Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Contextualizing Models of Humility and Forgiveness: A Reply to Gassin

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Contextualizing Models of Humility and Forgiveness: A Reply to Gassin

Article excerpt

We reply to Gassin's (2001) valuable description of an Eastern Orthodox perspective on interpersonal forgiveness by discussing some socio-cultural issues related to eastern and western construals of forgiveness and humility. Differences in the social function of humility and forgiveness are outlined based on differing cultural contexts. Crysdale's (1999) theological model of the cross and resurrection is utilized for developing an integrative perspective on forgiveness and empowerment.

Gassin (2001) has made an extremely important contribution to integrative literature on interpersonal forgiveness. The growing body of theoretical and empirical research on the psychology of forgiveness has been promising. But integrative dialogue on forgiveness requires more contributions like Gassin's that offer sophisticated theological perspectives on forgiveness rooted in particular traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy. Furthermore, Gassin has richly described a theological and cultural tradition that has been largely neglected by western Christians, and she has brought that tradition into dialogue with western psychology. We need a diverse array of such contextualized models of forgiveness to deepen our understanding of how constructs like forgiveness can be shaped by theological traditions, spiritual practices, psychological models, and cultural systems.

We also appreciated Gassin's (2001) article because we have personally been so uninformed about Eastern Orthodox theology. This means we lack the expertise to reply to the accuracy of her description of Eastern Orthodoxy. Instead, we will engage some socio-cultural issues related to eastern and western construals of forgiveness. Gassin focused mostly on theological and psychological differences between eastern and western models with some mention of cultural differences. We believe differences in socio-cultural contexts strongly influence the theological and psychological differences in how forgiveness and humility are construed. We will outline some differences in the social function of humility and forgiveness based on differing cultural contexts and conclude by describing Cynthia Crysdale's (1999) integrative theological model of forgiveness and empowerment.

THE SOCIAL FUNCTION OF FORGIVENESS

Gassin (2001) pointed out several key differences between Eastern Orthodox and western psychological perspectives on interpersonal forgiveness. For example, she suggested that Eastern Orthodox writers tend to blur the distinction between interpersonal forgiveness and reconciliation, whereas western psychological models of forgiveness tend to emphasize the difference (e.g., Freedman, 1998). She also contrasted Eastern Orthodox emphases on humility, the sinfulness of anger, forgiveness rituals, and relational selfhood with western emphases on self-esteem, the legitimation of anger, self-forgiveness, and personal boundaries. We argue that these differing emphases in the social function of forgiveness reflect core differences between individualistic and collectivistic worldviews. Eastern Orthodoxy is practiced primarily in collectivistic cultural contexts and, of course, western psychology arises from individualistic cultural contexts. We will consider the social function of forgiveness from individualistic and collectivistic worldviews, as well as some of the dynamics related to social justice in those contexts.

Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism and collectivism have been defined in many ways but basically refer to differing cultural or social patterns that are rooted in differing worldviews (Triandis, 1995; on the related constructs of independent and interdependent self-construals, see Markus & Kitayama, 1991). According to Triandis (1995), individualism is a social pattern that: (a) involves individuals perceiving themselves as relatively independent of others; (b) emphasizes individual needs, rights, contracts, and attitudes; (c) gives priority to personal goals and boundaries over group goals and social identity; and, (d) encourage rational cost-benefit analyses of social relationships. …

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