Passion(s) in Culture(s)

Exploring the Emotional Signature of the 21st Century

The collective psyche: While feelings like fear, anger, love, compassion, and sadness are no doubt rooted in biology, the ways humans feel can and do change. Emotional forms and colors are shaped by experiences unique to each society and era. Ostensibly individual, our feelings are in reality part of a larger historical phenomenon—call it a collective mood, the emotional signature of an age. Which feelings and passions have prevailed at which times? Were there periods shaped principally by fear or by greed, by love or by melan- choly? What about cultures and societal groups? Do they also have their particular feelings and passions? How do the rules and norms governing what we are supposed to feel change? And how do our real feelings change? What happens to the rest of our emotions when a single feeling comes to dominate an era? Do emotional economies pass through different states of equilibrium? Can their taxonomies shift altogether? Have there been particularly intense phases for certain emotions?
Does our society, for instance, contain more anger and fear now in the early 21st century than it did in the 1990s? Have current levels of envy and greed changed in comparison to the 1980s? How have the new digital media affected emotional states? What about the visual arts, film, literature, and music—do particular media accompany particular emotions? Aside from such relatively brief spans of time, are there also long- term changes in the way we feel? Do we really, as many claim, control our emotions more than in past centuries? Or are we—on the contrary—much better at permitting them?

In December 2003, the Einstein Forum began a series of conferences and workshops on the emotional signature of our age. It began with a general overview, Passion(s) in Culture(s), and has been followed by conferences devoted to specific emotions, such as com- passion, envy, fear, anger, sadness, pride and first love. More recently the series changed its focus to institu- tions and events creating emotions.