A Reformation of Tears: Christianity and the Invention of Western Emotions


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project explores the contribution of medieval and early modern Christianity to the emergence of modern Western emotional norms. More specifically, it studies the ways in which Reformation thinkers grappled with the paradox of an omnipotent and omniscient being who had nevertheless experienced genuine human passions: What did it mean for God to feel? Did Jesus take on the entire range of human emotion, including those like envy or fear, or only the more positive ones? Could his emotions be spontaneous if he had foreseen all events from the beginning? This project explores the ways in which individuals and communities experimented with the boundaries of permissible feeling through sustained meditations on the figure of God, and demonstrates that modern assumptions about the emotions borrow heavily from non-secular (and specifically Christian) conceptions of self and morality.