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Shunning is the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from an individual or group. It is a sanction against association often associated with religious groups and other tightly-knit organisations and communities. Shunning has a long history as a means of organisational influence and control. Extreme forms of shunning and related practices have rendered the general practice controversial in some circles.



Shunning can be broken down into behaviours and practices that seek to accomplish either or both of two primary goals.

  1. To modify the behaviour of a member. This approach seeks to influence, encourage, or coerce normative behaviours from members. It may, conversely, seek to dissuade, provide disincentives for, or to compel avoidance of certain behaviours. In this context shunning may include disassociation from the member by other members of the community who are in good standing. It may also include more antagonistic psychological behaviours (described below). This approach may be seen as either corrective or punitive (or both) by the group membership or leadership, and may also be intended as a deterrent.
  2. To remove or limit the influence of a member (or former member) over other members in a community. This approach may seek to isolate, to discredit, or otherwise dis-empower such a member, often in the context of actions or positions advocated by that member. For groups with clearly defined membership criteria, especially criteria based on key behaviours or ideological precepts, this approach may be seen as limiting damage to the community or its leadership. This is often paired with some form of excommunication.

Some less often practiced variants may seek to:

  • Remove a specific member from general external influence, so as to provide an ideological or psychological buffer against external views or behaviour. The extent can vary from severing ties to opponents of the group up to and including severing all non-group-affiliated intercourse.

Shunning is usually approved of (if sometimes with regret) by the group engaging in the shunning, and usually highly disapproved-of by the target of the shunning. This certainly results in a polarization of views. Those subject to the practice respond differently, usually depending both on the circumstances of the event, and the nature of the practices being applied. However, more extreme forms of shunning have caused substantial damage to individuals' psychological and relational health. As such, extreme responses to the practice have evolved, primarily around anti-shunning advocacy. Such advocates highlight the detrimental effects of many of the mentioned behaviours, and seek to limit their practice either through pressure or law. Such groups will often also operate supportive organizations or institutions, to help those subjected to shunning to recover from some of the worst effects. These groups will also, sometimes, attack the organizations practicing shunning directly, as a part of their advocacy.

In many civil societies, variants of shunning are practiced either de-facto or de-jure, to coerce or avert behaviours or associations deemed unhealthy. This can include:

  • restraining orders or peace bonds (to avoid abusive relationships)
  • court injunctions to sever associations (to avoid criminal association or temptation)
  • medical or psychological instruction to avoid association (to avoid hazardous relations, i.e. alcoholics being instructed to avoid friendship with non-recovering alcoholics, or asthmatics being medically instructed to keep to smoke-free environs)

These effects are seen as positive by society, though often not by the affected parties.


Shunning is often used as a pejorative term to describe any organizationally mandated disassociation, and has acquired a connotation of abuse and relational aggression. This is due to the sometimes extreme damage caused by its disruption to normal relationships between individuals, such as friendships and family relations. Disruption of established relationships certainly causes pain, which is at least an unintended consequence of the practices described here, though it may also in many cases be an intended, coercive consequence. This pain, especially when seen as unjustly inflicted, can have secondary general psychological effects on self-worth and self-confidence, trust and trustworthiness, and can, as with other types of trauma, impair psychological function.

Shunning often involves implicit or explicit shame for a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group or its leadership. Such shame may not be psychologically damaging if the membership is voluntary and the rules of behaviour clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, the group membership seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules are inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or various tools of psychological pressure applied. Extremes of this cross over the line into psychological torture and can be permanently scarring.

A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunnee, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.

Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.

Civil rights implications

Some aspects of shunning may also be seen as being at odds with civil rights or human rights, especially those behaviours that coerce and attack. When a group seeks to have an effect, through such practices, outside its own membership — for instance when a group seeks to cause financial harm through isolation and disassociation — they can come at odds with their surrounding civil society, if such society enshrines rights such as freedom of association, conscience, or belief. Many civil societies, however, do not extend such protections to the internal operations of communities or organizations, so long as an ex-member has the same rights, prerogatives, and power as any other member of the civil society.

Conversely, in cases where a group or religion is state-sanctioned (e. g. in communist states), a key power, or in the majority (Singapore), a shunned former member may face especially severe social, political, and/or financial costs. Some, including researchers of mind control, brainwashing and menticide groups, identify the practice with "cult-like" or totalitarian behaviour.

Specific practices in religious organizations

Shunning in Christian denominations

Several passages in the New Testament suggest shunning as a practice of early Christians, and are cited as such by its modern-day practitioners within Christianity. As with many Biblical teachings, however, not all Christian scholars or denominations agree on this interpretation of these verses.

1Corinthians 5:11–13

: But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you."

Matthew 18:15–17

: If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

2Thessalonians 3:6

: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

2Thessalonians 3:14–15

: If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Romans 16:17

: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.

