Monday, November 5, 2007

Moral Emotions and The Watchtower

I don’t have focused research area yet, but I was intrigued by the prospect of applying an analysis of emotion to something that I am interested in studying. Specifically, I am going to talk about two areas of Christianity that I find fascinating (other examples that I use will also are from that tradition, I apologize if that is problematic in understanding my blog): eschatology and evangelical movements.

In this blog I will be talking about emotion and the art in the Watchtower tracts of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I am going to be working on the assumption that everyone has seem at least one copy of the Watchtower, and likely has come into contact with a member of that church “witnessing”. I am also not going to question the idea that conversion involves emotion. I do not think that it is a purely intellectual act, or spiritual for that matter.

The issue here is that the tracts are mass produced on an international level; there are not targeted publications for different groups within society. I have gotten the same literature in upper middle-class Oakville as I have in my socio-culturally mixed neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. This is unlike political propaganda, which is a close cousin. Potential converts, then are from different economic, educational, ethnic and religious backgrounds and are given the same material. But they cannot all respond to it in the same way. In other words, I think that neither an exclusively universalist nor relativist approach would work.
The Watchtower tracts are also reliant on a heavily moralizing message. But the audience could arguably have less common ground. Which leads me to the idea that the form that the art takes in the Watchtower needs to be familiar (and therefore readable) and I think also borrows from the authority of those sources to provoke an emotional response in potential converts. I am not, however, implying anything insidious. What I do mean is that it uses mainstream advertising because it is understandable. And the kind of images used in journalism because it has authority both in terms of ‘fact’ and reinforcing moral norms. This is in spite of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are counter-cultural in orientation.
For example, on the online version of the Watchtower in a section on “The End of Poverty” there are images akin to those used by NGO’s to solicit monetary support. I think that understanding a potential convert’s emotional response to the images would be as part of the “society’s most deeply held values” (16), and as a moral response and therefore a moral emotion (14). The “deeply held value” in this case, I think, is expressed in the mainstream media as the First World responsibility in terms of aiding developing nations. Whether the emotion provoked is guilt, empathy or something else, again I think is dependent upon the situatedness of the individual. It is however a moral emotion because it is a reaction to what has been predetermined to be a moral issue.

Ok, I hope that made sense.

(In Art History there is a concept called Reception Theory; which in a nutshell means that an artwork is studied from the perspective of an observer and not the artist/patron. I first came across it when studying entrance decoration on Romanesque (Medieval) churches. A number of these had relief sculpture depicting the Last Judgement. Needless to say, this is a heavily moralizing narrative, the ultimate judgment of the individual. And its position high on the entrance to the church/cathedral with a seated Christ would have, at least in part, an emotional impact on those entering (regardless of whether or not they were clergy or laity, aristocrat or not). The emotional analysis would be simpler then in the sense that there was more common ground for the intended public that is in terms of shared morality, artistic idiom, theodicy, etc. But the idea of intended audience is what interests me. And in terms of emotion, I think that the Last Judgement motif would provoke different responses depending on the individual’s perception of their own moral standing. Which would mean that their emotional response would be a moral judgment (14).)


callie said...

Hi Jen,

Once again I'm pretty jealous of your really interesting and creative blog -- it was a really fun to read! I really liked the inventive way in which you applied the readings.
I think your point about appeals to emotion being based on an assumption of what those emotions should be (due to the material being mass-produced) was very interesting. I hadn't thought about 'emotionally provoking' material in that way before, so thanks!
Oh, and when did you live in Oakville? More to the point, how did you manage to get out?!

JJones said...
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Helen said...

Wow Jen, you are really taking these blogs to the next level. Way to challenge yourself!

I love how you made the readings relevant to today’s use of emotion in religious influence and how specific messages cannot be applied across the board. Your examples are spot on!

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Aneisha said...

Hi Jen,

I liked your interesting blog, the pictures in particular, to aid your argument. Your application of the analysis of emotion to your study was done understandably. I like the way you brought up the NGO examples, because they really do appeal to the emotions. Just a couple of thoughts: I do believe that the watchtower pamphlets are universalistic to some extent. What people get out of it varies, but the intentional reason behind their purpose remains consistent worldwide, or at least I believe so. Perhaps the thought of using mainstream advertising also relies on the universalistic model

Yvonne said...

Hi Jen,

I really enjoyed your blog and liked your take on moral emotion and how images similar to those used in journalism are used to provoke such emotions and to imply a sense of legitimacy. I also liked your last blurb on reception theory and found the pictures that you used for the blog really illustrated your points very well.