René Girard honored by the King of Spain

Réne Girard photo by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News

Professor Emeritus RENÉ GIRARD will be granted the Order of Isabella the Catholic, Commander by Number, by the Spanish head of state, H.M. King Juan Carlos. Girard is receiving the decoration “for his outstanding work, during the past decades, in the fields of philosophy and anthropology.”

A French historian, literary critic and philosopher of social science, Girard has written nearly 30 books. His ideas about human behavior have inspired a generation of scholars in a range of disciplines, from theology and mythology to economics and cultural studies.

The Order of Isabella the Catholic is a Spanish civil order bestowed upon both Spanish citizens and foreigners in recognition of services that benefit the country.

A statement from the cultural advisors to King Juan Carlos points to Girard’s “profound attachment” to “Spanish culture as a whole” as reason for the award. Girard has repeatedly said that the works of Miguel de Cervantes, one of Spain’s greatest writers, have been crucial to him when it came to elaborating his theories.

Girard, who became the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature and Civilization at Stanford in 1981, is most known for his hypotheses about mimetic desire, the psychology of envy and the scapegoat mechanism, all of which delve into the roots of the human condition.

Through a study of characters in great literary works, Girard developed what is arguably his most famous theory of mimetic desire, in which he asserts that a compulsion to imitate others fuels nearly all human conflict.

Girard, one of only 40 members of the Académie Française, France’s highest intellectual honor, retired from Stanford in 1995.

The Consul General of Spain in San Francisco, Jorge Montealegre Buire, will personally deliver the medal to Girard at a private ceremony in his home at Stanford today.

—CORRIE GOLDMAN