Working to Forgive

Research Into the Strength of Forgiveness

Forgiveness research is a relatively new and uncharted field. Prior to 1985, only a handful of studies had been completed, and in the fourteen years since, less than sixty more. Nevertheless, social scientists have begun to quantify the power of forgiveness in a variety of arenas:

Reducing Heart Disease
On January 2, 1998, ABC News reported "studies show that letting go of anger and resentment can reduce the severity of heart disease and, in some cases, even prolong the lives of cancer patients."

Preventing Crime at the Source
A 1995 study conducted by The University of Montgomery analyzed how much the desire for revenge (i.e., the opposite of forgiveness) factors into the commiting of a crime. The study clearly indicates that forgiveness education could play a key role in reducing the vengeful responses that lead to criminal acts.

Healing Troubled Marriages
Dr. Frederick DiBlasio of the University of Maryland is one of many family therapists successfully using forgiveness as a tool to reconcile couples when other techniques have proved ineffective.

New studies into the nature of forgiveness were conducted under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation and the 14 funding partners who supported A Campaign for Forgiveness Research. Those studies were designed to help:

  • At-risk adolescents who have experienced physical or emotional abuse;
  • Vietnam veterans coping with post-traumatic stress and similar disorders;
  • Substance abusers, the terminally ill, and elderly patients coping with end-of-life issues;
  • Victims of domestic violence;
  • People living with HIV/AIDS;
  • Survivors of suicide victims;
  • Physcially disabled individuals;
International research studies also investigated the role of forgiveness in: Northern Ireland, where several studies under the direction of Dr. Ed Cairns investigated the role of the social group in influencing behavior; South Africa, where two studies analyzed transcripts of hearings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be studied; Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis whose families engaged in genocidal warfare were brought together to see whether forgiveness groups could promote healing among the survivors (see research by Dr. Ervin Staub).

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Research Timeline

Total number of forgiveness studies completed: 5

Lewis Smedes publishes Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, which is credited with inspiring a new wave of forgiveness research.

International Forgiveness Institute established in Madison, Wisconsin.

Templeton Foundation sponsors "The Science of Forgiveness," a research symposium encouraging more studies of forgiveness. Over 130 scientists are invited to submit proposals for funding. The Foundation commits $5 million to launch 29 of 60 studies.

Total number of forgiveness studies completed: 55 (not including new studies funded by Templeton). "Campaign for Forgiveness Research" launched to raise additional $5.5-million. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, Dr. Robert Coles, Ruby Bridges Hall, and Elisabeth Elliot serve as campaign co-chairs.

Copyright © 1999-2005, A Campaign for Forgiveness Research