Dr. Robert Enright and the organization he founded, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), undertook their first foray into the peace movement in 1999. That was the year they worked with a national team led by the Rev. Jessie Jackson that convinced Yugoslav (now Serbia) President Slobodan Milošević to release three captive American soldiers during the Kosovo Conflict.
In 2002, Dr. Enright initiated a forgiveness education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland that has now been in operation for 20 consecutive years. His Belfast work is featured in the award-winning documentary The Power of Forgiveness. Dr. Enright started similar programs in Liberia, West Africa in 2011 and in Israel-Palestine in 2013. He now has such programs in more than 30 contentious regions around the world and an IFI Branch Office in Pakistan at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan).
Eight years ago, Dr. Enright was invited by the United Nations to join an international “Expert Group” tasked with responsibility for developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence across the globe. His initial presentation to the United Nations Population Fund in New York City was titled “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool.” Just three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, voted to embrace forgiveness and education as essential tools in peacebuilding.
Since those early years of his career, Dr. Enright has developed scores of peace-education initiatives and research projects in some of the world’s most contentious areas. Two of those projects were published recently involving teachers in the case of China and adult clients in the case of Pakistan. Other research projects have demonstrated that children as young as 4-5 years are capable of absorbing the basics of forgiveness and making it a natural part of their early life.
In 2015, Dr. Enright accompanied Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, on a guest tour of US radio and television stations to promote peace through forgiveness. Ms. Kor, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II yet she publicly forgave her tormentors.
During that tour, Ms. Kor repeatedly used this axiom:
“Let’s work together to heal the world through forgiveness. Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness. Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
In a 2018 guest blog that Ms. Kor wrote for this website, “My Forgiveness,” she writes that forgiveness can “improve life for everyone in the world.” Read Dr. Enright’s eulogy to Ms. Kor (upon her death on July 4, 2019): “In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor and Her Independence Day.”
In recognition of his contributions to the peace movement, Dr. Enright was awarded the Distinguished Peace Educator of the Year Award (2008-2009), from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. In 2012, he received the Cecil Findley Distinguished Service Award for international peacemaking and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2016. Three years later he was awarded the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Edgewood College along with a pronouncement that “forgiveness, relevant in every age, may be one of the clearest paths to peace, individually and collectively, for our world today.”
While Dr. Enright was one of the first forgiveness research investigators to envision a path to peace through forgiveness, he says there is still much more work that needs to be done.
“We must double our efforts so that peace and forgiveness become a team that is routinely tapped in matters of conflict,” Dr. Enright says. “The flames of resentment can be extinguished by sound forgiveness programs.”
Read Dr. Enright’s essay in Psychology Today, “Reflecting on 30 Years of Forgiveness Science.”
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is invoking unwelcome recollections of previous territorial wars, an international multidisciplinary team of researchers that has been meeting since 2014 is discovering what makes some societies more peaceful than others. One of the crucial elements for promoting peace and nonviolence, they say, is an individual’s capacity for forgiveness—a concept International Forgiveness Institute co-founder Dr. Robert Enright has been espousing for decades.
“We launched our first peace initiative in 2002 when we began teaching forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland,” Dr. Enright recalls. “I was convinced back then, and I believe even more so now, that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. These study results are nothing new.”
During his 35+ years of studying the virtue of forgiveness, Dr. Enright has repeatedly demonstrated that as people forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, less anxious, and more hopeful of their future. In other words, people become more peaceful within themselves, making the possibility of peace with others more likely. He outlined his grass-roots approach in this 2010 article: Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace. Read Dr. Enright’s latest blog for Psychology Today, Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia.
The study results about crucial elements for peace come from a team of experts that is part of the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4), a multidisciplinary research institute based at Columbia University in New York City. AC4 is a unit of the university’s Earth Institute which is made up of scholars spread across 35 research centers and programs encompassing more than 850 scientists, students, postdoctoral fellows and staff.
The group’s mission is to employ models and methods from complexity science (a branch of applied mathematics) to study the dynamics of peaceful societies with the goal of “revolutionizing peace and conflict resolution.” AC4 research has identified and studied more than 80 internally peaceful societies around the globe and identified their common characteristics including:
- abundant forgiveness reservoirs that help mitigate anger, fear, and negativity; and,
- higher levels of capacity for forgiveness that can lead to the endorsement of peace beliefs.
