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Emotion as a Dynamic in Religious Practices in Antiquity

Panel Chair: Esther Eidinow | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

Emotion is a vital aspect of religious practice and often the force that establishes or transforms religious traditions. Indeed, interest in emotion spans the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities and thus provides an ideal stage for interdisciplinary examinations of human experience. This panel explores emotion as a dynamic in three religious traditions: ancient Greek magic, Second Temple Judaism, and formative Christianity. All three papers will examine the benefits and limitations of applying these theoretical approaches to understanding the cognitive components of emotion to the analysis of ancient religious practices and discourses.

Esther Eidinow

Metaphors to Maim By

The texts in the corpus of ancient Greek binding spells show that occult aggression in this ancient culture was distinctively phrased: verbs of registering, dedicating, immobilising, and above all binding are all found in the ritual formulae. The general intent behind such constructions is relatively clear, and yet, for all the recent work on these spells, the question of how or why these particular terms were employed remains unanswered. In order to explore this aspect, this paper uses conceptual integration theory to examine and offer an explanation for the metaphor of binding in these spells, building on Sørenson’s work on cognitive approaches to magic. It suggests that these metaphorical associations help to explain the power apparently attributed to these spells, by refining our understanding of the motivations of those using them, and the expectations of their effects on the victim.

Angela Kim Harkins

Emotional Communities in the Second Temple Period: The Pro-Social Instrumentalization of Affect after the Exile

The Second Temple period is marked by penitential prayers which were often combined with rituals of mourning. Prose prayers written in the first person with petitionary and confessional elements are said to be performed by highly esteemed individuals (e.g., Moses, Solomon, Ezra, Judith). I propose that the ritual arousal of emotion from both the phenomenal experiences of performing mourning rites and also from the discursive practice of reciting confession of sins and petitions contributed but cannot wholly account for the emergence of a religious subjectivity that served various pro-social purposes. This strategic arousal of emotion allowed communities after the rupture of the exile (586 BCE) to establish continuity with the past by recovering a first-hand experience of foundational events. The display of grief can act as costly displays and credibility-enhancing displays, thus moving a community to deepen their commitment and heighten their receptivity to common goals and covenant renewal.

Kristyna Kubonova

Transition, transformation, transmission: Blood libel from the perspective of the Cognitive Science of Religion

Blood libel has been traditionally studied within historical discourses, by using mostly comparative or descriptive methods, which are on the one hand important for elemental understanding of the phenomenon but lack on the other hand possibility of going beyond their own limits. However, Cognitive Science of Religion provides different methods, tools and perspectives which seem to enable a deeper insight into the blood libel phenomenon and open a wider room for scientific discussion. To support this assertion I would like to present a conference paper on Dan Sperber’s concept of culturally transmitted misbeliefs and its applicability on the blood libel phenomenon, specifically on the Leopold Hilsner’s case (also known as Hilsner Affair or Polna Affair) which took place in Bohemia at the turn of 19th/20th century and was specific in many ways.


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