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Feelings against jews: Emotional History of Modern Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is an emotionally laden phenomenon. Anti-Semitic forms of communication (i.e. in texts, speeches, slogans, films, images etc.) rely on various emotions like hatred, anger, fear, disgust, resentment, envy, pride etc. The cohesive value of anti-Semitism for processes of group formation rests upon shared emotionality among its members. In cases of anti-Semitic violence, emotions also play a major role: particularly in pogroms, an emotional orchestration and escalation of the violent masses takes place. Frequently, anti-Semitism includes the condemnation of (allegedly Jewish) behavior as immoral. Thus, anti-Semites often employ moral emotions like indignation or resentment. Jewish reactions to anti-Semitism also display a variety of emotions as well: among them moral ones, but also fear, anger, pride etc.

In spite of these obvious links, only very few historians have systematically investigated the connections between the history of emotions and the history of anti-Semitism. Historians of emotions, on the one hand, have studied the history of specific adverse feelings, such as hatred, resentment or disgust, but have isolated them from other emotions as well as from specific social contexts. Much work remains to be done with regard to social phenomena of hostility that, in real life, are often combinations of different emotions. In this regard, the history of emotions would benefit greatly from the analysis of a highly complex and historically enduring case like anti-Semitism. On the other hand, historians of anti-Semitism often rely on the implicit assumption that their task is to examine the ideological and cognitive elements in anti-Semitism, that is, the prejudices against Jews. The emotional and, as is often assumed as well, irrational aspects of anti-Semitism can either be neglected all together as a mere epiphenomena or relegated to the field of psychology. However, since the inseparability of emotion and cognition is, by now, a widely accepted finding in the interdisciplinary study of emotions, the cognitive bias in this historiography no longer makes sense. The project will therefore focus on various questions, primarily about the role of emotions in anti-Semitic communication, in anti-Semitic practices, about the concepts of moral self in anti-Semitism, or about changes in emotional history of anti-Semitism. In 2013, a special issue devoted to this project was published in the journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft. The editors are Uffa Jensen and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum.

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