Study of Repentance within Civic Culture

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Mon, 04/01/1996
End Date: 
Tue, 12/31/1996

Amitai Etzioni and associates of the Communitarian Network described and analyzed different aspects of public repentance within civic culture. With a view to describing the role of religious beliefs in civic culture, Etzioni and associates proposed that the aspect of repentance is a key element in many of the most familiar religions but absent from the general civic culture.

Repentance involves true remorse, penance or paying off one’s dues, and restructuring of one’s life. However, this religious concept of repentance is absent in civic culture. Individuals show true remorse, pay for their transgressions and restructure their lives; but these individuals’ civil rights are not restored and they are still treated as “ex-cons”, not as someone who has fully repented.

Jeffery Harrison, one of Etzioni’s several associates in this study, investigated the mechanisms through which offenders can regain their membership in economic and political institutions. Harrison found that several states have mechanisms whereby ex-offenders regain their former status. Crucial to such restoration is an unconditional demonstration of repentance and reparation on part of the offender.

T. Gordon Bazemore described the concept of restorative justice. For justice to be done, responses to crime must balance the need of victims, communities, and offenders. In restorative justice, the process of repentance involves the offender confronting the harm he has done by directly meeting with the friends and family of the victim in the presence of a mediator. A suitable punishment is agreed upon once the offender admits his guilt; the process is meant to reintegrate the offender into the community.

John Haley explored the difference between American and Japanese easy of treating offenders. In Japanese society repentance and redemption play a vital cultural role in the form of apology and pardon. Japanese authorities seem to care more about an offender’s recognition of authority and the communal values than retributive punishment.

Estelle Frankel studied the parallelism in the role of repentance in Jewish thought and psychotherapy. Whereas in Jewish thought, repentance enables one to return to one’s true spiritual nature and reunion with a larger spiritual community, psychotherapy provides a similar but secular path towards psychic wholeness.

Patrick Glynn discussed reconciliation with reference to repentance. Focusing on relations among major religious groups, Glynn discovered that there is little discussion in social sciences regarding the conditions which make reconciliation possible between social groups. Glynn explored the idea of reconciliation with reference to race relations.

Patrick Carney described instances of repentance among prominent public individuals such as Lee Atwater and Marion Barry. Carney noted a general lack of contrition among this group and attributed it to the absence of specific mechanisms for repentance and redemption.

Finally, Stanley Platman MD discussed the role played by the religious concepts of repentance and redemption in a physicians’ rehabilitation program in Maryland. Doctors demonstrate their repentance by committing to this program and on successful completion, are allowed to keep their license.

Etzioni and associates published their findings in the book Civic Repentance (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999) edited by Etzioni.