Obituary of Nils Christie

           Nils Christie


With great sadness we learned that on 27 May, 2015, Nils Christie unexpectedly passed away at the age of 87.

Nils Christie was one of the most important independent criminological thinkers and an icon of the restorative justice movement. His epoch-making works “Conflicts as Property“ (1977) and “Limits to Pain” (1981) have become influential texts of restorative justice.

With the death of Nils Christie the European Forum for Restorative also lost a friend. We were honoured to have him as one of the key note speakers at our conference in Helsinki in 2012. His particular way of story telling is still in the hearts of the participants. He was loved by many scholars in the world. It is a big loss.

The European Forum for Restorative Justice will continue to honour his memory and work.

We invite everybody to share memories and feelings with us at [email protected]. All contributions will be collected and can be visited on this page of our website: see below.

The funeral will take place in Oslo on 10 June at 12 o’ clock. We invite our restorative justice community to observe two minutes of silence when the funeral begins.

Find here more information from the University of Oslo on this sad news, or hear Nils Christie’s voice in two interviews (1 and 2) given during the 7th international conference  of the EFRJ (Helsinki, 14-16 June 2012). This event is one of the many things for which the EFRJ will remember him.


Contributions from the EFRJ members in memory of Nils Christie

Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution shares the sadness at the loss of the great pioneer Nils Christie with all his friends around the world,  and the gratefullness of his vital teachings. Our work and our way of looking at conflicts is deeply inspired by his work and original thinking.
Else Hammerich
Co-founder and senior advisor of Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution”

“On behalf of the Albanian Foundation for Conflict Resolution Foundation and Reconciliation of Disputes, I would like to express our deepest regrets for the sudden loss of Prof. Nils Christie. It is the loss of a prominent personality of criminology, mediation and restorative justice.
Prof. Christie was a friend of Albania, and he has irreplaceable contribution in establishing the foundations for professional modern mediation in Albania. Many Albanian jurists, judges, mediators and others will long remember Prof. Christie for his powerful messages in the conferences organized in Tirana, in the meetings, talks, trainings and mutual visits in Norway and Albania.
We express our deepest condolences to the family of Prof. Christie.
Best regards,
Rasim Gjoka
Director Albania Foundation for Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation of Disputes (AFCR)”

“The ideas and positions of Nils Christie were so fresh and young that it is almost impossible to believe that his creativity and productivity has suddenly been stopped. I feel an ongoing thankfulness for the inspirations, which still come from his articles and lectures.
Arthur Hartmann [HfÖV, Bremen]”
“Dear friends,
Receive my deep condolences on behalf all CEP family.
With my warmest regards
Marc Cerón
CEP President [Confederation of European Probation]”

“Thank you. I am feeling so saddened by this news.
Belinda [Transforming Conflict, UK]”
Our students in the Criminology degree in San Sebastián (Basque Country, Spain) will keep reading Nils Christie and, through that miraculous process of reading classical and challenging works, they will maintain a dialogue with his ideas and thoughts. We all thank him for that encounter beyond time and space.
Gema Varona, senior researcher at the Basque Institute of Criminology and coordinator of the Criminology degree of the University of the Basque Country [Basque Institute of Criminology of the University of the Basque Country]
Besides his brilliant contributions to restorative justice, Nils was a generous and compassionate person. I never met him in person, but we communicated by email and he once sent me a draft of a paper he was working on describing some new ideas related to a discussion we had. While some of us are so busy we do not return emails, especially to unknowns, I think Nils believed everyone was special. He was at the top of his field and highly respected while he was also kindhearted, and not “too busy” even for the less popular. He will be missed, but his lessons are never-ending. “The heart grieves for what is lost while the spirit rejoices for what remains.” Sufi saying [Lorenn Walker, Hawai’i]”
Farewell to Nils
“A warrior wears armour, a lover flowers.
They are equipped according to expectations of what is to happen,
and their equipment increases chances that their expectations will prove right.
So also with the institution of penal law.”
This is one of the many quotes that made Nils Christie so famous, not only in his own Norway, but far beyond.
The quote has helped me to better understand what criminology is: the study of different ways of thinking, talking, doing about crime and conflict, and dealing with their causes and consequences in society. It is about ‘how institutions guide our thinking’, but the existence of the quote itself and the insight behind it prove that we are able to think, and to re-think, our institutions. Nils Christie was a real criminologist, with a vision as no one else. He was a critical criminologist – as criminologists should be in their daily challenges when working with ‘victims’, ‘offenders’, ‘justice systems’, ‘communities’, … where paradoxically enough pain is delivered as a reaction to suffering. But Nils didn’t like words as ‘victim’ and ‘offender’, he even didn’t like the word ‘justice’ and even not ‘restorative justice’. He was so much concerned that naming be blaming, that ordinary people would be excluded through new and sophisticated form of control.
The writings of Nils Christie have been an eye-opener for so many people worldwide. He had the knowledge, and the pen, to present his ideas in a simple and clear but extremely strong and convincing way. No surprise that ‘Conflicts as property’ is one of the most cited articles in social sciences ever. Whom of us has not referred to this source in his/her master thesis, reports, newsletters or articles?
But, if Nils was such a convincing social scientist, this was not just because of his job and his merits as an academic. This was also because of his warm personality. Although very critical, he was always extremely supportive and understanding for people, and he showed a strong personal respect. How many times I have witnessed this, meeting Nils in places all around. Do you remember his positive-critical intervention at the conference of the European Forum in Helsinki in 2012, together with the other seniors of the movement Martin Wright and Ezzat Fattah? Are we now loosing this critical and supportive generation?
‘Handling conflicts’ – as Nils preferred to call it – in a restorative way is a way of being. This finds its ground in a common feeling of human beings, in a world of deep solidarity, where people connect to each other, and to themselves. This is the point where we can find support, in order to deal with pain, to survive, to ‘contrast’ pain. This is a point above Hell, as Nils wrote in 1981 at the end of ‘Limits to pain’ (“High time that criminology pay more attention to heaven”): he was talking about the secret thread in our lives, which cannot be put into words, which we cannot possess but which we long for during all our life. What is it, that we can never reach?
“But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled in to the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say: “Here at least is the thing I was made for”. We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”
Farewell, Nils, we don’t lose the thread.
10 June 2015 [Prof. Dr. Ivo Aertsen, Director KU Leuven Institute of Criminology (LINC)]”