Special Issue "Religious Beliefs and the Morality of Payback"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 August 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Diana Fritz Cates

Department of Religious Studies, 314 Gilmore Hall, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: religious ethics and moral psychology; virtue and vice; emotion; bioethics; Thomistic ethical tradition

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Many people across diverse cultures believe that, just as one good turn deserves another, so a wrongful injury deserves payback (Atwood 2008). How shall we assess the desire to inflict pain on someone as payment for the pain they caused us? Does such a desire reflect a commitment to justice? Or is it an expression of sadism? What impact do people’s religious beliefs have on the ways they think about payback and evaluate the desire to carry it out?

In Anger and Forgiveness, Martha Nussbaum argues that the emotion of anger includes the thought that it would be good if the person who injured us were to suffer for what he or she did. Anger includes more specifically the thought that the suffering of the offender (whether at our hands or, less directly, at the hands of others or simply at the hands of fate) would compensate for our suffering. It would give us back something of value that we lost. Or it would restore a cosmic balance that was set off-kilter by the injury. Nussbaum argues that such thoughts are irrational. Granted, it can be rational to punish a wrongdoer, and punishment is generally painful; but the idea that the pain inflicted on us can be paid for in the currency of the offender’s pain is irrational. It is an expression of magical thinking. The world simply doesn’t work this way (Nussbaum 2016).

Or does it? Many religions teach that some principle, powers, or factors at work in the universe make it possible for victims to recover important goods or enjoy due compensation for wrongful injuries. These forces may also require that an offender (or a substitute) suffer as payment for the suffering that he or she caused others.

This Special Issue of Religions concerns the ways in which religious beliefs can affect how people think and feel about the moral value of payback for wrongful injuries. Essays may be descriptive, analytical, historical, or constructive. They may focus on one or more traditions. They may be anthropological, philosophical, theological, literary–theoretical, or mixed in method; but, in any case, they should include critical analysis of underexamined links between religious accounts of the way the world really works (Reeder 1997) and moral judgments or sensibilities regarding payback. While the focus is on whether the desire for payback is worth consenting to, analyses of related actions may also be appropriate. The purpose of this volume is to demonstrate the usefulness of the multi-disciplinary study of religion and morality for assessing possibly problematic cultural practices (Miller 2016).

Prof. Dr. Diana Fritz Cates
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  1. Atwood, Margaret. 2008 Payback. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.
  2. Miller, Richard B. 2016 Friends and Other Strangers. New York: Columbia University Press.
  3. Nussbaum, Martha C. 2016 Anger and Forgiveness. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Reeder, Jr., John P. 1997 What is a Religious Ethic? Journal of Religious Ethics 25.3: 157-181.


  • Religious Beliefs
  • Morality
  • Payback
  • Desire
  • Justice
  • Sadism
  • Ethics

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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