There were two good reasons to implement the ‘Religion & Emotion’ research programme at the Herzog August Bibliothek. Firstly, the library’s extensive old holdings make reference to European religious traditions and, secondly, the post-secular era in which we are living is being increasingly confronted with the societal dynamics of religiosity. Based on approaches drawn from cultural studies coupled with aspects of ethnology and anthropology, this research focus looks at how religious emotions are generated and their mode of operation. The study takes a praxeological perspective as a means to explore not only the media used for communicating religious content but also materiality and physical substance. The research programme incorporates questions about the role of material culture in shaping religious emotion, the connection between personal and social appropriation, what happens when different religions encounter each other and the potential for mobilising religion.

The affective turn in religious research has abandoned a number of persistent dichotomies – mind-body dualism, the distinction between rational thought and irrational feeling, the opposing spiritual and material domains – in favour of an understanding whereby the psyche and the body are each formed by a reciprocal relationship that involves society. The term ‘doing emotions’ consciously incorporates the notion that feelings are generated and invoked by people’s practices. Viewed from this perspective, emotions are not so much something we have as something we do, whereby exploring religious emotions involves looking for the emotional practices that underpin them. These include aspects such as repetitive physical practices, naming emotions and dealing with religious objects or images. Rather than being individually unique, emotions are social in origin, in the sense that people come across a pre-existing vocabulary and repertoire for feelings which they ‘grow into’, adapt and modify.

Religion is understood in this respect as a communicative practice where media and materiality play a central role in organising and experiencing the transcendental. A wide variety of media could be included in the investigation: words, texts, images, sounds, artefacts and physical substances. Anything and everything that serves to communicate what is in the imagination can be called a medium. For instance, images whose use is embedded within religious traditions as a focus of contemplation play a constitutive and communicative role in religion in much the same way as the affective semantics in prayer texts conveys certain ways of behaving and feeling. The materiality of religion has become the centre of attention.

The central assumption here is that objects – and the way they are used, the value they are given and the appeal they hold – are indivisible from religion rather than an appendage of it. Abandoning the concept of a supposedly internal spiritual religiosity in favour of a perspective that relies on materiality means investigating the material coordinates of religious practice in order to research the conditions for feelings, senses, spaces and enactments of belief.

The research focus is by no means limited to Christianity. The aim is to establish links between various religions and spaces rather than demarcating them according to disciplines or epochs. Given the significance of religious hatred in world history, the findings would benefit from research into the genesis and mechanisms of this phenomenon as seen from the perspective of multiple disciplines, encompassing various religions and all historical epochs. The research focus on ‘Religion & Emotion’ is essentially antithetical to any geographical, epochal or discipline-related limitations, albeit that topics relating to the pre-modern era in Europe have had such an impact all over the world that they occupy a central position in the programme.



Ulrike Gleixner, ‘Da schlagen die Herzen höher! Aufbau eines Forschungsschwerpunktes Religion & Emotion an der HAB’ (A quickening of the heart! Setting up a research focus on religion and emotion at the HAB). You can find the blog post here.


Calendar of events

Workshop for young scholars
27–29 October 2021, Herzog August Bibliothek
‘Ego-documents: Writing and religious emotion in Europe in the early modern period and beyond’ (18 participants)

You can find the programme in the ‘Download’ section.

Research visit
1 August – 30 September 2021
Within the framework of the research focus, Dr Louise Hecht checked the HAB holdings for evidence of functional writing within Judaism. The emphasis was placed on signs of usage and provenances. More …

1–2 March 2021, Herzog August Bibliothek
‘Religion & emotion: Material practices in Christian, Jewish and Muslim early modern Europe’

You can find the programme in the ‘Download’ section.

Research colloquium
2 June 2021
Monique Scheer, ‘Rapture & sentimentality: The historical analysis of disputed parameters of sincerity’

Research colloquium
26 August 2020
Ulrike Gleixner, ‘Religion & emotion: Perspectives on a research focus at the Herzog August Bibliothek’


Funding: Budget
Duration: July 2019 – ongoing
Head: Prof. Ulrike Gleixner
Contact: ed.ba1709279949h@noi1709279949tomer1709279949

Image credit: Johann Benjamin Brühl, etching, 18th century, Herzog August Bibliothek: Graph. A1: 355a