René Girard, Conversion, and the Present Media Moment

May 27, 2021
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Grant KaplanSaint Louis University

Carly OsbornUniversity of Divinity

Fr. Steve GrunowWord on Fire Catholic Ministries

Cynthia HavenNational Endowment for the Humanities

Free and open to the public. This event was held online through Zoom (registration required) and live-streamed to YouTube. This event was co-sponsored by Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and America Media.

While social media has become a source of meaning and identity formation for many, its dangers have become clear in recent years, from promoting disinformation to algorithm-aided polarization. Despite these dangers, can social media be a medium for the Gospel? Does a model for discipleship within social media exist?

René Girard’s theory of mimesis or imitation provides a powerful diagnostic for analyzing aspects of human behavior and culture that contribute to the current media climate, including rivalry, escalation, and scapegoating. It also points towards the fragile possibility of positive mimesis: imitation of Christ. 

Join us for a panel drawing together Girard scholars and Catholic media experts to explore how Girard’s analysis can inform our understanding of the current media climate and how we might approach social media as a space for evangelization and conversion.


Image ©Basso Cannarsa/Opale

Grant Kaplan is Professor and Steber Chair of Theology at Saint Louis University. He holds a PhD in systematic theology from Boston College. Prof. Kaplan's research focuses on Ninteenth-century German Catholic theology and the mimetic theory of René Girard. He is author of numerous scholarly articles and books, including René Girard, Unlikely Apologist: Mimetic Theory and Fundamental Theology, Answering the Enlightenment: The Recovery of Historical Revelation in Ninteenth Century Germany, and the forthcoming Faith and Reason: A Theological Overview.

Carly Osborn is the Research Strategy Officer at the University of Divinity. Dr. Osborn received her PhD in English from the University of Adelaide in 2016, writing on the theory of Rene Girard and its application to 20th-century American tragedies. Her dissertation was awarded the University of Adelaide Doctoral Research Medal. She was most recently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions, as well as Outreach and Education Officer. She is the author of the popular layperson’s primer ‘The Theory of Rene Girard: A Very Simple Introduction’, as well as numerous other publications, including several chapters in volumes on violence and the sacred. Her research interests include the theory of René Girard, the history of emotions, violence, ritual and spectacle, tragic theory, and catharsis.

Fr. Steve Grunow is CEO and Executive Producer for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire apostalate. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Cynthia L. Haven is a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar and author of 2018’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, the first-ever biography of the French theorist, which was reviewed in The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications. In 2020, she published Conversations with René Girard: Prophet of Envy (Bloomsbury Press). She is currently working on a René Girard anthology for the Penguin Modern Classics series. Her Czesław Miłosz: A California Life will be out October 2021 with Heyday Books in Berkeley. She has been a Milena Jesenská Journalism Fellow with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna, as well as a visiting writer and scholar at Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, and a Voegelin Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She has written for the Times Literary Supplement, and has also contributed to the New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and others.