Working together with organizations like the United Nations (UN), the International Peace Institute, and The World Bank, AC4 is exploring various models (i.e., the role of forgiveness, victim memory, and reconciliation) in the actual peace process in countries like Colombia, Israel-Palestine, and Afghanistan. In the process, they are generating and promoting new practical, transdisciplinary, evidence-based approaches to peace.
Like AC4, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) has also collaborated with peace-seeking organizations going as far back as 1999 when Roy Lloyd, IFI Board President, was part of a delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson that traveled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). That delegation not only gained the release of three American soldiers captured during the Kosovo Conflict but also urged Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a UN offer to establish a foreign peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
In 2014, Dr. Enright laid the foundation for “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool” at a 2-day work session hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York City. Dr. Enright, a University of Wisconsin educational psychology professor, was named to serve on a UN international “Expert Group” that was established to begin developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence around the world. Three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, resolved that “justice and forgiveness” are essential tools in peacebuilding.
“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African Anglican cleric;
25+ years Honorary Board Member – IFI
More recently, Dr. Enright last fall negotiated the establishment of the International Forgiveness Institute’s newest partner, IFI-Pakistan. That Branch Office is housed at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan) and is the first of its kind in Pakistan and in Southern Asia. The unit will function in collaboration with the IFI with the mission of developing and disseminating forgiveness interventions and methodologies throughout the country.
“Because only a few psychologists have expertise in this field in Pakistan, we can now offer an accredited course teaching forgiveness psychology,” said GCU Vice Chancellor Dr. Asghar Zaidi, in announcing the partnership. “Forgiveness liberates us from anger, resentment, bitterness, and destructive behavioral patterns that are prevalent in our society.”
Dr. Enright has been working since 2016 with Dr. Iffat Batool, a GCU psychology professor, who has tirelessly pursued creation of the unit. Pakistan was one of the seven countries that conducted research and validation on Dr. Enright’s new research tool, the Enright Forgiveness Inventory-30 and several of Dr. Enright’s research tools have already been translated into Urdu, one of the two official languages of Pakistan (along with English). A request is also pending to get the publisher’s approval to translate Dr. Enright’s book 8 Keys to Forgiveness into Urdu for use with GCU’s “Forgiveness Psychology and Practice” course.
Dr. Enright is also working closely with the National Director of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (that the IFI established 10 years ago after the country’s civil war finally concluded) to implement forgiveness interventions that could help with reconciliation efforts between the various factions: Can Group Forgiveness in Liberia Lead to Peace? His peace efforts in other parts of the world are outlined on the IFI website at Peace Education Goals.
- Interactive Sustainable Peace Casual Loop Diagram (AC4 Sustainable Peace Project)
- How to Live in Peace? Mapping the Science of Sustaining Peace (American Psychologist)
- The Sustainable Peace Mapping Initiative (Columbia University)
- Contribute to the realization of sustainable peace. Support the IFI with a charitable gift.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Enright has taken forgiveness from its traditional focus on individuals to a higher magnitude by concentrating on group forgiveness—an area of intervention that has dramatic implications for its ability to enhance peace efforts in the world.
Dr. Enright’s team, composed of 16 experienced researchers who collected data from 595 study participants in three different geographic and cultural settings of the world, developed and confirmed the veracity of a totally new measure of intergroup forgiveness—The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory (EGFI). Additionally, the team created and piloted a unique group administration process that operationalized the EGFI in a structured way.
“Our concept of intergroup forgiveness for this study was rooted in what groups, as opposed to the individuals who compose them, have the capacity to do,” says Dr. Enright, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. “The study supported the conclusion that this new measure had strong internal consistency, as well as convergent and discriminant validity.”
In other words, to paraphrase Dr. Enright’s synopsis of the EGFI, it works. That is the conclusion reached by Dr. Enright’s 16-member research team in their study report, Measuring Intergroup Forgiveness: The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory. The study was published earlier this year in Peace and Conflict Studies Journal (Vol. 27, No. 1), as the lead article for that issue of the journal.
