Leading forgiveness researcher Dr. Robert D. Enright of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the International Forgiveness Institute will be holding the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for the Renewal of Individuals, Families, and Communities on July 12-13, 2017 at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.
The two day conference will include speakers from the major Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Speakers will be discussing forgiveness, what it means, its importance and how to better interact with others through forgiveness.
I was given the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Enright to discuss the upcoming conference, the forgiveness curriculum and the potential for the forgiveness curriculum being implemented in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
Q: Dr. Enright, why did you choose Jerusalem as the city to hold the Forgiveness Conference?
A: Well actually, it was not my original idea. I was in Jerusalem, because I do forgiveness work in Galilee, where we have been doing forgiveness curriculum for many years. I was staying at the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center, and Father Eamon Kelly suggested that we should have a conference on forgiveness for the Abrahamic religions, in Jerusalem because of historical tensions, and because of the idea that forgiveness education might make a difference.
It seemed like a really good idea because Jerusalem of course is at the heart of those different [Abrahamic] faiths, and it is also a very broken-hearted community because of all of the conflict. We ended up with a number of peacebuilders and a team of people who wanted to work on the conference locally, and my colleague and I, internationally, so we all came together because of this team effort.
Q: What are some of the hopeful outcomes for the conference?
A: [That] people can see - even though there might be religious and ideological differences among the Abrahamic religions - the humanity in the other. We are not looking to change religious beliefs, we are not looking to change ideologies, we couldn’t do that if we tried and I don’t want to do that. What we want to do is to humanize people on what you might call the other side, so that when people meet, they see a human being there, regardless of what they believe; and who knows where that will lead.
Q: Tell me a bit about the forgiveness curriculum and its possibilities for the MENA region?
A: We have a model for this, we know it works, we work a lot in the region and internationally. If we can see diverse kinds of cultures, peoples and faiths that are doing forgiveness curriculum, it might act as an encouragement to some of the people in different world regions. It [the curriculum] can widen our view of humanity. We are all in this world together, it's a tough world, and people hurt each other and there are injustices. But we can overcome these, especially the effects of injustice, with forgiveness, so that we don’t let resentment poison us, poison our families or our communities.
Q: Can you see forgiveness curriculum helping root conflict issues?
A: It takes a lot of work, it's not something that people get in their hearts and minds overnight. Forgiveness education, this idea that people have inherent worth, not because of what they do but often despite of it, can take a long time. There is resistance to that, because it doesn't often fit with people's ideas of how the world should work. If someone is bad to me then we should punish them. The idea of being kind to them, even though we seek justice at the same time, can take many years. That’s why we have curriculum programs starting from kindergarten and continuing to US grade twelve. People have to live the thoughts of the inherent worth of all people, before it becomes part of them...before they can access that in in their hearts, especially when their hearts are hurting because of injustice.
Q: What do you feel is important for the people in the MENA region to know about the conference?
A: I would say that a lot of times, hearing the word forgiveness, that there is a misunderstanding about what is really meant by it. I get a very common expression in the Middle East, ‘no forgiveness, without justice.’ I understand that the quest for justice is very serious, and an important thing. However, justice by itself can be dangerous, if the justice does not come. When one is looking for fairness, whatever you define as fairness, and fairness does not come, then what is your outlet for getting rid of the built up anger, and pent up resentment, the frustration within?
My message is why not try forgiveness with the quest for justice? At the very least, if you don’t get the justice you seek, you will at least be cleansed of the negative consequences in your own heart, which are characteristic of people who live under injustice for a long time. That kind of resentment can destroy individuals, families and communities. Forgiveness can set you free from that kind of resentment. You can live to ask for justice another day, and forgiveness can give you renewed energy, renewed focused, and renewed zeal for life.
The upcoming conference speakers will include Dr. Enright, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Dr. Adamou Ndam Njoya, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila; as well as many other international clergy, peacebuilders, and educators.
To find out more about the conference and how you can participate or attain video recordings, go to the International Forgiveness Institute webpage.
by Malika N. Cox