“Emotions shape our History”, speakers tell at GCU’s conference


Emotions create us as individuals. Being cognizant of the emotions of the past individuals and societies allows us the appreciation of the complexities of history. The significance of the human emotions during the course of history was stressed upon by eminent speakers in a virtual conference on “Emotions and the Subject of Modern History” organized by GCU’s recently established Institute of History.

The leading scholars of the field discussed the history of emotions in the context of religious intolerance, the institutionalization of Sufi Shrines and mediaeval monasteries, material culture, and the creation of knowledge.

In his opening remarks, Prof Dr Asghar Zaidi, GCU’s VC said: “Emotions have a history in time and undergo various transformations by invoking, creating and negotiating with different social, political and cultural contexts. In the last two decades, the study of emotions has become an important site for historians to study past societies.” Prof Zaidi stressed the need to understand human emotions to enable policy institutions to devise plans which could promote and shape societies where we have realization and respect for the emotions of individuals and communities. “I see this the only way forward in this world which is experiencing all kinds of extremism.”

John Corrigan, a distinguished professor of Religion and History of Emotions at the Florida State University discussed how emotions in American society led to religious intolerance.

Hussain Ahmad Khan, a cultural historian and Director of the Institute of History explained that inanimate objects have the power to shape a historical process. In the nineteenth century, Indian crafts transformed the emotions of British colonials from patronizing pride to curiosity.

Albrecht Diem, a historian of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages at Syracuse University, presented a paper on the regulation of passions and feeling at the monasteries. He argued that early mediaeval monastic rules not only provided outlines for organising communities, behavioural norms and disciplinary measures but also aimed at controlling, repressing and fostering emotions.

Lauren Mancia of the Brooklyn College, CUNY, and a historian of Emotions and Mediaeval Art, talked about how mediaeval monks were prescribed emotional redirection through a process of ‘confession’ from ‘cold’ devotional feeling to ‘warmed’, or right devotional feeling. Professor Mancia explained how even the most devout monks needed both textual and material tools to feel emotionally connected to the divine.

Ayyaz Gull, a historian of Emotions at the Institute of History, explained the role of Zuljanah in evoking and expressing the weeping of Shia community in Pakistani Punjab. Yasmin Syed, from the University of Barcelona, discussed the relationship between reason, emotions, and the construction of knowledge.

Shehar Bano, from the Institute of History, highlighted the role of tears in establishing social relationships between shrine-based communities.

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