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French professor René Girard dies at 91

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Courtesy of Linda Cicero/Stanford News Service
(Courtesy of Linda Cicero/Stanford News Service)

René Girard, Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature & Civilization, emeritus, died on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, as reported by Stanford News.

Girard was a prolific author with nearly 30 books to his name, as well as a member of the 40-person governing body of the French language, the Académie Française. He was well-known for his ideas on the causes of human conflict, as well as on the role of imitation in human behavior.

Born in Avignon, France, on Christmas 1923, Girard attended l’École des Chartres, a school for archivists and librarians. After graduating in 1947, he pursued his doctorate at Indiana University in Bloomington and was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1966. He later served on the faculties of Duke and Johns Hopkins before coming to Stanford in 1981, where he remained until his retirement in 1995.

His books often attracted attention. He caused major international controversy with “Violence and the Sacred,” which explored the role of archaic religions in suppressing violence through sacrifice. His final book, “Battling to the End: Politics, War and Apocalypse,” was cited by the then-President of France and gained significant media coverage.

For his work, Girard received much recognition. In addition to his election to the Académie Française in 2005, he was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009.

Girard was well-respected by his colleagues, one of whom dubbed him the “new Darwin of the human sciences.” Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature at Stanford, told Stanford News that Girard’s legacy was “not just to his own autonomous field — but to a continuing human truth.”

Girard is survived by his wife of 64 years, three children and nine grandchildren.

No memorial plans have been announced.

 

Contact Albert Zhang at albertzh ‘at’ stanford.edu.