Presbyterians, Forgiveness, and Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland: Towards Gracious Remembering

Gladys Ganiel*, Jamie Yohanis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The transformative potential of forgiveness has been lauded in theory but its outworking on the ground has proved more challenging. Drawing on a study with 122 Presbyterians in post-violence Northern Ireland, this article returns to debates on forgiveness. We propose a modest role for religious discourses on forgiveness, situated within a wider process of political forgiveness. We advance ‘gracious remembering’ as a contextual, faith-based, transitional concept for helping create conditions in which political forgiveness may become more likely. Drawing on our empirical study, as well as the work of Northern Irish public theologian Johnston McMaster, gracious remembering is orientated around a vernacular understanding of grace and utilizes a four-fold framework to guide grassroots and civil society dialogues about the past: (1) the rehumanizing of the other by acknowledging the human cost of violence, (2) giving victims a public voice, (3) engaging in self-critical reflection, and (4) listening to alternative interpretations of events. Overall, we seek to demonstrate that religious discourses and social scientific framings of political forgiveness need not be opposed; and forgiveness and remembering need not be opposed. Ultimately, we argue for the value of faith-based contributions in post-violence settings, but with ample recognition of their limitations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
Number of pages20
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2022


  • forgiveness
  • remembering
  • reconciliation
  • Northern Ireland
  • conflict
  • peacebuilding
  • Presbyterian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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