Shunning can be the act of social rejection, or emotional distance. In a religious context, shunning is a formal decision by a denomination or a congregation to cease interaction with an individual or a group, and follows a particular set of rules. It differs from, but may be associated with, excommunication.

Social rejection occurs when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all members of the group as a form of solidarity. It is a sanction against association, often associated with religious groups and other tightly knit organizations and communities. Targets of shunning can include persons who have been labeled as apostates, whistleblowers, dissidents, strikebreakers, or anyone the group perceives as a threat or source of conflict. Social rejection has been established to cause psychological damage and has been categorized as torture[1] or punishment.[2] Mental rejection is a more individual action, where a person subconsciously or willfully ignores an idea, or a set of information related to a particular viewpoint. Some groups are made up of people who shun the same ideas.[3]

Social rejection was and is a punishment in many customary legal systems. Such sanctions include the ostracism of ancient Athens and the still-used kasepekang in Balinese society.


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, and may seek to dissuade, provide disincentives for, or to compel avoidance of certain behaviours. Shunning may include disassociating from a member by other members of the community who are in good standing. It may 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 defined membership criteria, especially 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 to provide an ideological or psychological buffer against external views or behaviour. The amount 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, resulting 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. Extreme forms of shunning have damaged some individuals' psychological and relational health. Responses to the practice have developed, mostly around anti-shunning advocacy; such advocates highlight the detrimental effects of many of such behaviors, and seek to limit the practice through pressure or law. Such groups often operate supportive organizations or institutions to help victims of shunning to recover from damaging effects, and sometimes to attack the organizations practicing shunning, as a part of their advocacy.

In many civil societies, kinds of shunning are practiced 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 disassociate (to avoid criminal association or temptation)
  • medical or psychological instructing to avoid associating (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)
  • using background checks to avoid hiring people who have criminal records (to avoid association with felons, even when the crimes have nothing to do with the job description)

Stealth shunningEdit

Stealth shunning is a practice where a person or an action is silently banned. When a person is silently banned, the group they have been banned from does not interact with them. This can be done by secretly distributing a blacklist announcing the person's wrongdoing.[4]

It can happen informally when all people in a group or email list each conclude that they do not want to interact with the person. When an action is silently banned, requests for that action are either ignored or refused with faked explanations.[5][6][7][8][9]


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 behavior were clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, if the group membership is seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules is inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or certain 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 shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.[citation needed]

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.

Shunning is also a mechanism in family estrangement. When an adult child, sibling, or parent physically and/or emotionally cuts himself off from the family without proper justification, the act traumatizes the family.[10]

Civil rights implicationsEdit

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 a society enshrines rights such as freedom of association, conscience, or belief. Many civil societies 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.

In cases where a group or religion is state-sanctioned, a key power, or in the majority (e.g. in Singapore), a shunned former member may face severe social, political, and/or financial costs.

In religionEdit


Passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Corinthians 5:11–13 and Matthew 18:15–17, suggest shunning as an internal practice of early Christians and are cited as such by its modern-day practitioners within Christianity. However, not all Christian scholars or denominations agree on this interpretation of these verses. Douglas A. Jacoby interprets 1 Corinthians 5:11 and Titus 3:9–11 as evidence that members can be excluded from fellowship for matters perceived within the church as grave sin without a religiously acceptable repentance.[11]


Certain sects of the Amish—an Anabaptist community—practice shunning or meidung.[12] Historically, the Schwarzenau Brethren practiced a form of shunning that they called "avoidance," a refusal to eat with even a family member whom the church had placed in "avoidance."[13]


Prior to the Code of Canon Law of 1983, in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the Catholic Church expected adherents 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 anymore.[14]

Jehovah's WitnessesEdit

Jehovah's Witnesses practise a form of shunning which they refer to as "disfellowshipping".[15] A disfellowshipped person is not to be greeted either socially or at their meetings. Disfellowshipping follows a decision of a judicial committee established by a local congregation that a member is unrepentantly guilty of a "serious sin".

Sociologist Andrew Holden's research indicates that many Witnesses who would otherwise defect because of disillusionment with the organization and its teachings retain affiliation out of fear of being shunned and losing contact with friends and family members.[16]


Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in the Jewish community. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. It is still used in the Ultra-Orthodox and Chassidic community. In the 21st century, sexual abuse victims and their families who have reported abuse to civil authorities have experienced shunning in the Orthodox communities of New York[17] and Australia.[18] Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to grant their wives a divorce are sometimes subject to shunning or shaming, as a form of social pressure intended to compel the husband to allow his wife to leave the marriage. This pressure can take the form of refusing to allow the husband to perform certain religious rituals in the synagogue, refusing his business in commerce, legal solutions such as restraining orders, and public shaming.[19][20]

