2014-2015: Affect and Reason

Humanists have been central to reconsidering the active role that emotions play in the constructions of reason, truth, subjectivity and narrative. Building on recent analyses of the unconscious and studies of the phenomenology of the senses in the social, cognitive and developmental sciences, humanities scholars have come to understand the production and channeling of affect as a central category in scientific fields once considered “value neutral.” They have also begun to reanalyze the role of human emotion in shaping and regulating ancient and modern communities through various discursive forms, ranging from religious and mythic narrative to modern advertising.

The 2014-15 IHR Fellows will investigate the power of affect across time and space, across the fields of knowledge and the varieties of personal experience, analyzing how the mobilization of affect shapes cultural, political, religious, scientific or aesthetic understandings and how the invocation of affect interacts with taboos and sanctions, and/or compounds its relations with the world of objectivity and rationality. 

Questions the IHR Fellows will explore:

  • How do communities of emotion construct publics and counter-publics?
  • How does the cultural history of shame inform race, gender and class discrimination?
  • What are the politics and metrics of measuring happiness?
  • How is affect deployed in narratives of health and well-being?
  • What role does the assessment of emotional states play in the writing or execution of law within the state?
  • How has modern media transformed emotional appeal?
  • In what ways is the concept of reason predicated on the exclusion of the emotions?
  • How did the waning of the classical doctrine of the passions prepare new forms of subjectivity, community and dissent?
  • What are the limits to studying the biological foundations of the emotions?
  • What is the epistemology of feeling and how can one know the feelings of Others?
  • How is a theory of the emotions or passions crucial to traditional, fundamentalist or secularized practices of religion?
  • How are literary, musical or philosophical expressions of nationalism dependent on particular rather than universal conceptions of sentiment?
  • How did the rise of authenticity or discourses of identity alter the ethics of virtue and community?