Affect Week

A Smile by whologwhy on FlickrThis week, prompted by great discussion on my guest post at Genealogy of Religion, I’ll be writing a series of posts on affect. Although some of my labmates and collaborators study affect, its not a topic I’ve studied in depth. I’ll be learning as I go, and I hope to hear from others about their approaches to affect.

Affect, of course, is a major component of human experience, something we experience from infancy until death — something the absence of which is a symptom of a psychological disorder, according to the major diagnostic tool in the US. Affect serves protective and social purposes for humans. Disgust helps us avoid harmful food or waste, and a baby’s distressed cry alerts his or her caregivers that it’s time to be fed. Affect is also an important aspect of religious experience, including in ritual.

Humans the world over experience affect, and the scientific perspectives on affect are almost as diverse as the people of the world. So I won’t attempt to define affect up front. Instead, I’ll discuss definitions as they are used by different theorists. I’ll be covering major theories and studies of affect, beginning with those of Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman.

As the posts go up, links to the series will be added here:


2 Comments to “Affect Week”

  1. This sounds wonderful and I look forward to it. You may also wish to look at the work of Jaak Panksepp and Antonio Damasio, both of whom do nice work on affect/emotions from an evolutionary perspective. Panksepp is one of my favorites and I highly recommend his work.

    Also, last night I was reading a book titled “Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes” by Christopher Vecsey and came across this passage and I thought I should share it with you:

    “The [Ojibwa conception of] person also included psychic extensions, such as the blood, hair, afterbirth, spittle, and feces. Whether or not they remained in contact with the body, they remained part of the person. For that reason, the Ojibwas took care in hiding their psychic extensions, to prevent harm to the person through the extensions. The whole person could suffer when any of its extensions received abuse; thus, all extensions received protection.”

    This is fascinating, is it not? For traditional Ojibwas, those things that can cause disease and give rise to disgust are placed in their own ontological category and given special treatment. Clever.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Cris! I will look them up. I also had a long meeting yesterday with a friend and colleague who studies emotion. Not only did she give me much to read, we also hammered out two study protocols. I think this will be a fruitful avenue of exploration.

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