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“Lost, Unhappy and at Home”: René Girard's Theory of Mimetic Desire, Religious Violence and Apocalyptic Vision Applied to the Poetry of Seamus Heaney Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Gillingham, Michael E
Supervisor and department
Gay, David (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Landy, Francis (History and Classics)
Braun, Willi (History and Classics)
Brazeau, Robert (English and Film Studies)
Gay, David (English and Film Studies)
Religious Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Master of Arts
Degree level
The relationship between religion and violence in our modern world is problematic. In the post-Christian West, religion has been privatized and personalized as what scholars like René Girard call secular modernity emerged. The legitimate use of violence in the West has been restricted to the state. In other parts of the world, religion continues to be a strong influence on culture and politics. The separations between religion and state in Western secular modernity do not apply in many countries and cultures in Africa and Asia. This is particularly a problem in countries with Muslim populations. The events of 9/11, the subsequent War on Terror, and the more recent terrorist attacks in Europe and around the world have highlighted these differences. This thesis is concerned with religious violence. Is religion violent? If so, is religious violence worse or somehow different than the violence of the secular state? Is there a possibility of peace between a secular state and a theopolitical state? I approach these questions with an interdisciplinary approach combining the study of religion and the study of English literature. My purpose is to examine critically these questions in this thesis. I argue that religion has the potential to express violence but it also has the potential to inspire peace. Religion continues to be important and the West will need to seek to understand and respect this reality as we move forward. I begin by situating the terms “religion”, “myth”, “violence”, and “religious violence” in the context of Religious Studies and our broader Western culture. From a theoretical perspective, I am employing the work of historian, literary theorist, and scholar of religion René Girard. Girard’s work on mimetic desire, religious violence, and war provide some powerful tools of analysis. I am applying Girard’s insights to the work of Irish poet, professor, and translator Seamus Heaney. Heaney’s poetry was written during times of great sectarian violence between Roman Catholic and Protestant populations in Northern Ireland. Heaney’s personal experiences with and poetic reflections on this violence are important contributions to discussions of religious violence. Girard’s Violence and the Sacred and Heaney’s North are particularly relevant to this project’s focus. I conclude with a chapter on 9/11 and the War on Terror. Heaney and Girard both provide critical analysis of these events in their work. They also suggest a way forward for the West and its neighbours through conflict to peace. In their own work, both Heaney and Girard acknowledge the continuing relevance and importance of religion in our world and the need to critically assess and respond to all forms of violence. Humanity’s capacity to wreak great destruction has only increased in this new millennium and great care must be taken to avoid the worst.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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