Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

More than Just a Concept: Religious Concepts and Institutions Towards Applied Apology and Forgiveness

Emma Edenbaum

Religion 390: Forgiveness in the Islamic and Christian Traditions

November 15, 2019

I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.

In the United States of America, over the course of the past two decades or so, the prominence and permissibility of religion has progressively shifted. It is of a relatively well-known cultural understanding that religion in the modern era is not as largely practiced in the US as it once was, providing support for the secularization thesis positing that religion becomes quieted or suppressed by industrialization.[i] Those who practice intensely, attending services more than once a week, are maintaining their numbers in their conservation of religiosity, but moderately religious or less so practicing people are decreasing more and more in their physical participation, with even once-a-week attendance having dropped by 28.5% between 1976 and 2014.[ii] In reference to the country’s First Amendment in the Constitution, an early letter written by Thomas Jefferson, and the 1947 Supreme Court case Everson versus Board of Education of Ewing, there is a separation of church and state that contends that religion not make its way into law.[iii] Despite law being allegedly untouchable, religion has successfully—even if perhaps covertly—permeated legislative and, by consequence, societal norms. For example, the US officially counts their years in a fashion centered upon the Christian timeline of before and after the death of the adherents’ messiah, Jesus Christ, and the Islamic concept of “love requir[ing] treating others as you would want to be treated, which includes a mandate to forgive,” that is an arguably universal code of conduct in US kindergartens.[iv] If these are examples of how Christianity and Islam have made lighter contributions towards the more secular parts of the US communities, then perhaps it is feasible to take a more intentional integration of the two religions towards the application of both apology and forgiveness into that secular world. 

Upon examining the current literature, especially that of modern philosophers, one could argue that science—psychology, in particular—alone is not capable of capturing the entirety of forgiveness as it is related not only to psychological subscales like emotional intelligence, self-regulation, empathy, pride, narcissism, et cetera, but also more theological aspects such as moral codes, beliefs, and attitudes.[v] Recent studies have provided empirical evidence supporting that divine forgiveness plays into psychological well-being, and that religion need not be dismissed when considering social and individual benefit. In a 2019 study examining self-forgiveness in relation to well-being, the findings revealed the weight divine forgiveness carries in that, “Divine forgiveness… moderate[s] the relationship between self-forgiveness and psychological distress in that perceived forgiveness by God was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at lower but not higher levels of self-forgiveness” (854).[vi] The connection may then be posited that if empirical evidence is supporting the psychological benefit of divine forgiveness while psychologists as a whole are seen to be struggling to fully conceptualize forgiveness without divinity, that the incorporation of divine institutions specifically from Christianity or Islam on everyday life may be overarchingly beneficial.

The scope of applied apology and forgiveness is difficult to designate. Should it be defined by the group or by the individual? David Reiff provides a pretty convoluted look at nations as a whole, describing them as “a group of people united by a mistaken view of the past and a hatred of their neighbors,” like a form of editing the past so as to further the needs of the present (78).[vii] A quick Google search reveals that there are currently twenty-six global conflicts impacting US interests alone, not considering the tensions that do not affect the US. Six of those are classified as civil wars either unchanging or worsening.[viii] To take such a wide perspective on the global spectrum of war where apology and forgiveness may be applied, religion could be a factor to remind humans of their stature in the world, of their size. If Reiff’s classification of nations is correct and their regards for outgroup nations stems from hatred, Christianity argues that people have no right to conduct vengeance despite its capability to enlighten the world to nature’s evil because as is declared in the New Testament’s Deuteronomy, only God is capable of combining forgiveness with vengeance, or conducting vengeance at all.[ix] After the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, a number of Muslim leaders publicly deemed terrorism un-Islamic and called for a refocusing of attention on the religion’s emphasized tolerance and compassion.[x] On a smaller scale, looking more towards the individual, forgiveness in the Muslim sense is described by Powell as “the restraint of anger or offense even when justified as a strict matter of fairness or reciprocity” (24). Islam has a very powerful outlook on forgiveness in how it recognizes that forgiveness is a difficult task, and its receivers are not always deserving. There is the proclamation in line with Aristolian ethics that “[e]nemies are due the same mercy as friends, though they do not deserve to be trusted” (25).[xi] It is like the concept within forgiveness counseling that says that forgiveness need not include forgetting or condoning the wrongdoing, granting legal mercy, or re conciling a relationship. [One] can forgive a person while in no way believing that their actions were acceptable or justified.”[xii] With this recognition of qualifying forgiveness and not putting so much weight on the unrelenting compassion of the victim forgiving, apology and forgiveness may gain traction and popularity more so than without it.

Returning back to the secularization thesis, religion does not need to be suppressed or quieted just because the world is modernizing. Science is trying to move closer to and establish a definitive reality, but human morality is difficult to define. That want for clear designation can be aided by the application of religious institutions that can offer an understanding of human action on a deeper, more personal and sensitive level.


[i]Chavura, Steven.“The Secularization Thesis and the Secular State: Reflections with Special Attention to Debates in Australia,” in Religion and the State: A Comparative Sociology, eds. Jack Barbalet, Adam Possamai, and Bryan S. Turner (New York, NY: Anthem Press, 2011), 65-92.

[ii]Schnabel, Landon, and Sean Bock. “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion: A Response to Recent Research.” Sociological Science vol. 4, 2017, pp. 686-700.

[iii]“History of Church and State Separation.” Partner with Schools, accessed November 13, 2019, www.partnerwithschools.org/history-of-churchstateseparation.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI7a227_Lq5QIVCaCzCh1T-QTcEAAYASAAEgIV3_D_BwE. 

[iv]Paulas, Rick. “Without Christianity, What Year Would It Be?” Pacific Standard Magazine, accessed November 13, 2019, https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-year-would-be-that-of-1-million-years-past-our-lord-spaghetti-monsters-bday.; Powell, Russell. “Forgiveness in Islamic Ethics and Jurisprudence.” Berkely Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law vol. 4, no. 1, 2001, pp. 17-34.

[v]Garrard, Eve, and David McNaughton, “The case for Forgiveness I: What the Psychologists Say,” in Forgiveness (The Art of Living Series), ed. Mark Vernon (Routlet, 2014), 63-82.; Touissaint, Loren, Frederic Luskin, Rick Aberman, and Arthur DeLorenzo. “Is Forgiveness One of the Secrets to Success? Considering the Costs of the Workplace Disharmony and the Benefits of Teaching Employees to Forgive.” American Journal of Health Promotion, vol. 33, no.7, pp. 1090-1093.   

[vi]Fincham, Frank D., and Ross W. May. “Self-forgiveness and Well-being: Does Divine Forgiveness Matter?” The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 14, no. 6, 2019, 854-859.  

[vii] Reiff, David. “Forgiveness in Forgetting,” in In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 77-93.  

[viii]“World’s Biggest Conflicts.” Global Conflict Map, accessed November 13, 2019, www.cfr.org/interactive/global-conflict-tracker/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIlIHUwLns5QIVT__jBx1IygV8EAAYASAAEgLYxvD_BwE&category=us.

[ix] Shriver Jr., Donald W. “Political Ethics as Moral Memory,” in An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 63-72.

[x] Powell, “Forgiveness in Islamic Ethics and Jurisprudence,” pp. 17-34.

[xi] Powell, “Forgiveness in Islamic Ethics and Jurisprudence,” pp. 17-34.

[xii] “Forgiveness Therapy.” Therapist Aid, accessed November 13, 2019, https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/forgiveness-therapy.

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