Baháʼí faithEdit

Members of the Baháʼí Faith are expected to shun those that have been declared Covenant-breakers, and expelled from the religion,[21] by the head of their faith.[22] Covenant-breakers are defined as leaders of schismatic groups that resulted from challenges to legitimacy of Baháʼí leadership, as well as those who follow or refuse to shun them.[22] Unity is considered the highest value in the Baháʼí Faith, and any attempt at schism by a Baháʼí is considered a spiritual sickness, and a negation of that for which the religion stands.[22]

Church of ScientologyEdit

The Church of Scientology asks its members to quit all communication with Suppressive Persons (those whom the Church deems antagonistic to Scientology). The practice of shunning in Scientology is termed disconnection. Members can disconnect from any person they already know, including existing family members. Many examples of this policy's application have been established in court.[23][24][25] It used to be customary to write a "disconnection letter" to the person being disconnected from, and to write a public disconnection notice, but these practices have not continued.[26][27]

The Church states 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. According to official Church statements, disconnection is only used as a last resort and only lasts until the antagonism ceases.[28] Failure to disconnect from a Suppressive Person is itself labelled a Suppressive act.[29] In the United States, the Church has tried to argue in court that disconnection is a constitutionally protected religious practice. However, this argument was rejected because the pressure put on individual Scientologists to disconnect means it is not voluntary.[30]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Ojeda, Almerindo (September 30, 2006). "What is Psychological Torture?" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  2. ^ Haidt, J. (2007). "The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology" (PDF). Science. 316 (5827): 998–1002. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.1137651. PMID 17510357. S2CID 6161377. (read online) Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  3. ^ "Flat Earth Society". Archived from the original on November 13, 2009. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  4. ^ Graham, Ruth (February 10, 2012). "Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll faces backlash over church discipline case". Slate. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  5. ^ "now-letter-writing-stealth-ban-correction". Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  6. ^ "Minecraft: McSharp Server; Ranks". Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  7. ^ "stealth-ban". Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  8. ^ "Tactic: Stealth Ban". Archived from the original on April 6, 2016. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  9. ^ "How do you know if your Reddit account has been stealth banned?". Archived from the original on March 31, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  10. ^ Agllias, Kylie (September 2013). "Family Estrangement". Encyclopedia of Social Work. Subject: Couples and Families, Aging and Older Adults, Children and Adolescents. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.919. ISBN 9780199975839.
  11. ^ Jacoby, Douglas (2011). Your Bible Questions Answered: Clear, Concise, Compelling. Harvest House. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-7369-3074-1.
  12. ^ "Why do the Amish practice shunning?". Amish America.
  13. ^ Carl F Bowman (1995). Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 90-91.
  14. ^ Boudinhon, Auguste (1909). "Excommunication" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  15. ^ Holden 2002, pp. 32, 78-79.
  16. ^ Holden 2002, pp. 250–270.
  17. ^ Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse The New York Times, 9 May 2012
  18. ^ Rabbis' absolute power: how sex abuse tore apart Australia's Orthodox Jewish community The Guardian, 18 February 2015
  19. ^ Stomel, Rachel. "A prying shame: The public scrutiny of get refusers". The Times of Israel. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  20. ^ Lefkowitz Brooks, Jacob Joseph (August 29, 2019). "Rabbis, others demonstrate against 'get refuser' while he is sitting shiva". Shalhevet Boiling Point. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  21. ^ Van den Hoonaard, Willy Carl (1996). The origins of the Bahá'í community of Canada, 1898-1948. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-88920-272-6.
  22. ^ a b c Smith, P. (1999). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. pp. 114–116. ISBN 978-1-85168-184-6.
  23. ^ Judgement of Mr Justice Latey, Re: B & G (Minors) (Custody) Delivered in the High Court (Family Division), London, 23 July 1984
  24. ^ "Judge brands Scientology 'sinister' as mother is given custody of children". The Times. London. July 24, 1984. p. 3.
  25. ^ "News and Notes: Scientology Libel Action". British Medical Journal. 1 (5743): 297–298. January 30, 1971. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5743.297. ISSN 0007-1447. PMC 1794922. PMID 5294085.
  26. ^ Wallis, Roy (1976). The Road to Total Freedom: A Sociological Analysis of Scientology. London: Heinemann Educational Books. pp. 144–145. ISBN 978-0-435-82916-2. OCLC 310565311.
  27. ^ Hubbard, L. Ron (23 December 1965) HCO Policy Letter "Suppressive Acts" reproduced in Powles, Sir Guy Richardson; E. V. Dumbleton (June 30, 1969). Hubbard Scientology Organisation in New Zealand and any associated Scientology organisation or bodies in New Zealand; report of the Commission of Inquiry. Wellington. pp. 53–54. OCLC 147661.
  28. ^ What is Disconnection? (Accessed 5/29/11)
  29. ^ Hubbard, L. Ron (2007). Introduction to Scientology Ethics (Latin American Spanish ed.). Bridge Publications. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-4031-4684-7.
  30. ^ California appellate court, 2nd district, 7th division, Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology of California, Civ. No. B023193 Cal. Super. (1986)


Further readingEdit

  • 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, March 1, 1993.
  • 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
  • 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 linksEdit