The 2002 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture

Compass Points: Navigating Vocation


The fundamental question of adolescence—”Who am I?”—is increasingly answered by our society with “You are what you buy.” As youth navigate the choppy waters of identity formation, they long for true meaning and direction but often settle for defining themselves as consumers. The church offers youth a compass for their journey that is pointed by the cross. Christian vocation gives young people validity, purpose, and direction. As youth take up their crosses and follow Christ, they learn to rely on built-­‐in GPS (global positioning system) to set their course. The good news we can share with young people is that God is calling them to a unique identity and task. They need only listen and respond. The 2002 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture explore how the church can help youth discern their life’s calling and their vocation as teenagers.

Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger sees a paradox in Christian vocation. Vocation is an astonishing gift from God and yet also a human task and responsibility. She raises the question of how we in the church can teach youth to trust fully that God will speak to them, and yet also urge them to map out their life plans as best they can. Hunsinger argues that the teaching of the church about the nature of the God who calls them can provide youth with much-­‐needed guidance in the face of dizzying choices. Young people need to know that the God who created them has given particular gifts unique to each creature; the Christ who redeems them saves them from aimlessness and sin; the Holy Spirit who sustains them creates the community where they may be fully seen as who they are and where they can be called forth. The church community also has an obligation, says Hunsinger, to help youth identify and call forth their gifts.

Joyce Ann Mercer urges the church to take seriously the vocation of young people and of the adults who minister with them. After examining Christian theological understandings of vocation throughout history, Mercer links the vocation of youth to identity, community, and solidarity. She also lifts up youth ministry as a legitimate lifelong vocation rather than a steppingstone to “real” ministry. She claims that youth ministers are people who share with all Christians the one call to ministry, that God’s Spirit gives certain gifts to people with a vocation for youth ministry, and that the vocation of youth ministry draws its meaning, character, and work from the one call to ministry and from God’s calling of youth.

Miroslav Volf addresses a crucial question for Christians in today’s world: If memory is part and parcel of the way we relate to one another in situations of conflict, then how does one who loves remember injuries and injustices? Volf discusses the importance of memory with a particular emphasis on the role it plays in the contemporary world. He points out that while memories give us identity and can promote justice, they can also become roots of bitterness and obstacles to reconciliation. Volf goes on to explore what it takes to remember in redeeming rather than in destructive ways. He considers how the proper remembrance of the exodus from Egypt and the resurrection of Jesus Christ inform the task of redemptive remembering.

Michael Warren challenges us to consider what youth ministry in a church of radical discipleship might look like. How, he asks, can the church help youth move from being conspicuous consumers to having a commitment to the poor and to gospel simplicity? Warren contrasts the gestures of consumerism with the gestures of the gospel, and he lifts up examples of ministries that are teaching young people not simply what they ought to believe but what concrete skills are needed for living out the gospel. Warren also discusses the power of social influences on youth and on their ability to be influences in their own right. When the church is a community living out gospel alternatives to consumer culture, he argues, it offers youth a powerful vision of life’s purposes and possibilities.

May these lectures remind you of your own true vocation and equip you to accompany young people as they listen for God’s call.

Faithfully Yours,
Amy Scott Vaughn
Director of Leadership Development
Institute for Youth Ministry

2002 Lectures

Deborah Hunsinger
  • Vocation: An Inexpressible Gift
  • Vocation: A Joyous Task
Joyce Ann Mercer
  • Call Forwarding: Putting Vocation in the Present Tense with Youth
  • Are We Going on a Vocation Now? Ministry with Youth as a Lifelong Vocation
Miroslav Volf
  • Love’s Memory: The Role of Memory in Contempory Culture
  • Love’s Memory: Redemptive Remembering
Michael Warren
  • Youth Ministry in an Inconvenient Church
  • Cultural Resistance in Youth: Problems and Possibilities
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Love's Memory: The Role of
Memory in Contemporary Culture

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale University Divinity School. Prior to his appointment at Yale, he taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and at the Evangelical-Theological Faculty in Osijek, Croatia. He is the author of many books, including After Our Likeness: The Church As an Image of the Triune God; Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work; and Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation for which he was awarded the 2002 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

The topic I chose my two lectures is love's memory, or memory of love. As an introduction to the first lecture, I will share a personal story and an academic interest, which, I hope, will situate my goals in these lectures and my reasons for engaging the question of memory.

