Oxford University Hosts Global Conference on Forgiveness by Juliet Rohde-Brown, PhD

Dr. Juliet Rohde-Brown, Director of Practicum, Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, and Dr. Elizabeth Wolfson, Chair of the Master’s Program in Clinical Psychology, presented papers at the 4th Global Conference on Forgiveness: Probing the Boundaries at Oxford University, about 60 miles north-west of London, in July of 2011.

Elizabeth and I took the bus from London to Oxford. Expecting hot weather, we brought summer clothing, only to discover that it was quite brisk. We were shown our dorm room and we walked around Oxford, getting to know the town a bit. The next day, twenty seven of us from fourteen different countries and five different disciplines gathered together in a large room at Mansfield College, Oxford University and talked about forgiveness. The room was large and even colder than the temperature outdoors, but I didn’t mind. I looked around at the thick stone walls and the curved windows and imagined all of the people who met in that room through the years. I took my Indian shawl out and bundled up my body, joyous to be among these interesting and erudite presenters.

It was truly fascinating to listen to and engage in dialogue around the various definitions and approaches to forgiveness through the lens of philosophy, politics, public policy, psychology, anthropology, and literature.

“Imagery takes us out of our typical way of interacting and creates a space for a deeper understanding of the nature of things.”

We discussed such things as whether forgiveness is a unilateral or bilateral process or both and whether or not a third party can forgive if, for instance, a relative was murdered. The literary pieces amplified some of these questions, and the philosophers had lively arguments about the meaning of forgiveness. We heard from anthropologists about symbols of forgiveness in, for instance, a small village in India, where a mound of dirt at one’s doorstep means that one is judged as needing forgiveness. We heard about forgiveness in the context of public policy.

I was asked, rather spontaneously, to lead the group in a brief meditation and imagery exercise around loving-kindness. I appreciated the opportunity to bring this type of shared experience to a group of academics. Imagery takes us out of our typical way of interacting and creates a space for a deeper understanding of the nature of things. I never cease to be impressed by that. Both Elizabeth and Marina from the Forgiveness Project in the U.K. shared brief films of their work. The participants were deeply moved. They suggested that the two of them do a project together.

We had wonderful conversations at meals and during walks and we made some new friends. The cross-disciplinary nature of the forgiveness conference validated for me how much I enjoy meeting individuals and groups from an array of professions, cultures, and orientations. I kept reflecting on how wonderful it would be for Antioch to have international campuses.
From a professional standpoint, I feel passionately about working from a contextual and systemic framework, and the best way to be informed is to collaborate with those from different disciplines. There are many opportunities to learn and share stories with others and to open our pathways to something new. If we always stay confined to our own discipline, it narrows our framework and understanding.

This experience brought me even closer to a sense of purpose in my work. I am deeply grateful to Antioch for supporting this endeavor.