The Feeling of Emptiness in American Christianity

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
John Corrigan, Florida State University
This paper extends the history of emotions to take account of the feeling of emptiness in America, with some references to British influences. American Christians regularly reported feelings of emptiness in connection with the loss of loved ones, physical separation from family, personal setbacks, and in other situations. They also described those feelings in connection with their practice of their Christian faith. Those feelings were cognized in a wide range of physical disciplines and intellectual exercises promoted by Christian denominations and included fasting (emptying the body of food), bloodletting (of blood), work (of sweat), and silence (of language) among other endeavors. The American Christian framing of space and time likewise was carried out with respect to the feeling of emptiness expressed in projected characteristics of landscape (such as the barren vastness of  mythical Great American Desert) and of time (e.g. the end of time in American apocalyptic movements). Christian religious communities defined themselves (a la Simmel) precisely as that which they were not, building identity not as the extraordinary enlargement of a foundational quiddity, but as the blind advance into collective self-understanding by pushing off from other groups, in a fundamentally contingent process that arranged the attributes of community around a tenuous or hollow core. The feeling of emptiness was considered a sign of longing and an indication of spiritual progress toward “fullness.” Christians imagined that he deeper and more desperate the longing, the more profound the fullness. Visions of the fullness of God, and the fullness of eternity, and the experiencing of fullness by the soul were considered possible through a process that involved passing through emptiness. The distinction between emptiness and fullness, between melancholy and enthusiasm, accordingly was vague, each feeling bleeding into the other.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation