Hindu mythology reflects this mixture of otherworldly spiritualism and worldly violence. Like most mythologies, it is full of images of cosmic wars, apocalyptic destruction, and tragic heroes. But it is also the repository of as many stories about courtly love, self-sacrifice, ethical quandaries, and sophisticated philosophical edifices to rival (or even surpass) Augustine and Aquinas. And unlike Greek or Scandinavian mythology, Hindu mythology is also connected to a living religious tradition and helps to define the religious identity of hundreds of millions of Hindus. As scholars of Hinduism have learned, one is far more likely to draw protests when writing about Ganesa or Siva than when writing about Loki or Aphrodite. Indeed, as we shall see, scholars of Hindu mythology have recently found themselves enmeshed or implicated in India's religious conflicts.
Many books have been written about the violence of religion, the religions of India, and the violence of the religions of India. But René Girard, who has spent the last four decades thinking and writing about religion and violence, has had virtually nothing to say about is until his lectures on the Sanskrit Brahmanas at the Bibliotheque nationale de France in October of 2002. This book presents a study of those lectures, published in English in 2011 as Sacrifice, in light of the rest of Girard's work, current Indological scholarship, and primary texts from the Hindu tradition. Along the way, it also visits the work of Girard's predecessors, heirs, rivals, and critics, examine some well-known and some frequently overlooked Hindu myths and rituals, and take some sidelong glances into Christian theology, contemporary philosophy, and Greek, Iranian, and Scandinavian literature. In the end, it comes to some conclusions about what it means for him and for us that Girard has finally turned to India so late in his long and distinguished career and how a Girardian reading of Hindu myth might contribute to a new universal history built on humanity's shared future rather than its diffused pasts.
In the beginning, says the ancient Hindu text the Rig Veda, was man. And from man's sacrifice and dismemberment came the entire world, including the hierarchical ordering of human society. The book presents a wide-ranging study of Hindu text read through the lens of Rene Girard's mimetic theory of the sacrificial origin of religion and culture. For those interested in Girard and comparative religion, the book also performs a careful reading of Girard's work drawing connections between his thought and the work of theorists like Georges Dumezll and Girogio Agamben. Brian Collins examines the idea of sacrifice from the earliest recorded rituals through the flowering of classical mythology and the ancient Indian institutions of the duel, the oath, and the secret warrior society. He also uncovers implicit and explicit critiques in the tradition, confirming Girard's intution that Hinduism offers an alternative anti-sacrificial worldview to the one contained in the gospels.