Michael Kirwan SJ

* Teaching on Wednesday 14th

I am a Jesuit priest and a theologian, born and bred in Leeds, in the north of England, of Irish parents. I lecture in systematic theology at Heythrop College, University of London, though before entering the Society of Jesus in 1980 I studied English Language and Literature, with an especially passionate interest in the writings of Shakespeare, Blake and twentieth century modernist literature.

I was very impressed by the importance of the religious quest in nearly all the great writers, and have always looked for an opportunity to explore the affinity between literature and theology. For this reason, coming across the work of René Girard many years later was very exciting, not least for the way that Girard drew theological themes from writers such as Shakespeare and the great European novelists. My research at this stage was into theologies of martyrdom (hence religious violence); brought me to Stanford and my first COV&R conference in 1996 (also my first meeting with Girard), followed by a year at the University of Innsbruck, to work with Girardian scholars on the faculty of theology. As a result of this research I have been fortunate to be able to write two books on Girard; Discovering Girard is an introduction to his work, which appeared in 2004, while Girard and Theology (2009) attempts an overview of the ways in which theologians have found Girard to be important.

A third book, Political Theology: a New Introduction, explores a very important but bewildering area of theological reflection. Here again, Girard’s insights have proved valuable, as his account of how social cohesion comes about through violent configuration (scapegoating) has huge implications for how we might relate religious transcendence and politics. This last theme was important as a theme of the COV&R colloquium which I helped to run in 2009, entitled Fearful Symmetries: Religion, Coexistence and the Secular.  A particular concern of this colloquium was to look at the affinity of mimetic theory and non-Christian religious traditions, especially Islam.

With regard to my teaching at Heythrop: mimetic theory features strongly in a systematic theology class on the doctrines of salvation and grace. Similarly, modules entitled ‘Political Theology’ and ‘Theologies of Liberation’ are also opportunities to show how mimetic theory is a fresh contribution to the debates about the public return of religion. My hope is to deepen my thinking and to write more extensively about Girardian theory in these areas: Christian doctrine, interreligious dialogue, political theology, but also about this enticing and important interface between literature and theology, which I believe to be an especially fertile ground for Girardian scholars to be working in. 

More information can be found on the Heythrop College website.