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Villanova Theology Institute's Annual Conference Focuses on Forgiveness

Forgiveness explored from variety of angles, including social and political conflicts that involve lessons learned from history

Dr. Frederic Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and Herman Bontrager, secretary of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom and spokesperson for the Nickel Mines Amish Community, highlight the conference slate

Oct. 17, 2008

VILLANOVA, PA., Oct. 17, 2008 – Forgiveness, one of the most longed for but elusive virtues, has become an increasingly important topic in public dialogue. Learning to forgive can heal a host of personal and societal ills from broken friendships to genocide. The Theology Institute at Villanova University explores the varied aspects of forgiveness as the theme of its annual one-day conference to be held October 28 at the Connelly Center on the University’s campus. Open to the public free of charge, the conference will explore the multi-faceted subject of forgiveness from an interdisciplinary and Christian perspective.

Topics addressed at the event will include: forgiveness in family life, law and art; the psychology of forgiveness; social and political conflicts involving forgiveness; self-forgiveness; the Jewish-Christian dialogue and learning lessons from history. As part of the conference, the prestigious Adela Dwyer/St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award will be conferred upon the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) with Jane Golden, executive director of MAP, accepting the award. The concluding session features Dr. Bontrager, secretary for the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom and spokesman for the Nickel Mines Amish community, who explores how the Nickel Mines Amish were able to express forgiveness following the shooting of 10 of their daughters at their local schoolhouse in May 2006.

“Forgiveness is important for interpersonal relationships, and in social and political life,” Darlene Weaver, Ph.D., director of The Theology Institute said. “Our audience will learn from scholars and practitioners about the dynamics of forgiveness and the distinctive insights into forgiveness that Christian faith yields,” she added.

Exploring the topic of forgiveness is an on-going initiative of Villanova’s Office for Mission Effectiveness, which instituted The Forgiveness Project in 2005. The Forgiveness Project is an interdisciplinary and multi-faceted program whose purpose is to address the topic of forgiveness from personal, professional, spiritual and intellectual contexts. The Theology Institute will sponsor additional programs on forgiveness throughout the academic year. These events will further explore the practical significance of forgiveness focusing on Christian-Jewish relations, criminal justice and the arts.

The Adela Dwyer/St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award, established in 1990, recognizes an individual or group for outstanding contributions to the understanding of the meaning and conditions of justice and peace in human communities. Selected by Villanova’s Center for Peace and Education, the winner of the Peace Award receives $1,000 and a plaque highlighting the honor. Former recipients include social justice luminaries such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Daniel J. Berrigan, S.J., civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis and Habitat for Humanity.

To register for the conference visit:

The conference schedule includes:

10:00 a.m. (Opening Lecture)

  • Dr. Frederic Luskin, director of Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project and one of the world’s leading researchers and teachers will open the conference with a presentation on “The Psychology of Forgiveness.” Luskin will explore the role forgiveness plays in the creation and promotion of health, based on the findings of his research into the effect of interpersonal forgiveness on depression, anger and stress.

11:30 a.m. (Concurrent Sessions)

  • Session one: “Forgiveness and the Law,” by Dr. Penny Pether and Dr. Patrick Brennan, both professors at Villanova’s School of Law. Dr. Brennan is also the John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies at Villanova. Issues explored will include whether forgiveness had a place in traditional penalties for wrongdoing, recent developments in addressing criminal social harm and whether crimes such as genocide might be unforgiveable.
  • Session two: “Forgiveness in the New Testament,” as interpreted by Dr. Paul Danove, professor of New Testament studies at Villanova and Dr. Peter Spitaler, assistant professor of New Testament and Christian origins and director of the Graduate Program in Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova.
  • Session three: “Forgiveness Between Parents and Children,” by Dr. William Werpehowski, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova. The ways in which parents and children both bless and wound one another and how they can redeem their relationships through forgiveness will be the focus of this session.

2:30-3:45 p.m.

  • “Forgiveness in the Polis: Lessons from History,” by Dr. Elizabeth Cole, program officer in the Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Components of forgiveness including apology, reparations, truth-telling, acknowledgement, restorative and retributive justice and trust will be considered in this talk.

4:00-5:15 p.m.

  • Jane Golden, executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP), adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a noted mural artist will accept the 2008 Adela Dwyer/St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award on behalf of the MAP and speak on “The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program as an Instrument of Social Reconciliation.” Dr. Maureen O’Connell, assistant professor of theology at Fordham University will speak on “The Art of Forgiveness: Community Murals, Theological Aesthetics and Restorative Justice.” In their presentations O’Connell and Golden will consider the healing effect of mural art on impoverished and crime-ridden urban neighborhoods.

8:00 p.m.

  • “The Limits of Forgiveness,” a presentation by Herman Bontrager, secretary of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom will speak about how the Nickel Mines Amish inspired others to consider forgiveness as an alternative response to violence following a murderous attack at their local schoolhouse.

Villanova University, a co-educational Roman Catholic institution, was founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1842. A premier institution of higher education, Villanova provides a comprehensive education rooted in the liberal arts; a shared commitment to the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity and love; and a community dedicated to service to others. A wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered through the University’s four colleges: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing, as well as the Villanova School of Law. With a total enrollment that surpasses 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students, Villanova is the oldest and largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.