Aim of Reconciliation Studies is the scholarly description, interpretation and evaluation of processes of creating "normal" and if possible "good" relationships between states, groups, organisations, and individuals reacting against past, present or preventing future grave incidents such as wars, civil wars, genocides, atrocities, forced displacement, enslavement, dictatorship, oppression, colonialism, Apartheid, and other human rights violations and injustices.
While on a surface the good relationships are between States, groups, organisations and individuals, on a deeper level we always deal with five dimensions of reconciliation:
Reconciliation is about personal encounters between victims and perpetrators (through and beyond Truth and Reconciliation Commissions), but also about changing structural violence, such as poverty and exclusion, and creating a culture free from hatred and negative stereotypes about the other group, by fostering justice and mutual respect.
Reconciliation, the long-term work to create better relations between (former) enemies after massive carnage, is a promising alternative to continuing tensions, violence and the destruction of lives through never-ending hostilities. It is demanding, also on a psychological and spiritual level. It is costly, but certainly much less than the culture of security through weapons and armies.
Reconciliation fosters the creation of a “culture of peace." The peace sought via reconciliation is not an ideal one, but that what is at stake is the reconstruction of communal relationships after open warfare.
A common misunderstanding concerning reconciliation perceives it as if reconciliation implies that victims would accept the wrongdoings of the perpetrators giving up all claims to justice, reparation or security against the repetition of violence. Reconciliation, on the contrary, includes justice, reparation, work on trauma, security building and a long-term and consistent confrontation of the violent past and the guilt of the perpetrators, including their punishment.
Reconciliatory processes involve several practices like:
Reconciliatory processes are multidimensional and take into account:
In his novel “Hyperion”, the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) wrote: "Versöhnung ist mitten im Streit und alles Getrennte findet sich wieder." [Reconciliation is in the middle of strife and all that was separated finds each other again.] (Friedrich Hölderlin, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, Darmstadt 1998, Vol. 1, p. 760). In antithesis to a widespread notion in political science, where reconciliation is seen as an event that occurs only after the end of the conflict, the "Hölderlin perspective" pays attention to those elements in a conflict that speak for, and potentially lead towards, reconciliation: groups or individuals who disagree with the conflict, common laws and customs, moments of economic cooperation, common feelings, correlations of acting and reacting, etc. According to the Hölderlin perspective, reconciliation starts now, already in the middle of violent conflict, even if it might take many years before a stable peace is possible.
Through the "Hölderlin perspective", at the JCRS we study reconciliation as a comprehensive process, which includes civil society as well as some political leaders, specialists of many disciplines as well as grassroot activists, lawyers as well as psychologists, religious leaders as well as historians, popular media as well as classical literature, women as well as men. Often reconciliation is lived as a spiritual path, but it can also be seen in completely pragmatic terms.
Reconciliation does not mean cheap peace or the giving up of rights. Reconciliation necessarily includes truth and justice. All those who want a better future for themselves or their children and grandchildren are invited to take reconciliation as a possibility into consideration.