Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 12:3 (September 2009), pp. 399–423; doi: 10.1080/13698230903127911 Copyright © 2009 Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


At the center of this paper are three questions: in the absence of a religious worldview, can one gain access to the concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation, can reconciliation be achieved in the absence of forgiveness or does the former depend in some way upon the latter, and can we make sense of a restorative approach to justice in the absence of either forgiveness or reconciliation? To answer these questions, I look closely at the concept of forgiveness in the first section of this article with the goals of disentangling it from its religious undertones and emphasizing its importance to the very concept of restorative justice. Drawing on both theoretical work and practical examples, I argue that forgiveness is not necessarily a religious concept—contrary to common perception—and that, contra Zehr, it is a foundational component of restorative justice. Having considered this first problem, I turn—in the second section—to a discussion of the concept of reconciliation, arguing that personal and political reconciliation must be separated from one another and from the concept of forgiveness. Ultimately, I conclude that forgiveness and reconciliation are quite different concepts, that the latter relies on the former, and that the latter is a goal rather than a necessary component of restorative justice. Drawing largely on the work of Hannah Arendt, Susan Dwyer, Trudy Govier, and Howard Zehr, as well as discussions with members of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, I argue that political reconciliation between groups can be achieved in the absence of personal reconciliation between individual victims and perpetrators in those groups. Further, I demonstrate that restorative practices open up the possibility of both types of reconciliation, but that they are ultimately founded only on the principle of forgiveness.