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December 1, 2022

Professor, Alum, and UG Student Present at CAPS

Professor, Nicholas DiFonzo, Alum, Jay Kahlenbeck, and UG student, Emily Purcell

Professor, Nicholas DiFonzo, Alum, Jay Kahlenbeck, and UG student, Emily Purcell presented at the Annual Meeting of the Christian Association of Psychological Studies East Regional Conference on November 5, 2022. 

Forgiveness Narratives for Relational Beings: Stories that Teach us How to Forgive

Nicholas DiFonzo, Roberts Wesleyan University

Jay D. Kahlenbeck, Columbia University

Emily J. Purcell, Roberts Wesleyan University


Despite forgiveness as an implicitly relational phenomenon, forgiveness theory typically assumes individualistic conceptions of self; we frame forgiveness within an essentially relational understanding of person. We first posit identity meaning ("who I am") as essentially relational ("who I am in community"). We then use Alan P. Fiske’s (1992) Relational Models Theory (RMT) to understand transgression, forgiveness, and identity. RMT identifies four elementary models of relating: communal sharing, authority ranking, equality matching, and marketplace pricing. Transgressions are culturally specified violations of relational models. Forgiveness is accomplished through culture-specific forgiveness rituals, and by transforming relational models by appropriating forgiveness narratives. Forgiveness narratives are stories that set the relationship within a new context. We posit four forgiveness narrative motifs. “Common flawed humanity” narratives (e.g., in John 8:3-11, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her") recontextualize the transgressor into a communal sharing relationship—we are of the same flawed humanity essence. “Lex Rex” narratives (e.g., in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Prospero forgives as an act of virtue) recontextualize forgiveness as obedience to a higher common authority. “The postman always rings twice” narratives (e.g., in Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables," Monsignor Bienvenu repays Jean ValJean’s theft of silver with a costly gift of candlesticks) recontextualize the transgressor’s debt (i.e., what we owe is at least equivalent to what they owe). “Given what they had to work with” narratives (e.g., Joseph forgives his brothers, Genesis 50:20) recontextualize the transgression within prior mitigating factors or resulting positive outcomes, thus minimizing the offense. This presentation links literature about identity, meaning, narrative, and culture within a relational conception of person. It introduces the concept of forgiveness narratives: stories about forgiveness that recontextualize relational models and transform them. For clients considering forgiving, this paper suggests narrative avenues that enable forgiveness.

DiFonzo, N., Kahlenbeck, J. D., & Purcell, E. J. (2022, Nov. 5). Forgiveness Narratives for Relational Beings: Stories that Teach us How to Forgive. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Christian Association of Psychological Studies East Regional Conference, Lancaster, PA.

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