Fall 2023: European, African, and Asian Adventure

PHIL 479 Topics in Comparative Religions [CRN 69719]

Overview of Course

Focus: Forgiving the Unforgivable

Humans make mistakes. We do things that we shouldn’t do. The question is not whether this will happen; rather, how should we deal with these regular occurrences after the fact? For those open to repairing relationships with someone we’ve wronged—whether a minor occurrence or a deep betrayal—apologies and forgiveness are of tantamount importance. For those who are not, the consequences are commonly isolation, solitude, and resentment. Because humans are social creatures, and interacting with others is part of normal lives, forgiveness and apologies are central to the human experience. They are a component of one’s relationship with other individuals, other collectives, and even oneself.

But what does forgiveness mean? When someone forgives another person, what happens? How does one get there? Does one need to apologize to someone before they can be forgiven? How do apologies and forgiveness relate to one another? And what happens when one group of people does something wrong to another group? Can one group apologize to another? Can
one group forgive another? What about if something heinous happens? In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these questions are not merely theoretical; they aren’t thoughts limited to the ivory tower.

This course explores forgiveness in terms of internal, inter-personal, intranational, and international situations primarily by looking at the interdependent idea of apologies. After looking at forgiveness and apologies in terms of its general application (i.e., in everyday lives), we shift toward how these ideas have played out in a number of specific contexts, including Europe, Japan, the Middle East, Sierra Leone, South Africa, the United States, Vietnam, and more. Through this process, this course aims to uncover some of the uncertainty behind forgiveness and apologies, including acts perhaps best described as unforgivable.