Conflicting Emotions in (early modern) Religion

Notes on a recent CHE Symposium on Feeling Exclusion in Early Modern Europe convened at The University of Melbourne by Giovanni Tarantino and Charles Zika, compiled by Giovanni Tarantino.  image_blog_1 On April 13, 1986 Pope John Paul II made an official visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, in what was the first ever visit by a pope to a place of Jewish worship. In his address to the Jewish community of Rome, the Pope alluded to the improvement of the relations between Jews and Christians brought about by the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions “Nostra Aetate” issued by the Second Vatican Council. He then said something which is of particular relevance to the topic of a recent symposium promoted by the Melbourne node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions ( The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ for us, but rather it is, in a certain way, ‘intrinsic’ to our religion. In this regard, therefore, we have affinities that we have with no other religion. You are our well-beloved brethren and, in a certain way, one could say our elder brothers. Amidst the widespread euphoria over John Paul II’s visit, it was left to the historian Carlo Ginzburg to point out that the term “elder brothers” is not just a bland expression of friendship, but refers to Romans 9:12: “The elder shall serve the younger. Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” By a sort of unintentional theological lapse, just as he was striving to blunt the edges of existing divisions between the two religious communities, John Paul II once again became entangled in the traditional theology of typological thinking: the elder brother Esau, standing for Judaism, has been superseded and replaced in the history of salvation by his younger brother Jacob, who represents the Christian Church (see “Pope Wojtyla’s Slip,” in C. Ginzburg, Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance (Verso, 2002)). I decided to introduce our symposium on “Feeling Exclusion in Early Modern Europe” with this intriguing insight by a historian who has done path-breaking work on the victims of Inquisitional persecution, in that it seems to me to graphically illustrate the way in which the internalization of a stereotypical representation of religious alterity, or alterity as a whole, is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in the process of building a more inclusive society – a society that does not wave the flag of identity as a weapon to separate insiders from outsiders, a society capable of engaging with and accepting diversity, with curiosity, humbleness and respect rather than with diffidence, fear, mockery and dismissiveness. The symposium set out to investigate the emotional strategies that contributed to or resisted the depositing of these stereotypes in culture and daily life in various European contexts between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, when, as a result of political and religious upheaval, an unprecedented number of people were forced to flee from their native lands, to live in a state of internal exile and to devise strategies of dissimulation and secrecy. Religious refugees were variously received by their host communities: some were welcomed and helped, while others were met with hostility and contempt. The duration of their exile also varied from the temporary to the permanent. But as foreigners in an unfamiliar land, they all invariably experienced profound feelings of estrangement and disorientation, worked to set up new patterns and channels of communication and to deal with their sense of displacement and alienation. A further aim was to explore the relationship between the emotional experience of exclusion, persecution or exile and the emergence, articulation or justification of tolerant and intolerant attitudes or policies. The Huguenot sceptic Pierre Bayle, who was himself a refugee in addition to being an influential theorist of toleration, was deeply suspicious of anyone who even thought of being able to define true religion. He believed that any effort to put up fences, however innocuous they might seem, reflected an underlying attachment to an ideology that would ultimately lead to the erecting of further fences. Emotions were considered first among the strategic devices of excluded individuals and communities seeking support and assistance from co-religionists across Europe, and from family and friends who had emigrated to supposedly more tolerant regions. In our quest to uncover emotions, we did not just consider ego-documents but also sermons, parodies, trial proceedings, biblical quotations, “hate literature” (I would suggest that the Toledot Yeshu might also fit into this emotional genre), memorials, depicted sounds and dancing, tolerationist and anti-slavery stances. They all turned out to be suggestive media for representing or projecting emotionally charged views of both the “religious Other” and marginalized, exiled or displaced subjects and communities. Gendered and bodily expressions of emotion were also considered. Culturally specific ways to control, express, mobilize, or repress emotions were touched on across the papers, and discernible changes in emotional reactions to