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Medieval Literature Professor Receives Fellowship to Research Emotion

Sarah McNamer

Sarah McNamer

May 22, 2012 – Sarah McNamer, associate professor of English and medieval studies, has received a Distinguished International Visiting Fellowship to the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

McNamer will spend the summer examining the historical variability and social functions of emotion in English literary texts from the 14th and 15th centuries.

“As a medievalist whose disciplinary base is literature and literary methods of analysis, I will be giving several talks on a central question – How Does Literature Matter,” she says, “[and] not only reflect historically specific ways of feeling, but help to shape emotions in various historical contexts.”

McNamer says she became fascinated by the fundamental theory of emotion in the medieval period while writing her book, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010).

“The theory suggests that emotions can and should be learned through performance – faking emotions by, for example, reciting literary texts, can through repeated practice produce real feeling,” she says. “This medieval theory resonates with contemporary research in psychology, neuroscience and related fields.”

McNamer also will participate in discussions with graduate students at the various universities making up the Centre for the History of Emotion – the University of Western Australia, University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.

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