Research Stream


Spencer Young
The University of Western Australia

Emotions, Vices, and Conversion in Late Medieval Religion

This project explores ways in which writers in the high and later Middle Ages drew upon the emotions to interpret the religious experiences of their contemporaries, with a particular emphasis on the processes of conversion and moral reform.

Emotions, Vices, and Conversion in Late Medieval Religion

 Gautier de Coinci Miracles de Nostre Dame, Fauvel Master; 1327, via Wikimedia Commons.

This project explores the ways in which emotions functioned within religious writings from the twelfth to the fourteenth century. Young is especially focused on how writers deployed the emotions in service of larger arguments about morality or divine favour. Assessments about someone’s emotional responses could be a way to advance claims against his or her perceived moral turpitude; for example, one thirteenth-century moralist argued that parents who engage in immoral economic practices (such as usury) in order to provide for the financial welfare of their children do so out of hatred (not love) for their children. In such cases, the emotions were seen to have implications not only for relationships in this world but also in the afterlife. Theoretical discourses about the emotions also articulated moral hierarchies which delineated groups approved of God against those who were not; thus, the emotional expressions of divinely favoured Dominicans were contrasted with those of heretic Waldensians within the dream of a Genoese physician trying to decide upon which group to join. Ultimately, Young argues that the act of describing emotions in these texts is rarely a neutral practice, but rather one entwined with broader processes of social ordering and exclusion.

Related Publications

Van Gent, J. and S. E. Young.  'Emotions and Conversion'. Special issue, Journal of Religious History 39.4 (2015).

Van Gent, J. and S. E. Young. ‘Introduction: Emotions and Conversion’. ‘Emotions and Conversion’. Special issue, Journal of Religious History 39.4 (2015): 461–67.

Young, S. E. 'Faith, Favour and Fervour: Emotions and Conversion among the Early Dominicans'. Journal of Religious History 39.4 (2015): 46883.

Young, S. E. Scholarly Community at the Early University of Paris: Theologians, Education and Society, 1215–1248. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Related Conference Papers

Paper: ‘The Medieval Prosperity Gospel: Tracing a History of Ideas about the Hundredfold Reward’, 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, USA, 811 May 2014.

Conference paper: 'How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love My Children: Avarice, Emotions and the Family in Thirteenth-Century Moral Discourse', 40th Sewanee Medieval Colloquium 'Medieval Emotions', Sewanee, Tennessee, 45 April 2014.

Invited Conference Paper: ‘A Workshop of Wisdom or the Pomp of Satan?  Education, Status and Social Reform at the Early University of Paris’, Universität-Reform: A Tension of Long Duration (12th21st Centuries), Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany, 18 September 2013.

Lecture: ‘Faith, Favour and Fervour: Emotions and Conversion in the Thirteenth Century’, Centre for Medieval and Renaissance, Monash University, Melbourne, 3 May 2013.

Workshop Paper: ‘More Blessed to Give and Receive: Charitable Giving in Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Century Exempla’, at ‘Experiences of Charity: Revisiting Religious Motivations in the Charitable Endeavour, 1250-1600’ workshop, The University of Western Australia, 22 February 2013.

Lecture: 'Sins and Daughters: The Capital Vices, Their Offspring and Social Reform Among the Early Dominicans', The Medieval and Early Modern Centre, The University of Sydney, 19 September 2012.