comparable phenomena were also highlighted. One example was the fascinating case of changing attitudes toward witchcraft in the twilight of early modern Spain. This brought to mind Barbara Rosenwein’s penetrating criticism of Norbert Elias’s narrative depicting the history of the West as the history of increasing emotional restraint. In Rosenwein’s view this grand narrative no longer holds up. The new narrative, she says, “recognizes various emotional styles, emotional communities, emotional outlets, and emotional restraints in every period, and it considers how and why these have changed over time.” The discussion of the emotional vocabulary employed by the Portuguese New Christian Abrunhosa to rebutt the Inquisition’s allegations and mainly drawn from the lexicon of honour and shame, offered further insights into the gradual cultural shift from action to identity in the emotional construction and labelling of the religious Other. This process involved an increasing emphasis in its transcultural rhetoric with the transcultural rhetorical stress on purity and impurity, cleanness and contagion, rationality and madness. It also appeared to mark a stress on male honour, a characteristic that Ute Frevert considers one of those “emotional dispositions” that translate into different practices according to gender, age, social class, national belonging and religion. The crucial connections between emotion, religion and conflict demand and deserve to be addressed by historians. On behalf of Charles Zika and myself, I would like to thank the participants in the Feeling Exclusion symposium for engaging in our common ambitious project of identifying emotional discourses as drivers of major cultural, social, and political changes. The following more detailed conference report, soon to appear in Italian in the Bulletin of the Society for Waldensian Studies (BSSV), was generously provided by Giuseppe Marcocci (Scuola Normale of Pisa), one of the speakers at the symposium.   Image_blog_2 The history of emotions: report on an Australian symposium On 29–31 May 2014, the international conference Feeling Exclusion: Emotional Strategies and Burdens of Religions Discrimination and Displacement in Early Modern Europe was held at the Graduate House of the University of Melbourne. The event was organized by the local node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, consisting of a network of research groups active in five of Australia’s major universities (Melbourne, Adelaide, Queensland, Sydney and Western Australia). This was set up in the context of a project funded for the period 2011–2018 by the Australian Research Council, which decided to invest in one of the most lively and innovative areas of research at an international level. Fifteen speakers took part in the conference; ten were from Canada, the UK, Italy, Spain, the US and Switzerland. The anthropologist Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (University of Zurich) was also due to give a paper entitled “Visual emotional strategies in Cérémonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde”, but she had to pull out at the last moment. After the “Welcome to Country” by an elderly member of the local Aboriginal community, who stressed the significant coincidence that a conference on exclusion and discrimination was taking place during National Reconciliation Week, and after the welcoming remarks of the Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Arts, Janet Fletcher, representing the University of Melbourne, work got under way with introductory reflections by the conference organizers, both members of the local centre for the history of emotions: Charles Zika, a specialist in the history of witchcraft, and Giovanni Tarantino, a scholar of the history of toleration. Zika and Tarantino stressed the social and religious fracture caused by the processes of exclusion in European history during the modern age, linked to the best-known episodes of expulsion of Jews and Muslims, and to the exiling religionis causa of entire communities belonging to minority Christian confessions in the respective countries, following the rift provoked by the Protestant Reformation and the wars of religion arising from it. The speakers were invited to explore the emotional dimension of these events as they emerge from historic sources, not just as an instrument for gaining a better knowledge of the way in which the protagonists experienced those dramatic events – sometimes forging community ties between the excluded, at other times prompting acts of discrimination shared by the majority of the population – but also as a possible means of studying forms of engagement by different groups in the multi-layered process of achieving religious toleration. The first day’s papers all concentrated on aspects associated with divisions within European Christianity. The correspondence of Protestant exiles formed the basis for the papers of Ole Peter Grell (Open University) and Susan Broomhall (University of Western Australia). The former discussed the emotional lexis and strategies to be found in requests for help sent by refugees in the German-speaking world during the Thirty Years’ War to Calvinist congregations in the rest of Europe; the latter explored the affective universe of Huguenots resident