Nov 15, 2022

Forgiveness Forum: Where Spirituality & Science Meet | Panel 1 of 3 (video)

Faith leaders from around the world gathered at this virtual event to explore how scientific knowledge and tools can advance the practice of forgiveness. Play the video for insights into the intersection of science and spirituality.

By Templeton Staff

This edition of the Forgiveness Forum, moderated by journalist and founder of On Being Krista Tippett, faith leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and scholar Dr. Josef Boehle, was co-designed by Religions for Peace International. It brought together leaders from 5 of the world’s major religious traditions to discuss the importance and impact of forgiveness in their respective communities. A full list of speakers can be found below. Play the above video to hear the first in a three-part series of panels from the event. 

Science and spirituality are often framed as being in conflict with each other. This conversation from the latest installment of Templeton World Charity Foundation's (TWCF) Forgiveness Forum explores how the study and practice of forgiveness can bring spirituality and science together to complement each other and advance the same goals.

Dr. Andrew Serazin, President of TWCF, shares his observations on the intersection of these two elements: "It's been said that the opposite of faith is not doubt — the opposite of faith is certainty. Faith includes noticing the mess of life, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until the light returns." He's noticed the way that science works sometimes has a similar sensibility. It's "a process of being less wrong. It's not about being absolutely certain," he says.

Researchers define forgiveness as a reduction in vengeful thoughts and feelings that is accompanied by a simultaneous increase in positive thoughts, feelings, and emotions toward the offending person. From a scientific standpoint, Dr. Serazin reminds us, forgiving is not easy. The desire for retribution after being hurt, he explains, is actually a biological mechanism there to enforce discipline in groups and prevent future transgressions. "Forgiveness helps human beings collaborate and overcome cycles of revenge and shame and guilt to form ever-larger societies able to coordinate and progress... And so, when you're forgiving, in a biological sense you're trying to override these very deep-seated desires that have really ancient evolutionary origins. It's a process that takes time and because of that, it's not always linear. There's uncertainty and doubt to overcome... In simple terms, forgiveness involves the head and the heart. It engages the whole person, just like how science and faith appeal to different but integral parts of our lived experience."

"Peace is beyond the absence of conflict — it is the whole of the spectrum of dignity, which cannot happen when we have a repository of anger, of hatred, of bitterness, in our bodies, and in our minds. What science tells us irrevocably... and has helped us see is that our bodies and our minds need to be rid of the toxins of anger and hatred and bitterness and pain" that build up without forgiveness, says Professor Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary General, Religions for Peace International.

"Any long engagement with questions of peace and sustainable peacebuilding will come soon to the conclusion that for sustainable peace, it is important that people or conflicting groups or nations reconcile. Without reconciliation, without healing, most conflicts will soon erupt again or any kind of peace agreement will fall apart." Forgiveness is critical to that end, says Dr. Josef Boehle, Director of the Peace Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

A full transcript of the event is available here.

● Dr. Josef Boehle, Director, Peace Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation
● Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran minister, podcaster, and New York Times bestselling author
● Dr. ABD Raimi Chitou, Imam of Central Mosque, Zone Des Ambassades, Cotonou, and Member of Religions for Peace Benin and African Forum of Muslim Council
● Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America
● Professor Azza Karam, PhD., Secretary General, Religions for Peace International
● Ligia Matamoros, Latin American Youth Pastor for the Latin American Catholic Episcopal Council
● Grand-Father Dominique Rankin, Former Grand Chief of the Algonquin Nation
● Dr. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Spiritual Leader, Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
● Dr. Andrew Serazin, President of Templeton World Charity Foundation
● Krista Tippett, American journalist, author, and entrepreneur. Creator and host of the public radio program and podcast On Being.

Learn more about the speakers in this segment:

Dr. Josef Boehle, Director of the Peace Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation; Research Fellow in Globalization, Religion and Politics at the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, UK.
Dr. Josef Boehle received a postgraduate degree in Theology from the University of Tübingen, Germany and received his Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham in 2001 for his thesis on “Inter-religious Co-operation in a Global Age.” He taught modules on ‘Religion in Contemporary Global Politics’ and on ‘Religion and Peacebuilding’ at the University of Birmingham. He is currently working on a research project on ‘Religion and Peacebuilding: A Critical Analysis and Overview of Key Actors in International Relations’ and on publications on Religion in a Global Age and Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding.

Professor Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace International
Prof. Azza Karam (Ph.D.) serves as the Secretary General of Religions for Peace. She holds a Professorship of Religion and Development at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Dr. Karam currently is a member of the United Nations Secretary General’s ‘High Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism’. Prior to joining Religions for Peace, she served for nearly two decades in the United Nations (UNDP and UNFPA), including as a Coordinator of the Arab Human Development Reports, a Senior Advisor on Culture, and Lead Facilitator/Trainer for the UN Strategic Learning Exchanges on Religion, Development and Diplomacy. During her time in the UN, she founded and was Convener of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development as well as the Multi-Faith Advisory Council of that Task Force.

Dr. Andrew Serazin, President, Templeton World Charity Foundation
Andrew Serazin is President of the Templeton World Charity Foundation. He launched the Foundation’s Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing, a new strategy to support new scientific research on human wellbeing and translate related discoveries into practical tools. As a researcher, entrepreneur, and executive, he has worked to bring science, technology, and the humanities to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges. From 2006 to 2012 at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he founded and led Grand Challenges Explorations, an early-stage medical research fund that has been recognized as one of the most successful programs in the Foundation’s history. He is also a Trustee and past Chair of the Development Committee of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

Templeton World Charity Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation have been supporting research on forgiveness for over 20 years. Scientific research on forgiveness has shown us simple interventions can improve physical health, mental wellbeing, and relationships across all ages. More than fifty studies conducted around the world have found that forgiveness significantly improves mental health outcomes such as depression, anger, hostility, and stress. Learn more about our work supporting forgiveness at: