Wiel Eggen

Wiel Eggen (1942) will be filling the weblogs at the Summer School. As an anthropologist, theologian and RC priest, who formerly lectured in Ghana, the UK and the Netherlands, he now serves as chaplain to foreign students. After his studies, he spent many years on religious and anthropological research in the Central African Republic and Ghana. His prime interest was the perception on the other in societies that were marked by the absence of a centralised government. His thesis on the Banda people of the CAR was called “Peuple d'autrui” (untranslated). What does it mean to receive one's identity from the structural 'relation to the other', who is both the source and the threat to my being? Is submission to a supreme authority of the Other the answer, as the West came to teach Africans both in politics and religion? Submission to a God, greater than whom there is none?

Having studied Girardian views on the origins of culture and religion for almost 4 decades, he analysed the African society in line with mimetic theory and taught on it. Apart from his thesis and several reports on pastoral issues, he wrote two books in Dutch on the missiological implications of relationships to the other, and further numerous articles applying the mimetic theory to religious and intercultural issues. He contributed to the COV&R conferences of Amsterdam (2007) and London (2009), whith a focus on the feminist challenge within the Islam-Christian dialogue, on which he has also read papers to the Dutch Girard-society.

Here are some of Wiel’s thoughts on the works of René Girard.

Common humanity
Although Girard countered the relativism that dominated Western thought, he impressed me with an adamant refusal to identify technical progress with cultural eminence. The violent scapegoating that marks human social relationships he deemed present all over. The insight in the mimetic sources of each person’s identity, as worked out in Violence and the Sacred, allowed me to see any African society as part of the same common humanity. Overcoming sacrificial violence is a universal challenge.

Religious breakthrough
The insight in mimetic workings was a conversion from romantic idealism, which Girard allowed us to make, and which he rightly links to his own religious conversion to biblical revelation. But as an anthropologist I have to remember constantly that the actual Christian forms are not necessarily closer to unmasking the basic lie that underlies sacrificial thinking than is any other religious order. The core of the scapegoat mechanism is a combination of inculpation and sensing that it is a lie. In many mimetic texts this seems forgotten. It even makes Girard himself seem too much of an evolutionist and too little of a 'structuralist', who discards too much of the great school of Durkheim and Lévi-Strauss.

From sacrificial to non-sacrificial
I appreciate greatly that Girard tackled the sacrificial reading of Christianity that turned the Apolyptic Lamb into a victorious ruler, forcing God to reward with dominion his courageous act of self-sacrifice. Rereading those ambiguous Christian texts, he has come to stress their non-sacrificial contents. But in my view this is still open to misunderstanding as long as evil is read vertically rather than horizontally. If the Father whom Jesus asks us to imitate in positive mimesis is placed above the level of the ousted scapegoat, He remains a force that makes us push down rather than uplift the other. Mimetic theory, I feel, reaches its full potential if it is able to link with new Augustinian perspectives on the notion of donation to complement acquisition.