Over the past couple of decades, a historically unusual concatenation of societies – Germany, Rwanda, Guatemala, South Africa, and so many others – has confronted the injustices of their past, ranging from systematic authoritarian suppressions to the mass atrocities of communal conflict. Words and images persist: defiant dictators in the docket at the trial of the century (of which the last century featured many), relatives facing the killers of their kin at truth commissions, debates over reparations, and typically a surrounding clamor of charges and countercharges: victors' justice, no justice, stunted justice, retributive justice, perverted justice, restorative justice, injustice. Occasionally, the clamor has yielded a long awaited just verdict, a head of state's healing speech, or a genuine expression of repentance and forgiveness, moments where “hope and history rhyme,” in the words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney.
In these diverse scenes, one often descries miters, beards, clerical robes, pectoral crosses, or clusters of women chanting prayers. In the politics of transitional justice, religion is often, though not always, involved. Journalists and chroniclers sometimes have made much of this involvement, but not usually scholars, few of whom have sought to chart it systematically (exceptions are Graybill, 2001; Vinjamuri and Boesenecker, forthcoming). To be sure, theologians have written about the ethics of transitions, many of them urging reconciliation and forgiveness (de Gruchy, 2003; Schreiter, 1998; Volf, 1996).