Life-Light-Liberty: FSU - JCRS Guidelines

JEZT - Büste von Freidrich Schiller vor der FSU JenaThe Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies (JCRS) and the "Guidelines" of the Friedrich-Schiller-University:


"Reconciliation Studies" aim to achieve theoretical and practical understanding of the processes, measurements and practices relevant to fostering best-possible relationships in contexts affected by violence, atrocities, genocides, wars, dictatorships, segregation, enslavement and other crimes against humanity. It is a transdisciplinary scientific field that focuses on individual, group, inter-group and political dynamics. The work of the JCRS deals with all three mission principles or Leitlinien of Jena University - With "Light" in a more metaphorical sense, with "Life" in a more subjective way and with "Liberty" in a literal and profoundly interconnected way.

1. Reconciliation and Light

Reconciliation often is associated with metaphors of light. The concept encompasses the many scientific fields examining this topic, and it gained wide traction and notice following South Africa's experience of post-apartheid transformation that included the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission". Thus reconciliation includes and presupposes the light of truth. Light and enlightenment must reveal the tragic reality of violence and injustice. Achieving measures of reconciliation is dependent upon individuals and societies having access to knowledge of the past - whether as victims or perpetrators of violence. The term of "lustration" with its allusions to light is one possible part of truth-seeking measures that foster reconciliation. The reconciliation as light metaphor also draws attention to individuals and societies moving from darkened pasts to brighter futures.

2. Reconciliation and Life

Reconciliation is a healing, restoring process that fosters full human flourishing for victims as well as for perpetrators. It recognizes the great value of all human lives and strives to overcome barriers to flourishing posed by the traumas, injustices and disordered institutions and social practices that diminish life. Reconciliation is possible with good practices, institutions and social policies that foster new life. Minimally, the goal is life with less fear and resentment. But the horizons of possibility with reconciliation include visions of life transcending minimal goals, filled with happiness and reaffirming the holiness of life after violence, torture and war.

3. Reconciliation and Liberty

The FSU Jena stresses themes of Light and Life in its natural science-orientated research vision. The JCRS affirms and complements this vision and contributes perhaps most to the third principle, liberty. Reconciliation has at least six strong links to liberty:

3.1. Reconciliation requires freedom and is impaired by manipulation and coercion through violence or corruption. Forgiveness, which is an element of reconciliation, is the sovereign privilege of freedom for each individual victim. The disciplines of social psychology and applied ethics provide critical help in understanding the material and moral conditions that affect free action and thus liberty.

3.2. Optimal contexts for reconciliation include functioning and non-repressive political democracies. No democracy is perfect and many countenance populism and injustice on levels comparable to repressive non-democratic political forms. Reconciliation processes are meant to foster more liberty in all contexts, with the understanding that liberty is a both a goal and a condition that makes further liberty possible. Our cooperation partners in Palestine (political science) developed the "Wasatia Circle Theory" that demonstrates the inter-relationships among democracy, moderation and reconciliation. This triadic political model shows the mutual benefits each element provides, and the ways that the whole political structure is harmed when any one element is diminished.

3.3. Religion is a social force that can foster or hinder liberty. People's religious convictions and practices are relevant to social interactions within and outside their religious communities with respect to principles of liberty, pluralism and tolerance. Reconciliation is a value-laden endeavor that fosters these principles and, to that end, seeks to understand the ways that religion can be a positive social force with the disciplines of Religious Studies, Philosophy of Religion and Sociology.

3.4. Reconciliation shows the limits of freedom within individuals. People affected by violence and injustice may be unwilling or even unable to engage processes of reconciliation. Typical experiences include: I am willing to reconcile, but I cannot because of powerful emotions, fears or hatred. The experience of social pressures and moral convictions can bind individuals to resist forgiveness. Continuing unjust institutions, violence, disrespectful or untrustworthy behavior by other groups all present psychological barriers to reconciliation.

3.5. Reconciliation shows the limits of freedom within conflict-contexts. Even when individuals are  open to engaging processes of reconciliation, these processes depend to a significant degree upon the participation of the "other" groups - of either perpetrators or victims, or some measure of both. The freedom to engage in reconciliation processes implies the freedom to disengage - to act as spoiler of reconciliation processes. People die or are unwilling to speak. For whatever reason, the absence of reconciling partners limits the possibilities for reconciliation. In these cases, freedom is required to accept the limits of reconciliation. Sometimes people must even be freed from unrealistic expectations or demands for an impossible reconciliation.

3.6. Reconciliation creates freedom. This multilevel reality is experienced psychologically, socially, institutionally, and politically. Reconciliation among former enemies allows new possibilities to emerge - new possibilities for social interaction and economic development, for travel, new friendships with the other group(s). Reconciliation removes the burdensome defensive structures necessary for distrustful coexistence, and thus channels social resources into beneficial political, social and educational institutions. Social well-being is experienced as liberation from the dark past and freedom from its excess baggage of hatred.

3.7. Reconciliation and freedom are time-situated and time-related processes. Past, present and future are continually understood and thus experienced within frameworks defined more or less by conflicts. Confronting a past to foster reconciliation requires freedom in the present and freedom with respect to the past - perhaps experienced as a "distance" from traumatic memories. Freedom is a necessary condition for undertaking the hard work of reconciliation, thereby taking responsibility for future generations.