Trauma-Informed Ethics

Title: “Bearing Witness as Social Action: Religious Ethics and Trauma-Informed Response”

Written from a standpoint of religious ethics, this article interprets the work of trauma response and recovery in transcendent and moral terms not always apparent to the practitioner or institution. The article provides a broad understanding of spirituality, transcendence, and faith as these concepts relate to Judith Herman’s stages of trauma healing and the characteristics of trauma-informed response articulated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These features are then mapped onto specific modes of transcendence and moral themes identifiable in a wide range of religious traditions. The connective framework for this mapping is provided by utilizing the concept “bearing witness,” as synthesized from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, to describe the work of trauma-informed response. The article concludes by recognizing bearing witness as a form of social action, a moral response with implied if not explicit religious dimensions and spiritual implications, for which an understanding of religious ethics is a helpful ally. Thus, this article concludes that religious ethics can be a valuable resource and partner in addressing the personal, systemic, and political aspects of trauma response and recovery, enabling attention to spiritual well-being of both the trauma survivor and the one responding to the survivor.

Keywords: psychological trauma; trauma-informed care; interpersonal trauma; spirituality; bearing witness; religious ethics; solidarity; social action; Judith Herman; relational model; pro-cess theology

Table: Bearing Witness in Four Moments

Perspectival MomentMode of TranscendenceMoral Theme  Practices of Social Action  Trauma-informed Response (SAMHSA)Stages of Trauma Recovery (Judith Herman)
I. Existence    recognitiondignitygrounded beingrealize  overcoming relational barriers
II. Present    empathyloveattentive presencerecognize (identify and name)safety
III. Past    memoryjusticehistorical clarityrespondreconstruction of narrative
IV. Future    imaginationsolidaritymeaningful participationresistreconnection and restoration

Related Publications

Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship. New York: United Methodist Women, October 2020. ISBN: 9781952501043.

“Trauma-Informed Pedagogy for the Religious and Theological Higher Education Classroom.” Special issue Reflecting on the Possibilities of Religious Education Research. Religions 11, no. 9 (2020): 449. doi:10.3390/rel11090449.

“Reenvisioning Christian Ethics: An Introduction and Invitation.” In Religions 2020, 11(2), 74;