Cultivating doubt, seeking evidence: diverse Protestant emotional practices in response to uncertainty
(University of Tuebingen)
Paper short abstract:
German Lutherans shy away from rituals that imply efficacy and seek to believe in spite of doubt. In contrast, charismatic Christians claim to be certain. This paper will explore belief practices geared to produce certain emotional effects, putting the efficacy of the spoken word to the test.
Paper long abstract:
Protestant Christianity in Germany is a diverse field, where the role of uncertainty and doubt is highly contested. My research in Protestant churches in southern Germany has shown that for Lutherans doubt is an important component of inner freedom. Even some pastors convey a sense of doubt about the existence of God to their church members, insisting that we cannot know, but only hope that God is there. They shy away from rituals that imply efficacy and seek to believe in spite of doubt. In contrast, the members of a charismatic church say they are certain God is there and that he is highly involved in their lives. They cultivate this belief in practices of healing that prove that miracles can happen. But of course, charismatic Christians also experience uncertainty. In my paper, I would like to show how in these diverse Protestant traditions, belief practices such as reading the Bible and praying, alone and in groups, are geared to produce certain emotional effects that are interpreted as evidence of God's presence and of his will. These emotions assuage feelings of uncertainty, both for Lutheran and charismatic Christians. Following Webb Keane, I would suggest that it is the efficacy of the spoken word in ritual that is put to the test - does the sermon, the prayer, the song, the biblical verse "feel" right? The emotions expected are different for Lutherans and charismatics, but they share the notion that feelings mediate God's communication to them.
Dealing with doubts, putting to test: the importance of uncertainty in vernacular religion