The Historicity of Emotions

[RG #72] The Historicity of Emotions

February - August 1998


Michael Heyd (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Yosef Kaplan (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Can emotions be historicized? Are they universal and biologically determined or socially determined, culturally dependent and varying through history? What is the role of emotions and their changing character in the course of history? Is there a history of emotions just as there is a history of ideas, of manners, of political institutions or social movements? More specifically, to what extent can love, fear or hate be historicized? Do they change through history, and if so, in what senses? Is it in the objects they relate to? (Fear of what? Hate – towards whom?) In the means and legitimacy of expressing them? In the ways they are institutionalized (families, churches, political parties)? Can emotions themselves be separated from these social and cultural means of expressing and legitimizing them?

Though some historians have posed these questions earlier, it is only recently, in the 1970s and especially since the early 1980s, that historians have begun to address these questions directly. Interestingly enough, the early 1980s were also the time when psychologists, especially social psychologists, became increasingly aware not only of the issues of affects and emotions in general, but of their historical dimension, namely their possibly changing nature, as well.

Our group will try to deal with some of these questions, focusing mostly on the late medieval and early modern period, both in Christian Europe and in Jewish communities in Europe at that time. The comparison between Jewish and Christian societies will add an important dimension to the research.