Below you find the abstracts of the talks given in the symposium.
The study of emotion words in ancient Mesopotamia is hampered by distance, both in time and culture. On the one hand, we cannot interview the speakers of the Akkadian language and learn the meanings they gave to certain words or expressions. On the other hand, although emotions are an intrinsic part of human cognition, their expressions in texts are regulated by culture, power structures, and literary conventions. Akkadian texts were written by male authors who belonged to the small, educated upper class of Mesopotamian society. To overcome some of these difficulties, this paper applies digital methods from language technology to the study of Akkadian words and expressions related to emotions. As the meaning of a word can be studied in relation to other words it appears with, the contextual analysis of emotion words in large datasets can improve our understanding of their meaning and nuances.
In 2011 in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Stephen C. Barton aptly described emotions as a “missing element” in the study of early Christianity, especially when compared to the well-developed history of emotions among specialists in Classics and Medieval Studies. Happily in the seven years since, scholars of early Christianity have responded to this lack and engaged in the study of early Christian emotions from a variety of approaches and perspectives. In this symposium presentation, I will reflect on recent work (my own and others’) to highlight several areas in which Christians reflected on emotional norms and the role of passions and emotions in nature, humanity, and the divine, and how such a focus on the passions distinguished early Christians from other ancient schools or groups. From the communities of Paul on, Christians engaged in distinctive programs of emotional regulation, frequently encouraging changes in emotional norms to distinguish themselves from outsiders. Even beyond their concerns with emotional norms or emotionology (an interest they shared with other philosophical or religious groups), Christians (or at least some Christians of note) placed the passions at the heart of their innovative perspectives on cosmology, anthropology, and theology. From the first century to the end of antiquity, attention to the history of emotions reveals previously unappreciated ways that Christianity changed Roman culture, as well as ways that Christians adapted to prevailing cultural norms. This presentation highlights important sources for the history of emotions in early Christianity from the second to the fifth centuries, with special attention to the emotional constellations of happiness, sadness, and anger.
Communication has always been a prominent part to produce national stereotypes. The familiar patterns of collective and communicative action are associated with nation-building processes, which acquired great amounts of organizational resources in modern political communities beginning in the nineteenth century. These “modern” processes created strong collective national identities. Since the Internet era, we have encountered new and less familiar logics of connective action based on personalized content sharing across various media networks. Introducing digital media does not dramatically change the core dynamics of traditional community-building processes, but the logic of connective action does. This paper analyzes one case of our era: how Latin American stereotypes are present in Finnish social media, and what new insights the method – the analysis of social media big data – would bring. Likewise, the paper studies Finnish nationalism – how Finnish people see themselves when explaining other national cultures. The central questions stem from media discussions about Latin American countries: How are concepts and words referring to Latin America used in Finnish social media, and how does this kind of interaction is built on and further strengthen national or “continental” historical stereotypes, repeated again in new media forums? Latin American stereotypes serve also as social media representations to reflect Finnish national self-portrait.
What are currently called "emotions" are understood very differently, and referred to with a changing vocabulary, from one age to another in any given tradition. They also vary widely from one place to another. Some psychologists have pointed to a dynamic relation between vocabulary and emotional experience. To identify a response as "fear" or as "love" inevitably changes it. This proposal implies that there may be a similarly dynamic relationship between historical changes in emotional vocabulary, manners, self-presentation and in emotional experience itself (however defined). Emotions are not entirely "constructed" by culture, and they "push back" when attempts to "construct" them in certain ways fail. The implications of this model will be explored in relation to problems of periodization, and ways will be considered of identifying changes from one period to the next within a tradition that remains fixed at a more abstract level.
Affective neuroscience studies the neural mechanisms underlying emotions. From the biological point of view, emotions have evolved to guide the behavior and functioning of our mind and body in order to promote survival in a constantly-changing environment. Especially, after the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the early 1990’s, the number of brain imaging studies of human emotions has increased rapidly. In such studies, participants are usually presented with emotional stimuli while their brain activity is being measured noninvasively. However, the current brain imaging methods set constraints on the study of human emotions: ecologically valid, real-life emotions are difficult to induce in laboratory conditions. This calls for innovative experimental designs for eliciting emotions. Luckily, advancements in signal analysis methods allow the use of more complex, naturalistic stimuli during brain imaging. In this presentation, I will introduce the experimental methods commonly used for emotion induction in affective neuroscience and discuss the potential and pitfalls in studying human emotions especially with fMRI. For instance, emotional movies, narratives, and mental imagery have been successfully used for inducing vivid emotions during fMRI scanning. I will also highlight how recent findings from brain imaging studies have informed our understanding of the neural basis of emotions and contributed to the theoretical approaches regarding the biology of emotions.
This contribution presents a survey of Mesopotamian notions of personal identity in textual sources from the second and first millennium BCE, as being intimately linked with concepts of the self, the body and emotions. In my talk, I will give a brief outline of key terms denoting the self, body and “mind” in the Akkadian language, highlighting that Mesopotamians did not conceive the human person in terms of a dualism of body and mind, individual and society, but rather saw the body with its various parts as the seat or carrier of the self, of mental as well as affective processes. Moreover, the body ways perceived as a carrier of positive or negative traits (“signs”), abilities, energies and powers reflecting a person’s individuality as well as his or her social status. To illustrate the connectedness between body and emotions, I will focus on Akkadian expressions in which the body or specific body parts are referenced as experiencers or loci of emotions (such as anger, fear, sadness, joy), pointing both to partially culture-specific notions and to general human experiences of the “lived body”.
My paper scrutinizes the challenges and possibilities of studying emotions in a case when the identification and analysis of the emotion cannot be directly rooted on bodily reactions or identification of certain emotional vocabulary to express a feeling, but it needs to be based on the analysis of practices of everyday life. Ideologically, in the Stoic tradition of the Greco-Roman world, hope was seen as a passion with a potential to lead humans away from rational life. At the same time, in Roman elite culture, hope was linked to the prosperity of the state and to the continuity of families through progeny. In pre-Christian Greco-Roman culture, hope would have been used in some circumstances of positive expectation, but not necessarily. “Spes” in Latin or “elpis” in Greek were rather understood as “justified future-oriented expectation”, whether for good or bad. Therefore, even though people in the Roman world had concepts we have accustomed to translate in English as “hope”, my ultimate interest is not in these, but in hope as understood as a future-oriented positive disposition, central for human agency – this definition drawing from the current discussions in psychology. It can be claimed, that striving for the sense of hope is a common feature for human communities, but the specific forms it takes are subject to constant change. As attitudes and values towards different sources for the sense of hope change, the ways in which hope is conceptualized and pursued changes as well. In the latter part of my paper, I will analyse a series of cases to show the various forms this striving for the sense of hope could have taken in the everyday life of the Roman world, both in pre-Christian and in Christian contexts. I will also discuss other future-related emotions (esp. fear and despair) in connection with these cases. This paper as such is a work-in-process paper linked to a proposal for a wide research project on hope, futurity, and crises in everyday life in Ancient and Medieval contexts.