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How Does Religion Promote Forgiveness? Linking Beliefs, Orientations, and Practices


  • Note: The 1998 General Social Survey data used for these analyses are available at the Association of Religion Data Archives:

  • Acknowledgments: The author offers special thanks to Christian Smith, Kraig Beyerlein, Jessica L. Collett, Amy Jonason, Richard A. Williams, participants in the Research and Analysis in the Sociology of Religion workshop, and the journal's anonymous reviewers. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant number DGE08-22217.

Correspondence should be addressed to Daniel Escher, Department of Sociology, University of Notre Dame, 810 Flanner Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556 USA. E-mail:


Scholars have long observed that religion and forgiveness are generally positively linked, but it is unclear why this is the case. This article proposes and tests potential mechanisms by which religion promotes forgiveness. Using data from the 1998 General Social Survey, I find that holding a collaborative orientation toward God, subscribing to a pervasive role of religion, and believing God forgives are primary factors promoting one's propensity to forgive both oneself and others. These factors have varying influence on interpersonal forgiveness compared to self-forgiveness and further illuminate the differences between the two processes. My findings demonstrate the importance of analyzing a person's religious beliefs and orientations directly, in addition to examining other dimensions of religion, such as affiliation, frequency of religious activity, and official religious teachings.