First, the personal story. Some twenty years ago I was drafted into military service in the former Yugoslavia, which at that time was a Communist country. In some senses, Yugoslavia was more open than the rest of the Communist countries, but its military service was as hard-nosed Communist as any other.

I was a month and a half away from finishing my doctoral work in Germany when the summons came. There was no way I could evade it unless I decided never to return to Yugoslavia, my home country at that time. If I returned to Yugoslavia and refused to serve in the military, I would be sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison repeatedly until I decided to change my mind. Since I felt a loyalty to my home country, I decided to heed the summons. I knew that I would be harassed because I was a pastor's kid, a doctoral student in theology, and most of all the husband of an American who therefore had obvious connections to the CIA, as, of course, all Americans do.

I prepared myself to be ridiculed, but I wasn't ready for the extent of the harassment. I eventually realized that my whole unit was organized to spy on me. My fellow soldiers—those whom I considered my friends—were in reality informers. I was assigned a particular office that was bugged. The Security Service, the Yugoslavian equivalent of the FBI, recorded all the page 58 conversations that occurred in that office. After three and a half months, the office of the Security Service summoned me to their office. For the next three months they interrogated me concerning a one-foot-thick file that contained every word I had allegedly spoken in that office and other information concerning my life, which they had gathered from other sources.

I felt totally uncertain of what was going to happen to me. They were threatening to send me to prison for eight years (I had made some remarks praising pacifists, which were taken as antimilitary and therefore anti-Yugoslavian). I had no access to a lawyer, no legal protections. Any time of day or night they would wake me up; I would sit and wait for hours before they would start interrogating me again. The interrogators would rotate one after the other, and my life became totally unstable—I was at sea. There was no hard ground there. At the head of the interrogation crowd was Captain Goranovich. Believe me, I can still picture him very vividly in my mind.

Then and there, but also later, a crucial issue emerged for me: How do I deal, as a Christian and as a human being, with that memory? How do I deal with the accumulated hurt and anger inside me? How do I deal with these memories, not simply at the level of my own internal states and their healings but also on an interpersonal level? What life will Captain Goranovich lead in my imagination? How would I relate to him if I ever met him again? In other words, how do I deal with the memories of these horrible months in military service and the impact they had on my relationship to Captain Goranovich in particular and my fellow soldiers in general?

Second, let me share briefly about one of my academic interests, an academic interest that is itself derived from situations of conflict. Some six years ago, I wrote a book, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. In that book, I argued for an unconditional obligation of Christians to embrace (or, less poetically, to love) their enemies. This obligation is not simply to be just toward them. That's hard enough when they're your enemies, right? But our obligation goes further—we also ought to love them. I don't want to oppose love and justice, because they're not opposed, but love is more than justice. This obligation, I argued, is not only grounded in what Christ commands to us but, above all, is grounded in what Christ has done for us, in Christ's example. As Christ died for the salvation of the ungodly, so we too are commanded and by the Spirit of Christ empowered to embrace even our enemies. I think this message runs through the whole of the New Testament.

Now, apply this concept of unconditional embrace to the question of memory, and you have the topic of today's lecture: love's memory. If memory page 59 is part and parcel of the way we relate to one another in situations of conflict, then the crucial question is: How does one who loves, remember?

One may ask that question about two lovers, right? How do people who are deeply in love remember their experiences with one another? It would be a wonderful question to explore, and the youth with whom you work would be very much interested in that question. Unfortunately, I won't explore that question now. Rather, in these two lectures, I will explore the question: How does one who loves remember injuries that he or she has suffered?

