Mimetic theory - Wikipedia

The mimetic theory of desire is an explanation of human behavior and culture which originated with the French historian and polymath René Girard. The name of the theory is derived from the philosophical concept mimesis (/mɪˈmiːsɪs, mə-, maɪ-, -əs/;[1] Ancient Greek: μίμησις mīmēsis, from μιμεῖσθαι mīmeisthai, "to imitate"), which carries a wide range of meanings. In mimetic theory, mimesis refers to human desire, which Girard thought was not linear but the product of a mimetic process in which people imitate models who endow objects with value[1]. Girard called this phenomenon mimetic desire. Girard described mimetic desire as the foundation of his theory:

“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.” [2]

Mimetic theory posits that mimetic desire leads to natural rivalry and eventually to scapegoating, which Girard called the scapegoat mechanism. In his study of history, Girard formed the hypothesis that societies unify their imitative desires around the destruction of a collectively agreed-upon scapegoat[3].

The Colloquium on Violence & Religion is an international organization of scholars and practitioners interested in mimetic theory.


  • Girard René. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. New York, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.
  • Girard René, and Chantre Benoît. Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2009.
  • Girard René. Evolution and Conversion Dialogues on the Origins of Culture. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2017.