NEMLA 2020: Forgiveness in the 21st Century: Postcolonial Perspectives

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Saumya Lal
contact email: 


Panel: Forgiveness in the 21st Century: Postcolonial Perspectives

(NEMLA 2020, March 5-8, Boston)

In today’s world, where political narratives of apologies and amnesties proliferate, understanding the nature of forgiveness has become increasingly significant. The arguable success of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission – with its ideological investment in forgiveness, as affirmed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness – has impelled the world to engage seriously with the ethical possibilities of forgiveness. Yet, questions about the vexed relationship between forgiveness, responsibility, and justice remain unresolved. 

Does forgiveness absolve perpetrators of their responsibility while undermining victims’ suffering? In considering gross violations of human rights during wars and genocides, how do we grapple with the notion of the unforgivable – which, according to Derrida, is the very idea that gives meaning to forgiveness? How do cultural norms determine the shapes forgiveness takes in particular historical contexts? Moreover, what is the relationship between collective and interpersonal forgiveness? How do the affective and epistemic processes of forgiveness function in relation to anger, resentment, moral indignation, and the desire for revenge? How do confession and repentance on the part of the wrongdoer enable forgiveness? How does forgiveness participate in the processes of reconciliation and peace? 

This panel seeks to explore these questions through a postcolonial lens. It will investigate how the emphasis on relentless critique, resistance, and disconsolation in postcolonial thought contends with ideas of forgiveness. Keeping in mind postcolonial critiques of the role (neo)imperial forces play in shaping global ethico-political frameworks, the panel will examine how contemporary representations of forgiveness in postcolonial literature and culture complicate our understanding of forgiveness.

Please submit 300-word abstracts through the NEMLA website by September 30. Visit to submit your abstract. Email Saumya Lal at with questions (please do not submit abstracts via email; all abstracts must be submitted through the NEMLA website).