor in French Language, Literature and Civilization at Stanford since 1981 and a scholar internationally renowned for his contributions to literary criticism and the social sciences, died on November 4, 2015. He was a longtime member of the Editorial Board of Christianity & Literature.
In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (French, 1978; English, 1987), Girard discussed “Death and Funeral Rites” in a way that might help us to pay tribute to him in the aftermath of his own death and then to do something more—to go beyond merely paying tribute to him. Girard claimed that the “religious conception of death” confers upon all of the deceased “the whole of the dynamic and signifying complex based on the surrogate victim” (81). Which is to say, Girard viewed our commemoration of the dead by way of the scapegoat—the scapegoat that was so central to his understanding of Christianity, of literature, and especially of Christianity and literature. To mourn Girard in the most Girardian of ways is to reflect once again on the site of that paradigmatic slaughter.
The force that would drive the scapegoat mechanism was first intuited by Girard in Deceit, Desire and the Novel (French, 1961; English, 1966). He called it “mimetic desire.” This tendency to imitate the admired other was so darkly compelling that it might turn the model into a rival, obstacle, and resentful double of the self. After tracing such desire in the work of Cervantes, Stendhal, and Proust, Girard concluded by examining how the animosity of the model-disciple relationship might lead to the infernal underground in the novels of Dostoevsky. Only if mimetic desire were renounced could there be deliverance and conversion.
In Violence and the Sacred (French, 1972; English, 1977) Girard pursued this insight into death and renewal by considering how mimesis might work on a communal level to cause crisis and to generate culture. He argued that individuals might stumble upon the skandalon of mimetic desire and direct the multiplicity of their mutual antagonisms toward killing a single innocent individual. United around the murder, the community would then hide its guilt by blaming the victim and hail its new-found salvation by glorifying the victim. Girard theorized that culture developed as a way to repeat via substitution and stylized reenactment the benefits of the primal scapegoating. Tombs, for example, originated as a memorial to the slain victim. Even as culture moved further away from the scene of foundational violence, it recalled and transformed the murder by bestowing such funeral honors on all who suffered the violence of death.
To honor Girard in death is thus to perform what he would recognize as the primordial cultural activity in the wake of the scapegoat. Extending Freud’s work on mourning, Girard asserted that “the reconciliatory aspect of mourning, the mourning that rejuvenates and invigorates all cultural activity, is in fact the essence of human culture” (80). His own work was vitalized by recognizing that mourning was a profoundly creative activity in culture, for it directed the community beyond violence and death and toward re-creation.
If “the tomb is the first and only cultural symbol,” as Girard maintained in Things Hidden (83), it seems appropriate that he enjoyed such memorialization even when he was alive. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005, thus becoming one of the forty members designated as “les immortels.” He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 1997 and from the Modern Language Association in 2008. Girard was further honored by the founding of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion in 1990 as well as by the ongoing book series on Violence, Mimesis, and Culture from Michigan State University Press. Both of these academic monuments demonstrated how his insights into imitation, scapegoating, and cultural formation have influenced not only literary criticism, religious studies, sociology, anthropology, and psychology but also physics, economics, political science, and communication theory. Such acclaim and influence did not preclude controversy. Girard was criticized for a totalizing approach to knowledge and for misreading the role of violence in Scripture. However, such controversy almost seemed predictable for a challenging and assertive scholar who knew that conflict and strife extended from primitive society to the salons of Proust and the debates of the academy.
Yet for all of Girard’s work on the culture of mourning, its direction was not to embalm the victim but to expose the victimization. Girard saw beyond the tomb that commemorated the scapegoat because he understood the special interrelationship of Christianity and literature. Girard read Christianity by way of its scripture and read literature by means of the unfolding revelation that culminated in Jesus. He discovered in the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity the God who rejects baleful imitation, does not desire sacrifice, and sides with the victim. And he came to understand literature—from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Camus—as tending to romanticize or repudiate the mimetic desire and sacred violence that the prophets and Jesus exposed at the risk of becoming scapegoats themselves. In his later work Girard increasingly worried that the global tensions and catastrophic weaponry of the modern world might drive it to repeat the primal scapegoating but on an apocalyptic scale. The planet might become its own tomb.