in France and the Low Countries at the end of the 1660s by looking at a group of intercepted letters sent to relatives and friends in exile in England. The composite emotional experience of French Huguenots at the time of the wars of religion in the second half of the sixteenth century was analyzed by Penny Roberts (University of Warwick). She showed how, besides a rhetoric of demonization, rage and hatred for the enemy, the letters and memoirs of those who continued to live in France or moved to England or the Swiss Confederation also reveal dynamics of frustration and hostility among co-religionists, while expressions of shame and fear, joy and pain, tended to remain concealed. David van der Linden (University of Leiden) rounded off this first set of very compact and tightly knit papers by drawing the audience’s attention to the sermons directed at French Huguenots exiled in Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). The diaspora of English Catholic communities in European cities between the end of the sixteenth and the mid eighteenth century, with particular attention to nunneries,  was the point of departure for Claire Walker (University of Adelaide) to reflect on, amongst other things, the development of political and religious activism in conditions of exile. The circulation, in Europe, of the representation of the “martyrdom” of the freemason John Coustos, tried by the Portuguese Inquisition in 1743–1744, offered Giovanni Tarantino (University of Melbourne) scope for a perceptive investigation of the impact of singular emotional patterns among the Huguenots of the diaspora. The first day was rounded off by Edoardo Tortarolo (University of Eastern Piedmont) with a report on non-Catholic minorities in Italy between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; he focused in particular on the case of the philosopher and mathematician Giovanni Francesco Salvemini di Castiglione, who converted to Calvinism in Lausanne after having left Tuscany in 1736, and developed an attitude of minimalist secularism towards religion. Episodes of persecution, expulsion or purification of a community were the connecting thread of the first three papers on the second day. Starting from a series of specific cases drawn from the history of the confraternities in Italian cities between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Nicholas Terpstra (University of Toronto) gradually broadened his perspective to offer an overall analysis of the connections between reformation and the dynamics of exclusion in modern Europe. Gary K. Waite (University of New Brunswick) concentrated on the vicissitudes of the Anabaptists, examining numerous sources, including visual ones, regarding the persecution suffered by the Dutchman David Joris and the emotional dimension of the messages which, in the mid sixteenth century, he sent to coreligionists from the safe havens of Antwerp and Basel. On the other hand, Giuseppe Marcocci (University of Tuscia) drew on private documents to explore the reaction of a noble Portuguese family which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, defended their social honour against the charge that they had Jewish blood and practiced Judaic ceremonies. Witches, the possessed and Jews were the focus of the second half of the day, which started once again from the Iberian peninsula, with the sensational case of the possessed of the village of Tosos (Saragozza), which, in 1812, became intertwined with the anti-Napoleonic wars of independence, subtly recounted by the Spanish scholar María Tausiet. This was followed by a brilliant discussion by Charles Zika (University of Melbourne) of processes of exclusion and emotions expressed in the iconographic tradition regarding the dance of witches. The circulation in the modern age of a parody of the life of Jesus and of the origins of Christianity, the Toledot Yeshu, composed in the Middle Ages in Jewish circles, was traced by Daniel Barbu (University of Berne), who went on to reflect upon the relation between emotions and identity and to try to evaluate the nature of the anti-Christian sentiments of the Jews. The third day of the conference was opened by Dolly MacKinnon (University of Queensland), who examined the emotional strategies adopted by the Scottish covenanters in order to resist the religious persecution inflicted by the English monarchs between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. John Marshall (Johns Hopkins University) then presented the final paper on the programme, looking at the emotions connected with the sufferings of the Quakers in seventeenth-century England and their connection with the genesis of forms of religious toleration and positions of open condemnation of the slave trade. A lively concluding discussion, opened by some reflections by Yasmin Haskell (University of Western Australia), brought together into a single, albeit problematic, frame, the many issues dealt with over the course of the three-day conference. It offered an opportunity to dwell on doubts about methods and research perspectives that emerged in the course of a conference destined to leave a deep mark on the history of emotions and over a wider field as well.

Posted by Giovanni Tarantino

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