Thesis Christ: The Philosophy of Forgiveness

Photo Courtesy of Angela Ma

As the spring semester is kicking off, senior theses are starting to take a more definitive shape. This week, philosophy major Angela Ma (she/her) spoke with the Quest about her thesis’s deep dive into the concept of forgiveness and how her testimonial evidence is taking a turn away from the academic norm.

Ma’s research is primarily concerned with thinking about forgiveness on a personal level. Ma chose to request testimonials from her family members about their own experiences with forgiveness. She received many letters that were deeply individual and personal, most of which were in the context of the Ma family. She followed up these letters with one-on-one conversations in order to expand upon the emotions and thought processes taking place. She strove to draw from these real-world experiences and relationships rather than using any hypothetical exercises. 

Her thesis asks many questions. How can the philosophy of forgiveness respond to cultural ideas of forgiveness? Is forgiveness resistant to theory? Can one define the preconditions of forgiveness? Ma attempts to answer these questions using her testimonials as real-world evidence.

Ma was already interested in thoughts surrounding forgiveness as a thesis topic. However, that interest in the topic became more acute due to her observations of her own family’s interactions with forgiveness. Ma spent the 2020-2021 school year in China to be closer to family, and with that proximity, thoughts about forgiveness began to branch into conversations about generational trauma. She started to put a more concentrated effort into learning about and understanding her family history. She asked her family to send her their thoughts about forgiveness, and she analyzed them. It was then that her thesis started to take shape as an analysis of personal accounts of forgiveness.

Several professors and classes have supported Ma’s research. Professor Margaret Elizabeth Scharle’s class Disability and Aging taught her the importance of testimonials in philosophy as opposed to the “armchair philosophy” that is more popular in academic environments. Professor Hyong Rhew supported Ma’s interest in eastern philosophy and helped develop her thoughts around forgiveness. Professor Troy Cross is her thesis advisor.

Ma is interested in obtaining a law degree and is currently applying to law schools. She is unsure whether or not she wants to go into litigation or take the legal academia route but is excited to find out. She encourages any Reed community members to reach out to her if they would like to talk about the concept of forgiveness and what it means to them.

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