James Alison

* Teaching on 23rd and 24th July

James Alison (b. London 1959) is a Catholic theologian, Priest, and wandering teacher. He first became inspired by the thought of René Girard in 1985 and since then has been involved in exploring the fecundity of mimetic theory for Systematic Theology. The author of several books in this field, including Knowing Jesus, Raising Abel and The Joy of Being Wrong, he has also attempted to allow mimetic theory to interact with the understanding of matters gay as they have impacted the life of the Catholic Church, as is evidenced by his book Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay and his teaching and work accompanying retreats. James is about to roll-out the twelve-session course of adult introduction to the Christian faith which he has developed from the perspective of Girardian thought. Details of the course can be found on www.forgivingvictim.com. James lives in Brazil but travels frequently all over the world for talks, retreats and courses. An up-to-date collection of his writings can be found on www.jamesalison.co.uk


Some of James's views on Mimetic Theory and the European Summer School are put forward in the next interview:


Would you agree that getting familiar with Mimetic Theory is more than just an intellectual challenge?

Yes indeed. Precisely because, to my way of thinking, Girard offers us an insight, more or less coherently and completely theoretised in Mimetic Theory. And the insight works at the level of our patterns of desire, a pre-cognitive level, showing us the cultural and interdividual conditions of possibility of our intellectual life. In this sense it is more a human challenge than an intellectual one, one on which rides the human possibility of being rigorously reasonable together.

“Girard’s understanding of desire exploded like a depth charge,” – you wrote in The Joy of Being Wrong. Could you please explain?

There are ideas that you wrestle with as they come along, and then there is an insight like Girard’s. In my case, I kind of knew very quickly that I was faced with something that was both very simple and yet had a huge number of ramifications. And that I was being told the truth. As that sense of being told the truth dawned I was aware that it was something that was sinking into me, beyond the cognitive level, and would soon blow open my whole way of looking at things, of living. And so it has been.

Can you tell us something more about the process of becoming the head of the Imitatio Education Board?

There’s not much to tell, I’m afraid. Certainly nothing that would suggest that I am qualified for the task. I was among the group invited to the Imitatio “Founding Forty” group in Stanford in April 2008, and we divided ourselves more or less spontaneously into different interest groups. As we all began to get our heads around how we were going to structure making something really worthwhile out of Peter Thiel’s generosity for us, and given that I don’t have a “day job”, Bob Hamerton- Kelly asked me if I would mind coordinating this part of Imitatio’s outreach.

As to educating people in MT, how do you view the role of Summer Schools in general and ESS 2010 in particular?

Summer Schools seem to me an excellent way of bringing highly motivated students into intense contact with some of the most creative and experienced exponents of Mimetic Theory across a different range of fields. So we are all, students and teachers alike, going to find our range of knowledge, and breadth of appreciation very much increased by the interaction. ESS 2010 is our pilot project, and in addition to looking forward to it immensely, I am in awe of the quality and range of expertise of the students who have signed up. I hope that this will teach us how to make such learning opportunities available in more and more places in the future.

What is your vision on spreading the mimetic news in the future?

My sense is that what spreads the mimetic insight most effectively is the evidence of its power and range as developed by different people, from hugely different areas, whose passion it becomes. These people, rather than being clones of some centralized idea, become their own passionate developers and expositors of a sense of truth in living, and acquire their own authority as they do so. My vision is to attempt to be one such person, and, for as long as Imitatio wants me in an organisational capacity, to help construct a flexible framework facilitating the spread of the insight internationally in both its depth and its breadth.

Could you give a brief description of your role in and expectations of ESS 2010.

Well, my role will be to be as useful as I can to Thérèse and Michael in their highly skilled organizing and running of the whole event. I will be there throughout, and will help set the tone with some input on the first day. I think I’ll be allowed some input of my own stuff towards the end! My expectations are that I will find the whole thing a very intense learning experience – both from what old friends and colleagues will be teaching, and perhaps even more from the huge range of new possibilities represented by our students. That, and that we will all end up seriously exhausted.


James Alison