Forgiveness and Future-building

"Without forgiveness, there is no future." Desmond Tutu (1931-2021)

Over the past two decades, significant strides have been made in our understanding of the science of forgiveness at an interpersonal and collective level. Yet despite these advances, a detailed account of cross-cultural and inter-religious variation concerning forgiveness is still lacking. A clearer understanding of this variation surrounding forgiveness will not only advance the science of forgiveness, which has usually focused on a Western Christian perspective, but will also have implications for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The overall goal of this new two-year project was to build on this field of knowledge to provide practical resources that can­ inform strategy and policy-making in post-conflict societies.

The project focused on three post-conflict and although these societies have significant variation in terms of their political and religious backgrounds, we hoped to uncover i) whether, despite such variation, there are patterns surrounding forgiveness and ii) how these commonalities can be applied to generating and sustaining legacy. The first of these post-conflict societies was Bosnia; the second Northern Ireland. Throughout, our findings in these two societies allowed us to determine the implications for the third post-conflict society, South Sudan, the world's newest country. The overarching goal of this project was to provide materials for constructive practical application for policymakers and mid-level religious and community leaders. In particular, through collaboration with researchers from Norway and US, the project developed FORCAST (FORgiveness and Conflict Analysis Simulation Tool). This system utilised a multi-agent AI system designed for studying the escalation and de-escalation of inter-group conflict, particularly where complex religious and ethnic identities are involved. This AI system will allow policymakers to experiment on different policy outcomes before they are implemented in the real world.

The Research Team

The team was led by Dr Katherine O'Lone, Research Fellow, Woolf Institute.

Dr Justin E Lane, CEO CulturePulse, Inc. 

Justin is the CEO and co-founder of CulturePulse, Inc. His research focuses on cognitive science, social stability and computer simulation. He also uses AI and big-data approaches. He gained his DPhil from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2019. He is also the CTO of ALAN Analytics. See more about Justin here.

Professor F. LeRon Shults

LeRon is a professor at the Institute for Global Development and Social Planning at the University of Agder and scientific director of the Center for Modelling Social System in Kristianland, Norway. See more about LeRon here.

Maja Balaban Lolic

Maja, a Woolf Institute alumna, also joined the research team. Her expertise and assistance in facilitating on the ground research in the Balkans will be invaluable to the project. See more about Maja here.

Talks and Presentations

Utilising AI Tech to Address Societal Challenges (18-20 September 2023)

Forgiveness & Artificial Intelligence: Simulating Conditions for Peace, Global Innovation Series webinar (19 March 2023)

Forgiveness and the Future: Lessons from Northern Ireland, Bosnia and South Sudan (22 February 2023)

Some media coverage of Justin and LeRon's work

Can artificial intelligence help stop religious violence? (BBC News)

The AI that could help predict religious violence (The Telegraph)

Predicting religious violence beforehand: The Future of AI? (Techengage) 

Previous Woolf Institute materials on Forgiveness

'Forgiveness' (Woolf Institute webinar)

'Forgiving' (Naked Reflections podcast)

Media coverage of the project

New AI Research Finds the Good Friday Agreement Failed to Address Underlying Issues Surrounding Justice and Legacy (Irish Tech News)

AI Project Identifies Failures of Good Friday Agreement to Address Justice and Legacy (The Irish News)

Less Forgiveness and More Cooperation in Peacebuilding (Shared Future News)