In this lecture, I will discuss the importance of memory in general, with a particular emphasis on the role it plays in the contemporary world. In my next lecture, I will discuss how we should remember things and how we can redeem memories of past injuries and injustices.

I will begin this lecture with some introductory remarks. Then, I will spend the bulk of my time discussing four reasons why memory is so important in the contemporary world. Finally, I will conclude with a brief discussion of the "ambiguity of memories," which will lead us into my next lecture.

Rememberance of Evils: Necessary or Dangerous?

There is a broad cultural agreement that we must remember major evils committed and suffered—remember them all, and remember them always. By remembering, it is said, we not only pay a debt of honor to those who suffered in the past, but we also seek to protect the innocent in the future. Not to remember would be to fail the obligation of justice, either toward victims past or victims future. To keep memories alive we tell stories, study and write history, erect monuments, and celebrate anniversaries. To remember evil committed and suffered in the past, we think, is both necessary and salutary.

At the same time, we are becoming increasingly aware that memories of specific historical acts can be extraordinarily dangerous. When we want to justify our, at best, dubiously defensible actions, either to ourselves or to others, we cast our common history in a favorable light. For instance, the story of the arrival of European settlers on the shores of the New World is told as a story of "discovery" and of bringing the light of civilization to dispel the darkness of barbarity, whereas it could also be told as a story of colonization, a story indeed of the slaughter of indigenous populations.

Similarly, perpetrators make appeals to memories of past victimization in order to justify their present acts of violence. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Nazis appealed to the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles to justify their aggression against neighboring countries. In the page 60 hands of the perpetrators, the shield of memory turns into a sword. Memories are life giving; they can also be deadly. Significantly, it is the life-giving power of memory—the fact that it can serve to honor the dead and protect the living—that, under certain conditions, makes it possible for memories to do their deadly work.

In the tangled world of human relations, in which rivals contest claims to what is true and just, one person's defense is another person's aggression. What seems a shield to one looks like a sword to his or her opponent. Moreover, if "the best defense is a good offense," then wielding memory as a sword may in fact be the most effective way to employ it as a shield. The line separating just remembering from a war of memories seems difficult to draw.

My point in these introductory remarks is simple: The insistence on memory of evils committed and suffered is a highly ambiguous affair. Remembrance of evils is a good that is almost always beset by the very evil that it is supposed to keep at bay. The primary goal of my two lectures is to disambiguate memories (in other words, to make them less ambiguous and therefore less problematic than they frequently are). My basic question is the following: How do the parties whose common past contains offenses and sufferings go about remembering so that their memories are a source of healing rather than of increased enmity?

Memory in Contemporary Culture

Before I try to answer that question, I need to discuss the importance of memory in contemporary culture. In the beginning of the twenty-first century we find ourselves almost obsessed with memories of evils suffered and committed. The obsession, I think, started at some time in the second half of the twentieth century and continues undiminished today. In the sections that follow, I will examine four reasons for this obsession with memory.

1. "Faltering Stories"

It may seem paradoxical, but one of the reasons for the present-day obsession with memory is that memories have become especially tenuous in our contemporary culture. The injunction "Remember!" is set against powerful cultural trends that foster quick forgetting. Traditional societies looked to the past for their sense of identity as well as for guidance for the present and the future. Life was based on the accumulated wisdom of the ages. In contrast, modern societies prize experimentation and innovation. Imaginative exploration of the present and the future has pushed memories of the past into the background. This attitude is revealed in the way we treat page 61 (or mistreat) aged and so-called "wise" people. American culture is largely a youth culture, partly because it is such a modern culture—all directed toward the future.

Connected with this orientation toward the future is the extraordinary pace of life in contemporary culture. We find ourselves directed toward the next new thing, or, as some people say, the "new" new thing. We move through time, leaning forward, living not in today or tomorrow, and certainly not in yesterday, but in some as yet undefined temporal mode in which we are always situated neither in the present nor in the future, but somewhere on the edge between the two. From the past and the present we are fleeing, but there is no defined future in which we expect to feel at home. This attitude is quite different not only from that of traditional societies but also from that of typically modern societies. The modern project, at least in some of its modes, was based on a normatively specified sense of future toward which we are headed. My sense is that contemporary culture does not have this notion of a definite future toward which we are headed, but rather an empty concept of perpetual novelty has replaced a stable and morally filled concept of the future.

