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Healing after Horror

Donald Miller of religion and sociology is examining the role of religion in the healing process of Rwandan genocide survivors.

By Susan Bell
July 7, 2014

Donald Miller, executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, housed in USC Dornsife, stands next to the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. Miller has gathered more than 260 survivor testimonies in some of his 16 visits to Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Donald Miller.

Donald Miller, executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, housed in USC Dornsife, stands next to the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. Miller has gathered more than 260 survivor testimonies in some of his 16 visits to Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Donald Miller.

Another Trojan leading the effort to document the genocide is Donald Miller, Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion, professor of religion and sociology at USC Dornsife, and executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC). Miller is writing a book based on 260 interviews with orphans and widows who survived the Rwandan genocide.

Miller, who has visited Rwanda 16 times and describes the country as a second home, began the project in 2001. The book’s working title is Silent Tears: Trauma, Healing and Hope in Post-Genocide Rwanda.

“The last 100 interviews, which were videotaped, focused on ways in which survivors have attempted to reconcile with perpetrators of the violence against them and in some instances actually forgive the killers,” Miller said.

He also asked survivors about the role of religion, during the genocide and later in their healing process. 

“Religion cuts both ways for survivors since priests sometimes collaborated with the killers,” he said. “Also, many survivors felt abandoned by God. And yet in the healing process, religion and the power of a loving community has sometimes been extremely important.”

During his last trip, Miller felt new hope emerging for Rwanda’s survivors.

“Some remain imprisoned by their past — and for understandable reasons. But many are having their vengeance on the perpetrators: They are succeeding. They are building new lives.”

 

Read about Kwibuka20, the ceremony led by the USC Shoah Foundation commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.