Nikolaus Wandinger

* Teaching on Friday 22nd

Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Institute of Systematic Theology in Innsbruck (Austria)

I became acquainted with mimetic theory though Raymund Schwager, who in Innsbruck was the main proponent of dramatic theology, i. e. a way of reading Scripture and doing theology that is modeled on the structure of the classical drama. Schwager encountered Girard in 1974 and since then continued to exchange thoughts with him until Schwager’s untimely death in 2004. Schwager utilized mimetic theory for a better understanding of Scripture and the Christian faith. This was my first idea of mimetic theory.
Mimetic Theory and Dramatic Theology
What greatly fascinated me was that Schwager’s account answered all the questions I had had since I had seen the film Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time as a 14-year-old: why Jesus “had to” die, whether Judas and/or Jesus were just puppets on the strings of a divine puppeteer, and why or how Jesus’ gruesome death could have redeemed humankind. Schwager, unlike other professors, offered answers to these questions, and they seemed very plausible to me. Gradually I realized that he had reached them by, among other things, drawing on mimetic theory. Thus, according to Michael Kirwan’s Girard and Theology (p. 39), “Schwager’s dramatic soteriology represents the most thorough application of Girard’s concept of the scapegoat mechanism to Christological questions.” For me mimetic theory has become an integral part of dramatic theology – and vice versa.
The human sciences cannot do without theology
In course of time, I learned that mimetic theory does not only enrich theology in the traditional sense of the term, it also opens it up and shows its general relevance. By explaining how religion is a universal human phenomenon that is actually at the roots of humanity as such, and how the Jewish-Christian revelation provides a development and transformation of that kind of religion, mimetic theory in fact argues for universal relevance of theology on the one hand – on the other hand it opens theology up beyond its immediate area of interest. It basically told me: the human sciences cannot do without theology and theology cannot ward itself off against other sciences: they need each other if they are really interested in the truth about humanity. I have been trying to incorporate that into my theology ever since.

Harry Potter: a theology of natural sin
This has also led me to discover theology where none is mentioned explicitly – inside and outside the Bible. Inside the Bible it is often people’s actions that tell more about their true faith and the underlying image of God than their God-talk. Whom they take as their model is more theologically relevant than what they profess, mimetic theory tells us. And that is true for me and other believers today as well. Outside the Bible mimetic theory helps me discover theological ideas in disguise or at least in unexpected ways: for example I found a theology of original sin in the popular Harry Potter novels, and analyzed their theology of sacrifice – a very prominent theme of the series.

Theology Revisited
Keeping that opening of theology in mind, classical theological questions can be addressed anew. I will do that during my unit at the summer school by introducing students to the dramatic model developed by Schwager with the help of mimetic theory and to the theological insights gained that way. Finally I want to address the one issue that Schwager and Girard needed time to come to a shared understanding: whether Christ’s death should be called a sacrifice. Thus the course unit will have three parts:

(1) Violent crises in the Old Testament and their analysis
(2) Jesus of Nazareth’s life and death as a drama culminating in the crisis of crucifixion
(3) Basic delineation of the discussion of sacrifice between Girard and Schwager

If there is time, a side glance at Harry Potter might be worth while.

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