The resultant feeling is like driving a fast-moving car on a highway. Our experience of life is a blur—not stable images, integrated into a larger framework of meaning. For such forward-leaning beings, the past has little significance, unless it is our own personal past, and we find ourselves in a time of crisis and transition, and therefore we ask questions about our personal identity. In The City of God, E. L. Doctorow expresses well this sense of disinterest in the past:

Friends, brothers and sisters,
How can we see to it that our stories
Don't falter like old veterans parading?
The experience of experience is untransmittable,
The children shrug, what's done is done,
and history instructs them finally
not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,
As some thirty million were in World War Two. 1

The contemporary stress on remembering is meant to prop up the faltering stories of past suffering, to infuse them with new life and meaning, so that they can do their job of honoring the dead and protecting the living. The tendency of our culture toward quick forgetting may underlie the propensity in the Western world, especially in the United States, to erect memorials of page 62 events that have barely happened. Just think how quickly we began to discuss an appropriate way to memorialize the events of September 11. Perhaps we feel the need to memorialize because we fear that if we don't erect a monument, the event will pass from memory. Once we erect the monument, however, we will feel free to follow our inclination to forget and go on with our lives, because the memorial does the remembering, in a sense, for us. So, this tendency toward quick forgetting, I think, pushes us to insist on concrete ways of remembering.

2. Memory and Identity

Even for forward-leaning citizens of high-paced contemporary societies, memories are indispensable, because memory shapes our personal and social identities. We are in part what we remember. Of course, we are also in part what we don't remember, or no longer remember. Clearly, if we remembered everything that happened to us, we would be different persons than we actually are, given the fact that we have forgotten most of what has happened to us. So we remember what was significant to us, and what we remember continues to be significant for us. Our identities are shaped in the complex interchange of retention and oblivion that we call "memory." In the simple sense of the ability to retrieve information, memory is fundamental to our competent functioning. If we couldn't retrieve information, then you could not understand what I'm saying, and I could not say what I'm saying. Simple retention is so foundational to our existence that we could not be human beings without it. However, in the more complex sense of the combination of retention and oblivion that mediates meaning, memory is also fundamental to our identity. It is this latter sense of memory that I will explore further in this section.

The connection between memory and identity is not just a feature of traditional societies, in which a person's or community's identity is shaped significantly by a stable communal order and by recourse to the past. In a changed form, the connection between memory and identity continues to be strong for the inhabitants of late modernity. In traditional societies, one's identity was largely defined by one's "station" in life (that is, one's age, gender, vocation, marital status, parenthood, and so on). Social roles such as adult, husband, wife, father, and mother were generally stable and clearly defined; vocational options were relatively limited. In contrast, citizens of contemporary societies can no longer fall back on stable, well-defined identities. For instance, gender roles are now blurred: husbands are not necessarily heads of their households, and wives often work outside the home. In terms of vocation, the average American changes his career every page 63 seven years. Marriage and parenthood no longer define us. We choose these roles and shape them in multiple ways to fit our needs. Just as significant, we drop out of such roles as a matter of convenience, when they no longer meet our changing needs. This sense of flexibility, I think, has an adverse impact on our sense of identity.

In the absence of stable roles, we often reach back to the stories of our past in order to answer the question "Who am I?" Anthony Giddens, in his typically abstract sociological way, describes this process as "reflexive mobilizing of self-identity." 2 Through the process of reflection, we integrate the past into our sense of ourselves, rather than simply taking this over from what society has given.

Not only are memories necessary for even the most basic sense of identity; memories also give a certain richness to our identity. People moving through life at accelerated speeds, attending only to the next new thing, lead on the whole a rather shallow life. If a person is driving his car very fast, his attention must be focused on the next curve; if it is not, he will not make it very far. The faster the pace, the more focused his attention must be on the immediate in order to survive. But this type of rapid experience, with a correspondingly short span of attention, leaves no time for experiences to accumulate and for one's identity to receive richness.