At the end of Things Hidden Girard left the best epitaph for his own work when he wrote about the mourning women in Mark 16 who come to anoint the body of Jesus. They anticipate a stone before a tomb and a dead body in the sepulcher, but the gospel does not retell the mythic story of scapegoating that might be expected. Although Jesus was crucified as if he were another surrogate victim, the gospels reject this satanic deceit and vindicate his critique of sacred violence. The women arrive at Jesus’ grave to behold that the boulder has been rolled away. The tomb no longer contains the slain Nazarean, and a messenger announces that Jesus is risen. Girard’s work reenacts this Easter story: it confronts the frustrating stone of mimetic desire, rolls it aside to reveal its murderous consequences, and bears witness to the non-violent love that is truly sacred. To remember Girard best is to move beyond mourning at all the tombs of the world, to recognize that violence is human rather than divine, and to pursue the reconciliation that rejuvenates and invigorates.
To see the long line of outstanding artists and critics who have received the Lifetime Achievement Award over the past quarter-century,
CCL at MLA 2016 | Austin
CCL at MLA 2015 | Vancouver
CCL at MLA 2014 | Chicago
A MESSAGE TO CCL MEMBERS
From Paul Contino and Maire Mullins
As we look back on eleven years of service as Co-editors of Christianity & Literature, we are filled with gratitude. We are grateful to the hundreds of writers who contributed to the journal, be they authors of scholarly essays, book reviews’ or poems; to the countless readers who attentively evaluated manuscripts for us; to the special editors who made possible issues focused on Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson, Geoffrey Hill, Contemporary Poetry, Contemporary Fiction, and African Literature; to our tireless Book Review Editor, Philip Mitchell, and our two superlative Poetry Editors, Julia Kasdorf and Peter Cooley; to our two industrious Managing Editors, Tammy Ditmore and Jordan Hardman; and to our Advisory Board. All of us remain indebted to the founders of CCL, who, in 1950, were inspired to establish this vital community of scholars, whose work we have been honored to advance.
Last year, at the CCL Luncheon in Vancouver, we were moved by Roger Lundin’s kind words. Like each of you, we miss Roger dearly. He was a wise counselor, and constant support of our work with CCL. So too was John Cox, his predecessor as President of CCL. One of the great gifts of our tenure as editors has been working with people like Roger and John – models of the academic and Christian vocations, and of the ways the two can be integrated into an exemplary, unified life.
Susan Felch is another example of such a model: she remains an indispensable CCL leader and friend. Her special section, featured in our Winter 2009 issue, entitled “A Seminar on Christian Scholarship and the Turn to Religion in Literary Studies,” proved to be one of the most requested back issues of C&L. (Just today I recommended it on the CCL listserv!) And we remain deeply thankful to Darryl Tippens: without Darryl’s generous support and wise guidance during his service as Provost of Pepperdine University, we could never have accomplished our work.
We are grateful to Mark Eaton and his colleagues at Azusa Pacific University for taking the mantle of CCL editorship so ably and gracefully. We believe our still-new partnership with SAGE will nurture CCL’s international presence, and will make the journal accessible to scholars around the world. For as long as we remain in our academic vocations, we will look forward to each new issue of Christianity & Literature, and working with our CCL friends on other endeavors.
MARK EATON, Editor
Christianity & Literature
After a six-month search, which included final interviews at the MLA Convention in Vancouver, the Board of the Conference on Christianity and Literature has selected Mark Eaton, Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University, to be the new editor of Christianity & Literature, our flagship journal.
Mark assumed his duties officially on June 1, 2015, when he took over the reins of the journal from Paul Contino and Maire Mullins, who served superbly as co-editors for more than a decade.
Mark recently sat down for an extensive interview in which he describes his interests in the subject of Christianity and literature and his vision for Christianity & Literature in the coming years. For the interview click here.
CCL ELECTION RESULTS
In balloting that concluded on October 17, 2015, Darryl Tippens (Abilene Christian University), pictured above, was elected as the next President of the Conference on Christianity and Literature; Mitchell Harris (Augustana College, South Dakota) was re-elected as Treasurer; Claire Costley King'oo (University of Connecticut) was selected as an at large member of the CCL board; and Gregor Thuswaldner (Gordon College) was re-elected as the representative for the Northeast region.
ANNOUNCING: CCL FELLOWSHIPS
We are pleased to announce the reinstitution of CCL's travel grant program to support the work of scholars and writers. For the calendar year 2015, the deadline for applications for this competitive award program is November 15, 2015. For detailed information concerning the grant program and application process, please click here.
UPCOMING CCL REGIONAL CONFERENCES
◼ For announcements about upcoming CCL Regional Conferences, please click here.
IMAGO DEI: POEMS FROM Christianity & Literature
◼ Imago Dei: Poems from Christianity & Literature brings together a collection of poets who merge faith, literature, and art as a form of worship and inspiration. The editor of the volume, Jill Baumgaertner, is an accomplished poet in her own right and served with distinction as the President of the Conference on Christianity and Literature from 1999-2003. read more
CCL IS ON FACEBOOK
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