2John 10–11

, NASB: If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

Policies governing the use of shunning vary from one organization to another.

Catholic Church

Prior to the Code of Canon Law of 1983, the Catholic Church expected in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the faithful to shun an excommunicated member in secular matters. In 1983, the distinction between vitandi and others (tolerandi) was abolished, and thus the expectation is not made any more.

Anabaptists: Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites

Some sects of Anabaptist origin shun former members.

Shunning occurs today in Old Order Amish and in some Mennonite churches. Shunning can be particularly painful for the shunnee in these denominations since they are generally very close-knit, and since the shunned person may have no significant social links with anyone other than those in their denomination.

The Amish call shunning Meidung, the German word for avoidance. As described in the article on the Amish, shunning was a key issue of disagreement in the Amish-Mennonite split and it is continued in contemporary practice. Former Amish woman Ruth Irene Garrett tells the story of Amish shunning in her community from the shunnee's perspective in Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life. Amish shunning is also the subject of popular fiction novels about shunning. Amish differ considerably from community to community in the severeness and strictness of the shunning.

Some very conservative Mennonite churches use shunning to exclude, punish, and shame excommunicated members. Mainstream and progressive Mennonites do not shun, or use much less extreme forms of shunning. Those Mennonites, who shun, do so by condemning, snubbing, and shaming excommunicants in all social, spousal and familial contacts without regard for family ties. Shunning by all church members begins upon excommunication and is continued until the excommunicant either dies or repents.

The Mennonite Ban or excommunication does not usually involve shunning, but only a ban from participation in communion. A few Mennonite groups do however practice shunning, or have in the past. In some cases members spouses must shun their shunned spouses with refusal to dine with, with refusal to sleep with the one being shunned. The excommunicants closest family members also shun him or her in all ongoing social contacts if the family members are church members. Since shunning damages and often destroys the excommunicant's closest bonds, it has been called "one of the cruelest punishments known to man" by a shunned Mennonite excommunicant and "a living hell of torture" by a shunning Mennonite member and father-in-law (see Delivered Unto Satan below).

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses practice an extreme form of shunning and refer to it as "disfellowshipping". A disfellowshipped person is not to be greeted either socially or at their meetings. Shunning is not required in the case of disfellowshipped members living in the same household, although in this case the remaining members will not usually discuss spiritual matters with the disfellowshipped one. Family members are not to be spoken to once they leave home except in emergencies. There are a number of reasons that a person may be disfellowshipped, with fornication and disagreeing with the religion's doctrines being two of the most common enforced. The organization points to passages in the Bible (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), such as those mentioned above, to support this practice. See Beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses#Disfellowshipping and External Links below.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

There is no formal process of shunning in the LDS church. For those who have committed serious sin, disfellowshipment or excommunication are the most serious actions taken by the church. These are meant to encourage repentance; it is church policy that such individuals should continue to attend church meetings and associate with members. While being disfellowshipped or excommunicated sometimes has social ramifications, church members are strongly encouraged to welcome and assist excommunicants in whatever way possible in hopes of shepherding them back into full communion.

Other Protestant groups

In some Protestant groups or churches, shunning goes by other terms, such as disfellowshipping or "marking," based on the King James Version of Romans 16:17, which says to "...mark them which cause divisions...." Some groups perceive any disagreement with their teachings or leadership as being divisive, or even having a "demonic" influence and use shunning as a means of ensuring all church members' absolute submission to church leadership. Some use the so-called "Moses Principle" as a justification to shun any dissenters.

Shunning in Judaism

Main article: Cherem

Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Except in rare cases in the Ultra-Orthodox community, the practice of cherem ceased after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy and Jews were legally enfranchized into the gentile nations in which they lived.

Shunning in Hare Krishna

Shunning in the ISKCON, the NRM commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, is called "banning" by its members. When members are banned, they are no longer permitted entry to ISKCON properties (temples), and other members are warned that if they communicate with these shunned members, they too will be treated the same way. Throughout the 30-year history of the movement, hundreds of members have been punished in this way by the leaders, specifically because they have chosen to learn about Gaudiya Vaisnavism from the teachings of Gaudiya Vaisnava gurus who are not gurus within the ISKCON movement.[How to reference and link to summary or text] These non-ISKCON gurus are usually elderly Indian masters, as opposed to the relatively youthful and usually American ISKCON gurus. Banned members may be re-instated in ISKCON if they formally apologise to the leaders concerned, and declare they will no longer listen to or learn from non-ISKCON gurus. Banning has caused wide rifts in the Hare Krishna movement, and now many former ISKCON members practice their faith discreetly within mainstream society because of it. Less severe punishments are enforced within the movement for transgressions such as child abuse.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Shunning in the Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Covenant breaker

Members of the Bahá'í Faith are expected to shun those that have been declared Covenant-breakers by the head of their faith.[1] Covenant-breakers are defined as the leaders of schismatic groups that resulted from challenges to legitimacy of Bahá'í leadership, as well as those who follow them, or who refuse to shun these. Since unity is the highest value in the Bahá'í Faith, any attempt at schism by a Bahá'í is considered a spiritual sickness, and a negation of what the religion stands for.[2] People so-declared are not considered Bahá'ís by the mainstream.

