Frances Cook: Feedback Training school “Passionate Devotions”

Amongst many other positive outcomes, the Training School has offered me ideas for how I could conceptualize my research. The papers presented by the different speakers discussed a wide variety of source material – devotional texts, images, places and literature – and examples were given of how emotions could be elicited from these sources using a range of approaches grounded in disciplines such as, for example, anthropology, neuroscience and social psychology. Some of the most pertinent approaches for my work, that were mentioned in the sessions, are summarized below.

As my project focuses on material and visual culture, I was especially interested in the idea of emotions as ‘cultural representations’ mentioned by one speaker, and the quotation which provided the foundation for another paper: ‘Emotions are materially constituted and material culture is emotionally constituted.’ (Chris Gosden, ‘Aesthetics, Intelligence and Emotion: Implications for Archaeology’ in Rethinking Materiality: the Engagement of the Mind with the Material World, E. DeMarrais, C. Godsen and C. Renfrew (eds.) (Cambridge, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: 2004), 33–40, at 39.) Both definitions provide an effective starting point for further enquiry and reflection. At least two speakers considered notions of ‘prescribed’ emotion or ‘guided patterns’ of emotion, prompted by specific liturgical or devotional texts and images, and particular spaces. This theme was continued and amplified by another speaker in a discussion of ‘triggers, techniques and settings’ – terms which could be used to establish a framework for the consideration of emotional arousal. Several speakers discussed aspects of ritual, memory and mnemonic devices, and memory embodied in place, all of which are particularly useful areas for me to pursue. The work of Harvey Whitehouse was mentioned in this regard and his writing, together with that of Nicholas Watson which was also mentioned by a couple of speakers, is something I shall engage with in the coming weeks. In addition, the performance of emotions, both in public and in private, and the importance of the setting for such a performance was the subject of several papers and the issues raised are directly relevant to my work with artefacts. These issues are certainly worth investigating further. The article in the bibliography ‘Space and Emotion: Building to Feel’ by Margrit Pernau (History Compass 12/7 (2014): 541–549) has already prompted much useful reflection and I shall look into some of the works cited in the bibliography, in particular, Emotion, Place and Culture, M. Smith, J. Davidson and L. Cameron (eds.) (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2009).

Frances Cook (

This post forms part of an open mini-series published in connection with the COST Action IS1301 Training School “Passionate Devotions. Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Religious Texts, Images and Music” (see announcement with details about submissions here).

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