Confession & Flourishing: A investigation into the impact on flourishing of Catholic confessional practices
TWCF Number
Project Duration
September 1 / 2024
- August 31 / 2027
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
Amount Awarded

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Michael Brady
Institution University of Glasgow

Eranda Jayawickreme
Institution Wake Forest University

Confession is one of a range of well-known ‘restorative practices’, including truth and reconciliation, therapy, and recovery programs. While it is not difficult to consider forgiveness as a potential mechanism to link confession and flourishing-related outcomes, the nature of the relationship between Confession as a Catholic religious practice and flourishing has been much less studied empirically.

This project will focus on the Catholic practice of Confession and explore the ways in which cognitive and emotional engagement with the distinctively religious aspects of Confession may have a causal impact on human flourishing through three “big questions”: 1) What are the distinctive components of confession as a Catholic ritual? 2) Does practicing confession increase flourishing? And 3) Does obtaining the benefits of confession vary as a function of attitudes towards the Catholic Church? The project will be situated in the broader context of research on the role of cognitive and emotional factors that promote virtue and growth, and in more recent research on divine forgiveness. The project proposes five studies. Study 1 will examine, through a two-day hybrid workshop with the core team and additional religious education, theological experts, and pastoral leaders, to finetune the theoretical framework and further clarify the distinctive elements of Catholic confession, to ensure that the research framework is theologically and practically-informed. The workshop will also consider contextual variations in the UK and Sri Lanka which may moderate the relationship between the practice of confession and flourishing-related outcomes. Study 2 will utilize a day reconstruction method to gather data of recollected experiences of confession, and determine correlations between cognitive and affective features of these experiences and variables of interest including well-being, religiosity, frequency of various religious practices, religious identity, and virtues. The specific list of variables will be determined through the hybrid workshop in Study 1. Study 3 will experimentally examine whether enacting confession promotes flourishing-related outcomes among self-identified Catholics who do not go to confession. Study participants will be randomly assigned to one of four conditions: attend confession, engage in personal prayer for forgiveness, engage in a “secular” forgiveness intervention seeking forgiveness, and a control condition of simply reflecting on wrong-doing. Pre- and post- measures of various virtues, attitudes toward religion and the church, and emotion and affective states will be taken. Study 4 will explore whether cross-cultural attitudes toward the Catholic church moderates the impact of confession. Practitioner collaborators include the Marga Institute in Sri Lanka, the University of Glasgow chaplain, and the Director of Religious Education at the Archdiocese of Glasgow.

Project outputs will include publications in research journals, a symposium and conference, practitioner workbooks, and pre-registered data sets. The project aims to advance scientific understanding of the benefits of the ritual of confession, and in doing so, hope to renew Catholic interest in engaging with this practice.

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