Mimetic Theory (René Girard) – Video Series

The following video series provides a preliminary understanding of human culture from the perspective of mimetic theory, which was first developed by René Girard (1923-2015).

I made the first parts to give an overview of some basic cultural facts. The later parts of the video series deal with mimetic theory’s explanation of those facts.

PART I – THE SPELL OF THE SACRED

Part I – The Spell of the Sacred is a general introduction that clarifies how human communities organize themselves in reference to a sacred realm. It uses the example of female circumcision in the culture of the Ethiopian Dassanech tribe to highlight the interplay between taboos, rituals and myths. This reveals how the sacred is experienced as an ambiguous and violent reality that is eventually balanced by sacrifice.

Music for the first part of the video series comes from Le Sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), more specifically Introduction and Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes from the second part, Le Sacrifice. It seems only appropriate.
WATCH The Spell of the Sacred HERE:

PART II – THE DANCE OF THE SACRED (3 VIDEOS)

Part II of the video series on mimetic theory (in 3 videos) further explores how cultural (sacred) taboos, rituals and myths are connected with violence and the (often violent) attempts to control it. Each chapter starts off with a concrete example from around the world.

After every example there are two appendices, one that connects the observed cultural facts with the animal world, and another that explores how traces of age-old cultural customs are present in secular cultures.

Scenes mainly come from BBC & National Geographic documentaries, especially scenes from Dynasties (hosted by David Attenborough).

Due to WordPress regulations, the second part had to be cut into 3 videos. An overview of the content precedes every video.

WATCH The Dance of the Sacred BELOW:

Chapter I – Food in the Dance of the Sacred

The Tinku Ritual (Aymara People, Bolivia)

Appendix I – The Connection with the Animal World:

Scenes from Dynasties, Chimpanzee (David Attenborough)

Appendix II – Secular Cultures:

Restaurant Alchemist 2.0 (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Chapter II – Sexuality in the Dance of the Sacred

The Sagine Ritual with Donga Sticks (Suri People, Ethiopia)

Appendix I – The Connection with the Animal World:

Scenes from Dynasties, Chimpanzee (David Attenborough)

Appendix II – Secular Cultures:

Scenes from Temptation Island 2019, Kady & Johnny’s Journey

Chapter III – Diseases in the Dance of the Sacred

The Sacrificial Ritual of the Khakhua-Kumu (Kombai People, Indonesia – Papua Western New Guinea)

Appendix I – The Connection with the Animal World:

Scenes from Planet Earth (David Attenborough)

Appendix II – Secular Cultures:

Baking Gingerbread Cookies

Chapter IV – Adolescence and Leadership in the Dance of the Sacred

Important Rites of Passage (Arnold van Gennep)

Initiation Ritual ULWALUKO (Xhosa People, South Africa)

Initiation Ritual CROCODILE SCARIFICATION (Chambri/Sepik People, Papua New Guinea)

Appendix I – The Connection with the Animal World:

Scenes from Dynasties, Chimpanzee (David Attenborough)

Appendix II – Secular Cultures:

Fraternity and Sorority Hazing

Tattoos & Branding

Chapter V – Mimetic (= Imitative) Phenomena – like Twins and Mirrors – in the Dance of the Sacred

Ritual Sacrifice of Twins (Bassa-Komo People, Nigeria)

Appendix I – The Connection with the Animal World:

Scenes from Chimpanzees, Other Animals and Human Babies Confronted with Their Mirror Image

Appendix II – Secular Cultures:

Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and the Uncanny Valley (Masahiro Mori)

For more information on the music for Parts I & II, click here (pdf).

PART III – THE MYTHICAL REFLECTION OF THE AMBIGUOUS SACRED (3 VIDEOS)

The third part of the video series on mimetic theory heavily relies on the amazing, highly recommended work of the team behind Crash Course World Mythology and its video host Mike Rugnetta. There is also one video included from the Mythic series of TEDEd, The Myth of Prometheus (Educator: Iseult Gillespie; Director: Léa Krawczyk).

This part of the series ends with excerpts from interviews with Joseph Campbell and René Girard. The Campbell excerpt comes from the 1988 PBS documentary Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers). The Girard excerpt comes from a 1985 interview on Dutch television (IKON), on the occasion of Girard’s honorary doctorate from VU Amsterdam.

The 3 videos of The Mythical Reflection of the Ambiguous Sacred explore how the beliefs, convictions, taboos and rituals of Part II – The Dance of the Sacred are reflected in myths from around the world. It is remarkable, once again, that there are so many similarities between many different cultures.

Due to WordPress regulations, the third part had to be cut into 3 videos. An overview of the content precedes every video.

WATCH The Mythical Reflection of the Ambiguous Sacred BELOW:

Introduction

Chapter I – The Inhabitants of the Mythical Sacred: Creatures of Undifferentiation – An Overview

The Beneficial or Violently Undifferentiating Power of Nature and its Elements: Air, Fire, Earth and Water

The Process of Undifferentiation between Male and Female in Sexual Union and Androgynous Appearances (with Instances of Homosexuality)

The Process of (Monstrous) Undifferentiation between the Human World and the Animal Kingdom

The Process of Undifferentiation between Allies and Enemies, Old and Young, in Situations of Rivalry and during War

The State of Undifferentiation in Mirror Images and in the Likeness between Doubles

Chapter II – The Universal Mythical Cycle of Undifferentiation/Chaos/Crisis – Death/(Self-)Sacrifice – Differentiation/Order/Peace in Creation Stories

Sacred Cosmic Egg The Food of Creation

Sacred War The Violence of Creation (Sexuality, Adolescence, Leadership and Sacrificial Cannibalism in the Mythical Dance of the Ambiguous Violent Sacred)

Chapter III – The Universal Mythical Cycle of Undifferentiation/Chaos/Crisis – Death/(Self-)Sacrifice – Differentiation/Order/Peace in the Sacred Creatures of Hindu Stories

Chapter IV – The Universal Mythical Cycle of Undifferentiation/Chaos/Crisis – Death/(Self-)Sacrifice – Differentiation/Order/Peace in Flood and End Time Stories

Chapter V – The Universal Mythical Cycle of Undifferentiation/Chaos/Crisis – Death/(Self-)Sacrifice – Differentiation/Order/Peace in Stories about Ambiguous Deities in the Process of Dying and Rising

The Ambiguous Power of Goddesses

The Story of Persephone (Greece)

The Story of Pele (Hawaii)

The Story of Baba Yaga (Russia)

The Story of the Corn Mother (North America)

The Ambiguous Power of Gods

The Story of Adonis (Greece)

The Stories of Odin, Balder and Loki (Norway)

Chapter VI – The Universal Mythical Cycle of Undifferentiation/Chaos/Crisis – Death/(Self-)Sacrifice – Differentiation/Order/Peace in Stories about Heroes and their Journeys

Excerpt from Interview with Joseph Campbell

The Story of Prometheus (Greece)

Excerpt from Interview with René Girard


For more information on the music for Part III, click here (pdf).

PART IV – THE ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF CULTURAL FACTS EXPLAINED (2 VIDEOS)

The fourth part of the video series on mimetic theory moves from the level of facts to the level of theory and hypothesis.

Human culture is understood as the continuous attempt to establish order against real and imagined sources of violent disasters. Regarding early human culture, the question is how human communities started associating violence with so-called sacred beings (like ghosts and gods).

René Girard argues that instances of escalating intragroup violence, which threatened to destroy human communities, must have been resolved regularly in reuniting collective violence against a single victim. Because of the frequency of this event, humans started making associations between violence and its victims that animals close to humans like apes and monkeys do not make, although the latter do have similar experiences. Those associations eventually result in a scapegoat mechanism that forms the foundation for primal cultural customs, like sacrificial rituals and the belief in deities who demand those rituals.

It turns out that a bigger mimetic capacity in humans is the cause of both escalating deadly violence and its resolution in a “single victim mechanism”. That is why the name of the theory that explains the origin and evolution of human culture from this type of event is “mimetic theory”.

The explanation of René Girard is corroborated, among others, by the impressive field work of anthropologist David Watts (Yale University). Watts spent years researching the largest group of chimpanzees ever found in the wild at Ngogo, Uganda. Watts observes:

“Chimpanzees are fascinating animals to compare ourselves to. … They are more like humans than anything else alive on the planet. … So what does this tell us about human evolution, and what does this mean for humans?”

To finish these introductory remarks, it is worthwhile to point out that part four also reveals what the opening picture of the video series is all about. It is a telling picture, for sure…

WATCH The Origin and Evolution of Cultural Facts Explained BELOW:

Chapter I – From Facts to Hypothesis

Chapter II – The Role of Mimesis in Human Life

Learning through imitation; Mimetic Nature Allows for Mimesis in the Realm of Nurture (Box Experiment by Victoria Horner)

Mirror Neurons and the Mimetic Capacity of the Human Brain

Vilayanur Ramachandran on the Role of Mirror Neurons and Mimesis in the Course of Human Evolution

Chapter III – The Role of Violence in Human Life; from Mimesis to Rivalry in the Game of Mimetic Desire

Excerpts from a 1985 interview with René Girard for Dutch television (“IKON”)

Excerpts from Rise of the Warrior Apes Documentary (Research by David Watts on the Ngogo chimpanzees)

Chapter IV – The Hunt for Common Enemies and Victims; from Divisive Mimetic Desire to Reuniting Mimesis of Enmity and the Scapegoat Mechanism in Human Communities

Excerpts from a 1985 interview with René Girard for Dutch television (“IKON”)

Excerpts from Rise of the Warrior Apes Documentary (Research by David Watts on the Ngogo chimpanzees)

For more information on the music for Part IV, click here (pdf).

Cave I

Video coming up in the nearby future:

Mimetic Theory – Part V – The Gospel Revelation of the Mythical Lie