To realistically test the measure, the team selected groups of people within countries that have historical conflicts that remain salient today. One group of participants was recruited from Asia with subsamples from Mainland China and from Taiwan. Another group of participants was recruited from Slovenia that contained subsamples from two different political parties with a history of violence toward each other. A third group of participants was recruited from the United States with subsamples that included a group of White Caucasian participants and a group of African American participants.
The new Inventory has 56 items across seven subscales and each subscale has eight items. Those subscales measure a group’s motivation and values regarding forgiveness, peace, and friendliness toward the other group. Similar to the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI)—developed in 1995 and now the worldwide measurement tool of choice for assessing one person’s forgiveness of another—the EGFI has five questions at the end of the scale that are intended to assess pseudo-group-forgiveness or false forgiveness.
For this study, the inventory was translated into Mandarin Chinese and Slovene by native speakers of each language. The Inventory was then administered and assessed with individual participants as well as with the designated groups of participants. That strategy allowed the project team to compare a group-based assessment of forgiveness with traditional self-report assessment of forgiveness.
That assessment was a crucial element of this latest study because the bulk of past research has simply extended measures of forgiveness between individuals to groups. In fact, Dr. Enright et al. produced a study in January 2015 (Journal of Peace Psychology) entitled “Examining Group Forgiveness: Conceptual and Empirical Issues” that was one of the first to propose: 1) a benchmark definition of group forgiveness; and, 2) specific concepts for developing a group forgiveness measuring tool.
Incorporating that earlier work, the newly-developed EGFI scale of intergroup forgiveness is based on a definition of forgiveness between groups and is operationalized using group behaviors rather than individual cognition and emotion.
“Our findings suggest the EGFI is a reliable and valid measure of intergroup forgiveness,” the study group concludes in its final report. “This new measure can facilitate the work of peace advocates and researchers.” The study also indicates the Inventory could be used to:
- Assess where and when to intervene with conflicting groups;
- Evaluate the effectiveness of conflict resolution efforts;
- Assess where groups have been unjust to one another and, therefore, where they could benefit from conflict reduction efforts;
- Assess group forgiveness interventions;
- Evaluate progress when groups go through interventions such as peace and reconciliation commissions;
- Assess change in forgiveness from pre to post intervention; and,
- Advance our understanding of effective interventions.
Meet the Group Forgiveness Study Team:
- Robert D. Enright, University of Wisconsin-Madison and International Forgiveness Institute
- Julie Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Matthew Hirshberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- John Klatt, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Benjamin Boateng, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Preston Boggs, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Chelsea Olson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Peiying Wu, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Baoyu Zhang, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Fu Na, Beijing Normal University – Beijing, China
- Mei Ling Shu, Beijing Normal University – Beijing China
- Tomaz Erzar, University of Ljubljana – Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Tina Huang, National Chung-Cheng University – Taiwan (officially the Republic of China)
- Tung-En Hsiao, National Chung-Cheng University – Taiwan
- Chansoon (Danielle) Lee, National Council of State Boards of Nursing – Chicago, IL
- Jacqueline Song, International Forgiveness Institute, Madison, WI (native of the Philippines)
This quote is from The Gate of Light, a 2018-book by Lars Muhl, a Danish writer, mystic and musician. After years as a successful singer-songwriter in Denmark, Muhl began his self-studies of comparative religion, esoteric knowledge and philosophy and since 1988 he has focused on Aramaic, Christian and Jewish mysticism. He has written numerous books on these subjects and hosts workshops and lectures in Denmark and around the world.
Both the quote and the book were referred to the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) by Ivy Huang, a writer and mystic in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Ivy is a long-time financial supporter of the IFI who donates through a PayPal monthly recurring payment. Ivy says she discovered the IFI while researching the etymology (origin) of the word ‘immunity’ which roughly translates to ‘forgiveness of disease’ in Sanskrit.
“Forgiveness–the release of unresolved memories and emotions–can lead to not only greater psychological well-being, but also physical benefits,” Ivy says. “On a grander scale, I believe that forgiveness can grant us collective peace.”
Like Ivy, you too can help make a difference in the world by supporting the IFI’s Forgiveness Education Programs for grade school students now operating in the U.S. and more than 30 countries around the world. Click the DONATE button to take a stand and SEND YOUR GIFT OF LOVE.
Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.” If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.
Forgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice. When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.
Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice? Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart? We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.
Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness? As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil. By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.