I was listening to an episode of Kingdom Roots podcast this morning titled Discipling Our Emotions speaking with scholar and theologian Becky Castle Miller, and they were unpacking the recent and revolutionary research on science of “emotions” that surfaced back around 2016 and has since been growing to become the dominant view.
The shift represents a move away from seeing emotions as a list of common feelings shared by the whole of humanity towards an understanding of emotions as cultural constructs which express themselves in diverse ways within different peoples and cultures as part of their distinct context. In other words, while we all feel emotions we don’t all feel emotions the same way. Existing emotions are a window into the cultural constructs that shape us while feelings are a way of giving these emotions meaning.
As I’ve been doing a deeper dive into this idea, perusing the research and reading articles it’s becoming clear to me that this has massive implications not only for how we understand and relate to one another but to how we approach and understand God, the scriptural text and how we apply the cultural context of the text to our own. It can, for example, help us understand how it is that we arrive at gender constructs by way of emotions. It can shed light on how emotions divide us in all manner of ways, and how it is that travelling across cultures requires learning the language of emotion, and how making sense of our own culture, and even oursleves, requires an understanding of our own language of emotion as well. Why and how it is that we feel things differently from within our constructed vantage point. We do not feel emotions in a bubble. Emotional constructs arise from a shared environment and play a massive role in binding people togther based on what we are taught to attach meaning (feeling) to. This should do a couple things- push back on the belief that our “feelings” are normative and should be and/or are common across the whole of humanity, remind us that feelings can be sources of good and bad, and challenge us to see how seeing feeling from emotion as mutual but seperate parts of the equation (as opposed to setting one over the other) can be a way of helping to assess the good and bad within cultural constructions while also freeing us to see emotions as something that can be shaped and reshaped developed and grown with intention.
Apparently she’s deep into work on the relationship between this new science of emotion and our theologies of Christ. Exited to see where that leads 🙂