Religions (Feb 2022)

Mea Culpa: A Qualitative Interview Study on the Role of Guilt and Forgiveness with Non-Religious and Multireligious Inmates

  • Mickey van Herpen,
  • Renske Kruizinga

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 2
p. 145


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Within monotheistic religions, guilt and forgiveness have long been important themes. In The Netherlands, however, the influence of traditional religions is declining. This qualitative interview study explored how non-religious and multireligious inmates experience guilt and forgiveness, and how the humanistic chaplain could address these issues within counselling. Guilt and forgiveness are complex constructs that are individually and subjectively experienced. Most inmates experience personal guilt and regret for what they have done. Some inmates cope with these feelings in a repressive way, where others have an active coping style. Both multireligious and non-religious inmates have a need for interpersonal forgiveness, especially from close relatives. In addition, multireligious inmates also have a transcendent need for forgiveness from a personal god. The humanistic chaplain may help inmates with an active reflection on guilt and forgiveness, which can contribute to a development on an existential level. Guilt and forgiveness ought to be approached from a counselling perspective and attention should be paid to the multiple meanings of personal responsibility. An active and critical reflection on guilt and forgiveness may lead to new meanings of the (criminal) past and create a positive change in the behaviour of detainees.