The extent of the disassociation is limited. For example, unavoidable contact resulting from business arrangements does not necessarily constitute a contravention of the shunning requirement. Similarly, a Bahá'í who administers an online forum may interact with Covenant-breakers who are members of such a forum, with respect to his duties as an administrator.[3] Shoghi Effendi expressed a similar perspective. The common theme is that the Bahá'í should limit his contact to the particular transaction or business at-hand and not be drawn into discussion that would allow the offender to advance his ideas. This certainly applies to fora such as Wikipedia talk pages. Given the above-stated purpose of this shunning is as a protection from the spread of a "spiritual disease", and not as a form of punishment for the so-named covenant-breaker, the Bahá'í practice of shunning seems to be designed in such a way that limits the material penalty normally associated with shunning by a community. In practice, however, many Bahá'ís may not be aware of the limits expressed above.

Bahá'ís are not required to practice shunning for purely moral or legal lapses, or against those who simply leave the religion. The flagrant and unrepentant violation of Bahá'í laws and standards of conduct can result in the loss of administrative rights, which prevents an individual from offering contributions to the funds of the Faith, vote or be elected to office in community elections, or obtain marriage or divorce within the religion, etc. They may, however, attend any public gathering, are still considered members, and Bahá'ís need not shun such members. Very occasionally, Bahá'ís are expelled due merely to a variance in belief. In such cases the beliefs depart fundamentally from Bahá'í teachings and, upon investigation, they were found never to have conformed to Bahá'í belief. They are considered to have never been Bahá'ís, because they did not ever accept the Bahá'í beliefs. This is not considered synonymous to covenant-breaking, and such former members are not subject to shunning.

Bahá'ís are not expected to shun non-Bahá'ís. Contrarily, they are expected to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship."

European Pagan and Neo-Pagan Groups

Nithing Among Asatruar

Oathbreakers and other criminals in the Asatru faith can be marked on a website, or a nithing pole can be erected on the offender's business or residential property. Traditionally, the pole was carved with runes describing the offense and topped with a decapitated horse's head.

Wiccan Reculement

Reculement is a provision of British Traditional Wiccan faiths that allows elders to repudiate an oath-breaker. Rarely used, most often in cases that involve "outing" closeted Wiccans.

Disconnection in the Church of Scientology

For more details on this topic, see Disconnection.

The Church of Scientology asks its members to quit all communication with people the Church deems are perpetually antagonistic to Scientology. The practice of shunning in Scientology is termed disconnection. Members can disconnect with parents, children, spouses, and friends. The Church teaches that typically only people with "false data" about Scientology are antagonistic, so it encourages members to first attempt to provide "true data" to these people. If providing this data does not stop the antagonistic behaviour, then disconnection is encouraged as a last resort.[1]

Shunning in literature

Shunning is a subject in popular as well as arcane literature.

See also


  1. Church of Scientology What is Disconnection? ( copy of website accessed 4/19/06)
  • Scott, Stephen (1996), An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Good Books: Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
  • Encyclopedia of American Religions, by J. Gordon Melton ISBN 0-8103-6904-4
  • Friesen, Patrick, The Shunning (Mennonite fiction), 1980, ISBN 0-88801-038-9

Further reading

  • McCowan, Karen, The Oregon Register-Guard, Cast Out: Religious Shunning Provides an Unusual Background in the Longo and Bryant Slayings, March, 2, 2003.
  • D'anna, Lynnette, Post-Mennonite Women Congregate to Discuss Abuse, Herizons, 3/01/93.
  • Esua, Alvin J., and Esau Alvin A.J., The Courts and the Colonies: The Litigation of Hutterite Church Disputes, Univ of British Columbia Press, 2004.
  • Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life, Ruth Irene Garret, Rick Farrant
  • Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, Martha Beck, Mar 2005.
  • Delivered Unto Satan (Mennonite), Robert L. Bear, 1974, (ASIN B0006CKXQI)
  • Children Held Hostage: Dealing with Programmed and Brainwashed Children, Stanley S. Clawar, Brynne Valerie Rivlin, 2003.
  • Deviance, Agency, and the Social Control of Women's Bodies in a Mennonite Community, Linda B. Arthur, NWSA Journal, v10.n2 (Summer 1998): pp75(25).

External links

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