Forest Finds
Theory & Practice

The powers that shape our stories.

What if the stories we tell, steeped in themes of agency, redemption, communion, and contamination, are not just narratives, but the essence of our identity?

Those we care for are constantly revising and editing how they talk about the past, present, and future. It’s through storytelling that careseekers make sense of the world. As chaplains, we are there to listen intently to these narratives, synthesize the content, and occasionally provide thematic feedback to assist. Dan McAdams, a Northwestern University professor, specializes in a concept he calls “narrative identity,” which proposes that there are four major narrative themes in our lives that keep rotating through our stories: agency, redemption, communion, and contamination. Each theme is foundational in American culture, yet manifests in a person’s narrative based on social location, age, and the storytelling moment.

The Self as a Story Dan McAdams

Monmouth College Convocation

Center for the Study of Lives: Instruments  —The Study of Lives Research Group

Watch this film: See if you can identify examples of agency, redemption, communion and contamination in the short film Tuesday Afternoon  – New York Times


As you engage in conversations with careseekers, listen for themes of agency, redemption, contamination and communion. What happens when you put a spotlight on these themes as careseekers search for meaning?