Let me give an analogy to illustrate what I mean by richness of identity. When you hear a sound from a very good string instrument, you hear not only the fundamental pitch of the string but also resonant pitches of the overtone series. You hear the richness of this one string; your experience of that sound is in a sense layered. By contrast, a low-quality violin or guitar will emit a duller, less resonant sound. I think that our life experiences follow a similar pattern, only now extended over time. The more that a certain experience has resonance of past experience within it, the richer that experience, as such, is. But if past experience is simply a blur to be left behind, our present experiencing happens on a shallow, one-dimensional level; it is like the sound of my four-year-old son's little toy guitar.

So, richness of experience requires the presence of the past in the present. Often for us, fast-paced creatures, the presence of the past in the present occurs only during crisis experiences, such as an incapacitating illness, an unexpected layoff, or deep dissension within our family. These experiences prompt us to consider: "Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going in life?" Perhaps these experiences seem so acute because we rarely take time to examine ourselves or take recourse to the past. At any rate, I want to emphasize this importance of the past for a rich sense of identity.

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Here's a quote from Milan Kundera, from his short novel Identity, which underscores my point:

Remembering our past, carrying it with us always, may be the necessary requirement for maintaining, as they say, the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self doesn't shrink, to see that it holds onto its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. 3

In sum, because memories shape identities, they also give identities richness. The more our past is present to us in the form of memory, the richer the lives we seem to lead.

This principle is true not only for individuals but also for whole societies. A very important book, unfortunately not translated into English, is Jan Assmann's Das kulturelle Gedächtnis (Cultural Memory), which explores this issue in the civilization of ancient Egypt. 4 He argues that without the ability to retain and access past events and knowledge, cultures would be impoverished and could not even develop. Only cultures with developed cultural memory are rich cultures. Much like personal identity, culture is essentially a matter of memory.

3. Memory, Joy, and Pain

Memory shapes our personal and cultural identities and gives them richness, because memory brings the past into the present. As long as it is remembered, the past does not remain just the past; it is taken up into the present and is given a new lease on life, albeit in a different form. But memory does not merely bring from the past the neutral content of a changing identity. It brings the past's lows and highs and in-betweens. Since our past experiences are often joyous or painful, the memory of past experience itself can be a source of joy or pain.

Consider the memory of lovers. In "The Seducer's Diary" of Søren Kierkegaard's Either/Or, Johannes writes to his lover, Cordelia:

How distant must an event be from us in time in order for us to recollect it; how distant so that recollection's longing can no longer grasp it? In this respect, most people have a limit; they cannot recollect what is too close in time, nor can they recollect what is too distant. I know no limit. Yesterday's experience I push back a thousand years in time and recollect it as if it were experienced yesterday. 5

Through memory, the joy of a thousand years ago can be like yesterday's page 65 or even today's joy. Indeed, as Kierkegaard writes, Johannes's purpose in keeping the diary was to take the enjoyable events from the past and, in recollecting them, make them the occasion for "the second enjoyment." 6 Hence he endeavors to describe them "as if they were taking place right now and with such dramatic vividness that it sometimes seems as if everything were taking place before one's eyes." 7 Often memory fails, of course. Distant events fade into the background and disappear. Joy experienced in the past remains just that—past joy, swallowed by the night of nonremembrance, and lost forever. But the more vivid the memory, the more the past joy enters into the present moment.

The same holds true of pain. Here's a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: "The moment, here in a flash, gone in a flash...does, after all, return as a ghost once more and disturbs the peace of a later moment." 8 Through the gate of memory, the troubling past makes incursions into the present and undoes the sense of joy and well-being."

