chapter  4
16 Pages

Forgiveness in Cultural Context

BySteven J. Sandage & Ian Williamson

Forgiveness is a construct that can be traced and studied in connection with diverse streams of literature from cultures around the globe. As psychologists, we are most familiar with the body of psychological literature on forgiveness that has developed over the past two decades (for reviews, see Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Fincham, 2000; McCullough & Witvliet, 2002). Numerous psychological defi nitions, measures, and models of forgiveness are currently available for researchers and practitioners. Forgiveness represents a scholarly landscape that is much stronger in variety than orderly coherence. Wuthnow’s (2000) sociological study of a nationally representative sample of adult Americans suggested that respondents’ understandings of forgiveness had “fuzzy edges” (p. 126), refl ecting considerable diversity about the defi nitions, boundaries, and moral contingencies of forgiveness. Based on his interviews, Wuthnow concluded:

Despite how culturally available and embedded forgiveness is as a construct, surprisingly little empirical research has focused on investigating cultural and contextual variables in relationship to forgiveness (Lamb, 2002; Sandage, Hill, & Vang, 2003). Is forgiveness valued and practiced in similar ways across cultures? How do particular cultural and contextual factors infl uence individual and group processes of forgiveness and unforgiveness? These kinds of questions remain largely unaddressed in contemporary social science, but a few studies and theoretical papers do offer starting points for charting next steps for researchers and practitioners interested in forgiveness and culture. Our primary goals in this chapter are to (a) review the limited available social science literature that pertains directly to relationships between forgiveness and culture, (b) suggest some promising directions for future

research on forgiveness and culture, and (c) highlight some cultural implications for applied work in the area of forgiveness. However, attempting to understand the ways in which culture infl uences processes of forgiveness requires defi ning both culture and forgiveness. In the following section, we will outline our present understandings of culture and forgiveness.