Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Relational Spirituality and Forgiveness of Intergroup Offenses

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Relational Spirituality and Forgiveness of Intergroup Offenses

Article excerpt

Many religious individuals use forgiveness to cope with interpersonal offenses. There has been much work on religion/spirituality and interpersonal forgiveness, but little theory or research has focused on religion/spirituality and intergroup forgiveness. The current study extends a model of relational spirituality to the context of intergroup forgiveness. Undergraduates (N = 166) identified an intergroup offense and completed measures of religious commitment, personality, relational spirituality, and forgiveness. After controlling for personality and religious commitment, appraisals of relational spirituality predicted additional variance in forgiveness of an intergroup offense. This study extends the literature on religion/ spirituality and forgiveness to the intergroup context.


Forgiveness has been linked with a variety of benefits for physical and mental health (Fehr, Gelfand, & Monisha, 2010; Myers, Hewstone, & Cairns, 2009). Although most work has focused on interpersonal offenses, scholars have also begun to study intergroup offenses. This work has focused on societies transitioning out of ideological or ethnic conflict (e.g., Hamber, 2007) and has tended to focus on specific intergroup conflicts (e.g., South Africa-Chapman, 2007; Northern Ireland-Noor, Brown, Gonzalez, Manzi, & Lewis, 2008; for a review, see Van Tongeren, Burnette, O'Boyle, Worthington, & Forsyth, 2014). Many of these intergroup conflicts have involved religious/ spiritual elements (e.g., Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland); however, there is limited work on how religious/spiritual constructs affect intergroup forgiveness.

Therefore, in the present article, we sought to begin addressing this gap. Namely, we extended recent theorizing on religion/spirituality (R/S) and interpersonal forgiveness and examined the degree to which predictions generalize to the intergroup context. We have first defined R/S and intergroup forgiveness. Then, we have reviewed the very limited prior research on R/S and intergroup forgiveness. Finally, we have extended a model of relational spirituality and forgiveness to this context and described a study designed to examine initial evidence for the predictions of the model.


Spirituality is defined as one's sense of closeness or connection with the Sacred. The Sacred is what one considers central to one's spirituality, such as God, nature, humanity, or the transcendent (Davis, Hook, & Worthington, 2008). Religion is the practice of spirituality within a community with established and accepted ways (i.e., rituals, sacred texts, prescribed behaviors) of relating to the Sacred (e.g., Hill et al., 2000). Relational spirituality is a term that has been used by a variety of theorists (e.g., Davis et al., 2008; Jankowski & Sandage, 2011; Mahoney, 2010) who have posited that the experience of spirituality borrows on cognitive systems and dynamics that regulate human relationships. More specifically, relational spirituality refers to the sense of attachment, commitment, closeness, and trust one feels towards the Sacred.

Forgiveness is defined as the reduction of negative thoughts, cognitions, emotions, and motivations towards an offender (Exline, Worthington, Hill, & McCullough, 2003). These intrapsychic changes often result in behavioral changes as well. Accordingly, intergroup forgiveness involves forgiveness of an offense attributed to a collective group. Intergroup forgiveness is defined as "an internal transformation of motivation toward a perceived perpetrating out-group that is situated within a specific collective, political, or societal context" (Van Tongeren et al., 2014, p. 81). Similar to interpersonal forgiveness, intergroup forgiveness involves a reduction in negative thoughts, feelings, and motivations towards the offending group. In countries where prolonged conflict has led to severe hurt and unforgiveness, individuals may have to extend forgiveness to a larger group or collective (e. …

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