Consider, for instance, traumatic memories, the types of memories that we cannot hold, that we must repress, because keeping them as memories is unbearable. And yet the repressed material does not stay repressed but rather returns, often in a way that we cannot control. We call it a flashback. And in those flashbacks we suddenly experience the whole horror of the painful situation once again. To remember suffering endured is to keep one's wounds open. The stronger the wounds and the more vivid the recollection, the more past and present merge, the more one feels past pain as present agony.

Of course, the fact that one remembers either pain or joy underscores its absence in the present. As one hopes for what one does not yet have, so one remembers what one no longer has. And yet memory highlights the present absence only by drawing us today into the pain or joy of yesterday.

4. Memory, Acknowledgment, and Justice

In recent decades, memory has been elevated to a position of prime public importance. A number of factors have contributed to this increased sense of the public importance of memory: most notably, discussions about the nature of totalitarian regimes, discussions concerning the Holocaust, and insights into the importance of "truth" in transitional societies.

Take first the totalitarian regimes. The power of a totalitarian regime was predicated not only on military might, not only on the single ruling party, not only on the official communist or fascist ideology, but also, in a very important sense, on the control of memory. As Tzvetan Todorov wrote, "Having understood that to conquer lands and men went hand in hand with conquering the means of information and communication, the tyrannies of page 66 the twentieth century have systematized their stranglehold on memory, wanting to control it even in its most secret nooks and crannies." 9 Because they controlled memory of the past, they could control the present and therefore also the future. They erased the memory of past freedom and social well-being and reconfigured the past so as to make it appear an oppressive backdrop against which their rule could appear as desirable and just. So, for anybody with an antitotalitarian bone in them, a memory is a very significant thing. Every act of reminiscence could become a form of resistance.

The history of Nazi destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War underscores the necessity of remembering even more sharply. A diverse set of voices is united on this common theme: We must not forget that horrendous event. Elie Wiesel, himself a Holocaust survivor, has probably become the most vocal and influential prophet of memory. In his collection of essays From the Kingdom of Memory he writes that "the memory of death will serve as a shield against death." 10 Because forgetfulness both insults victims and encourages future perpetrators, forgetfulness leads to damnation. "Salvation can be found only in memory," he maintains. "Justice without memory is an incomplete justice, false and unjust," he insisted in his testimony at the trial of Klaus Barbie, the "butcher of Lyon." "To forget would be an absolute injustice in the same way that Auschwitz was the absolute crime. To forget would be the enemy's final triumph." 11

Finally, telling the truth about the past, and therefore also remembering, has become particularly significant in societies that are in the process of transition from authoritarian regimes to democratic rule. The former East Germany is one example of such a society. A. James McAdams has analyzed well the debates about the significance of public access to the files of the former East German secret police, the so-called Stasi. 12 In terms of public impact, however, the most significant case highlighting the public importance of memory is the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

TRC was and remains controversial. Many people have observed that the TRC had essentially sacrificed retributive justice in order to get "truth;" they gave amnesty to whoever witnessed and confessed to political crimes associated with the apartheid regime. Many people have reacted negatively to this approach, claiming that the criminals could just confess and receive a pat on the back from TRC. I think the situation is more complex than this. But whatever your judgment of that particular issue, the most significant aspect of TRC is this underscoring of the importance of truth, especially the importance of truth for victims. In the words of André de Toit, TRC provided page 67 the victims "a public space and recognized 'tell their own stories,' rooted in diverse local and communal settings and to have them officially acknowledged." 13 For the victims, truth commissions can provide appropriate forums and procedures for the particularized restoration of their human and civic dignity. Strictly speaking, the actual pain and suffering involved in past political atrocities and gross human rights violations can never be undone. The victims of political killings cannot be brought back to life, nor can the harm and trauma of torture and abuse somehow be negated. What can be done, though, is publicly to restore the civic and human dignity of those victims precisely by acknowledging the truth of what was done to them. This was the function and purpose of the victims' hearings where people were enabled to tell their own stories and to have them publicly acknowledged in nonadversarial procedures. 14

The importance of remembering, especially remembering evils suffered and perpetrated, has become so culturally pervasive that even post-structuralist thinkers, who generally argue for the impossibility of restoring the past in anything close to its actuality, insist on the need to remember. Edith Wyschogrod's book, An Ethics of Remembering, is a very good example of this.

