Can one forget atrocities? Should one forgive abusers? Ought we not hope for the final reconciliation of all the wronged and all wrongdoers alike, even if it means spending eternity with perpetrators of evil? We live in an age when it is generally accepted that past wrongs---genocides, terrorist attacks, bald personal injustices---should be constantly remembered. But Miroslav Volf here proposes the radical idea that letting go of such memories---after a certain point and under certain conditions---may actually be the appropriate course of action.
While agreeing with the claim that to remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it, Volf notes that there are too many ways to remember wrongly, perpetuating the evil committed rather than guarding against it. In this way, "the just sword of memory often severs the very good it seeks to defend." He argues that remembering rightly has implications not only for the individual but also for the wrongdoer and for the larger community.
Volf's personal stories of persecution offer a compelling backdrop for his search for theological resources to make memories a wellspring of healing rather than a source of deepening pain and animosity. Controversial, thoughtful, and incisively reasoned, The End of Memory begins a conversation hard to ignore.
Miroslav Volf is Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theologyat Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut. He is also the author of Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.
"The End of Memory is a book that had to be written. From many quarters in present-day society comes the cry, 'Remember the wrongs done to you.' Miroslav Volf agrees with that cry but cogently argues that remembering wrongs can be done wrongly. With great learning and deep humane wisdom he reflects on how we can rightly remember the wrongs done to us. In all of Volf's writing, theology illuminates life and life illuminates theology. Here this two-way illumination is at its very brightest."
---Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University
"In this hauntingly autobiographical narrative, Miroslav Volf examines afresh the problems of abuse, memory, and reconciliation, and he concludes that memory, as such, cannot be adjusted to relieve our hurts. But forgetting, rightly understood, provides a healing balm. This is a book of profundity and wisdom, endowed with the authenticity of considerable personal suffering."
---Sarah Coakley, Harvard University
"Miroslav Volf, in reflecting on the vicissitudes of the late twentieth century, restores memory to its significant role in resolving conflict rather than in making ephemeral deals. In struggling with the question of hatred, he points to new directions in interfaith and interethnic dialogue, trust, and generosity at this early moment in the twenty-first century, already experienced as a time of eclipsed hope."
---Hillel Levine, International Institute for Mediation and Historical Conciliation
"This unique book brings light into the dark labyrinth of human memory of wrongs suffered....Miroslav Volf combines in an ingenious way his personal struggle with his own months-long interrogation as a Yugoslavian soldier under suspicion with probing psychological insights and theological reflections. His style is personal and inviting, and he is honest with himself and with God. This book is full of surprisingly novel and compelling insights. A masterpiece....I know of no psychological or theological book that is as gripping."
---Jurgen Moltmann, University of Tubingen
"Both Judaism and Christianity emphasize the importance of memory. Jews must remember the exodus; Christians the crucifixion. Miroslav Volf stresses the negative consequences of too much remembering---particularly remembering wrongs done to an individual or a group. When wrongs are never forgotten, they cannot be forgiven and they generate hatreds that survive forever. Nevertheless, this book does not ignore the danger of premature forgetting, which is as much a problem as excessive remembering. Volf skillfully weaves his own experience as a victim of persecution in communist Yugoslavia into his scholarly meditation. An interesting and challenging work."
---Michael Wyschogrod, Baruch College, City University of New York