"Remember!" we are commanded, first, because without such memory we will never have a healthy and rich sense of identity. "Remember," second, because we have a debt of honor to those who have suffered in the past; to forget their suffering is to add insult to injury. "Remember," third, because we must protect the innocent in the future; if perpetrators can count on quick forgetting, they will conclude that we are indifferent to their misdeeds. The injunction "remember" is repeated today almost like a drumbeat, by psychologists and novelists, by historians and philosophers, by cultural critics and politicians. But is memory such an unambiguous good?"

Ambiguity of Memory

As we rightly extol the virtues of remembering evil committed and suffered, we seem to have forgotten its potential vices. Memories of evil suffered and committed are highly ambiguous. Instead of elaborating this point in more theoretical terms, I will simply give some examples (which are not hard to find in the contemporary world). A major justification given by Serbian academic and political leaders for their recent wars against Albanians, Bosnians, and Croats, and for the atrocities committed in these wars, was their own past suffering. Did Serbs not suffer persecution and death from the Croatian regime during the Second World War? Yes! Did they page 68 not endure 500 years of cruel Muslim rule during which the ancestors of Bosnians collaborated with the Turks against the Serbs? Yes! Were Albanians not squeezing them out of their own proper and historic Lebensraum, from their sacred land, which was full of sights and memories connecting them to their past glory? From the Serbs' perspective, the suffering they inflicted was meant partly to redress past injustices and partly to prevent them from being repeated. In this case, the invocation of memory transmuted acts of aggression into a search for justice and protection. On the other hand, Albanians and Croats have their own memories that clash with those of the Serbians. These memories, too, were invoked in the struggle against the Serbs. Even now, after the war, it is telling that most indicted war criminals were hailed as heroes in their respective countries!

Examples of such misuses of memory could be multiplied. Think of the comment made by Israelis and Palestinians during the negotiations of March 1988: "In order to begin to speak, we must put the past into parenthesis." In Northern Ireland, until quite recently, the Catholic nationalists and the Protestant loyalists were declaring their wish to "not forget and not forgive," and almost every day added new names to the list of the victims of violence, all of which in turn provoked repressive counterviolence. This is the problem of the ambiguity of memory. In the modern world, one seems entitled to conclude that the cult of memory rarely serves good causes.

In conclusion, memory is essential to our individual and collective identity, health, and safety, yet memory also serves to legitimize violence and therefore is a source of conflict. Memory is ambiguous. If memory is profoundly important, and at the same time dangerous, then it is essential to explore ways to disambiguate memory. How should we pursue salutary ways of remembering? What does it take to remember well, to remember in redeeming rather than destructive ways? How can we help transform memory into a bridge between enemies, so that they can become a reconciled community? How do we practice what I have described as "love's memory"? I will attempt to answer these questions in my second lecture.


1. E. L. Doctorow, City of God (New York: Plume, 2001), p. 178.
2. Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the late Modern Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), p. 33.
3. Milan Kundera, Identity (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), p. 46.
4. Jan Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedächtnis. Schrift: Erinnerung und politische Identitaet in fruehen Hochhulturen (Muenchen: Verlag C. H. Beck, 1992).
5. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 1.
6. Ibid., p. 305.
7. Ibid., p. 304.
8. Friedrich Nietzsche, "The Utility and Liability of History," in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, vol. II, ed. Ernst Behler (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 87.
9. Tzvetan Todorov, "The Abuses of Memory," Common Knowledge 5 (1996), p. 6.
10. Elie Wiesel, From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences (New York: Summit Books, 1990), p. 239.
11. Ibid., p. 187.
12. See also A. James McAdams, Judging the Past in Unified Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
13. André de Toit, "The Moral Foundations of the South African TRC: Truth as Acknowledgment and Justice as Recognition," in Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions, ed. Robert I. Rotberg and Dennis Thompson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 132.
14. Ibid., p. 134.