Foto Christine Unrau

The importance of emotional experience among the creators of the Global Justice Movement, a network of global movements which defends an equal distribution of resources, is the center of the studies of the researcher Christine Unrau, from Duisburg-Essen University, in Germany. Through the premise of the North-American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, which says that nothing important was ever reached without enthusiasm, Christine believes that emotional experience can motivate political commitment in a global level – the case of the Global Justice Movement. In the interview she granted to this blog, she talked about the presence of emotional experience at the recent “Occupies”, how emotions can change global injustices and how a sentimental education can lead us to feel compassion for others.

Read the interview below >

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - In your opinion, what’s the importance of emotions for worldwide politics?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - Emotions can have a variety of consequences for politics: Indignation or compassion can lead to commitment for change, but at the same time, fear of the “other” can lead to aggression and violence; resentment, often based on a feeling of powerlessness, can make us withdraw from any kind of participation in politics. In a globalized world, causes and effects of emotions are not limited to the nation state: Through faster and better communication technologies, what is happening around the world can be transmitted to the average internet user and events in different angles of the world can – at least potentially – arouse us just like events in our own city. At the same time, many people realize that important political decisions are no longer taken by their respective governments and therefore turn to the global level to address the grievances which cause their indignation or compassion.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - Your research brings the example of the Global Justice Movement to show how emotional experiences can motivate political commitment at a global level. How is this movement linked with emotional experiences?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - There are primarily three emotions that play a central role in this context: Love, compassion and indignation. All of them are interpreted as motivational forces of commitment for a different kind of globalization. For example, the indignation felt in view of an unjust global order is seen as a motivation for political action taken to change that order. Secondly, emotion is seen as an important aspect of the forms which political commitment can take: Parades, manifestations, and political actions in day-to-day life can be felt as sources of joy and love and therefore as potentially successful, as opposed to actions taken merely out of duty. On a third level, the arousal of certain emotions is an aim of political commitment in itself. However, the Global Justice Movement is not a movement based on emotions only. Other dimensions of experience also play a central role, not least rational experience, and – in many cases – religious experience.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - Do you have any other example of a global movement motivated by emotional experiences?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - Another example would be a movement which refers to emotion in its very name: The indignados (or indignants). Although they originated in Spain in 2011, they are part of a bigger movement, which in this year initiated a new cycle of mobilization, namely the various strands of “Occupy”. Many of its protagonists were already active in the Global Justice Movement around the turn of the millennium.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - These movements defend different forms of globalization, according to your explanation. What are these new forms of globalization? How do are them?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - The movement which I have been studying and which had its “peak” around the turn of the millennium – with the “battle of Seattle” in 1999, the Anti-G8 in Genoa in 2001 and the foundation of the World Social Forum in the same year – has often been labeled “anti-globalization”. However, most of its participants do endorse many aspects of globalization, above all the interconnectedness, the use of information technology, the relative easiness of traveling. What they oppose is a certain form of globalization, usually termed “neoliberal” or “globalization from above”. It is characterized by the fact that actors who are not democratically legitimized hold an enormous amount of power at the global level. At the same time, profit seems to be the single most important criterium for all policy measures taken and enforced. Very broadly speaking, the forms of globalization they are committed toare forms in which people come first and decisions are taken by those who are affected by them, or by their legitimate representatives. However, there is a huge variety as to ideas how this is to be reached.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - You use three authors from three different fields (Philosophy, Theology and Sociology) to analyze contemporary global emotions. Can you explain each of these visions?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - I take these three disciplines – Philosophy, Theology and Sociology – as criteria to categorize different thinkers associated with the Global Justice Movement. In their reasoning about globalization and political commitment the authors I have studied draw on these three realms of knowledge. I would not say that each of these groups has a clearly defined “vision” of alternative globalization. What I find interesting is that thinkers from these very different disciplinary backgrounds converge in certain points. One of them is precisely the importance attributed to emotions like indignation.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - How could we create a world where all the people would have feelings as compassion and love towards each other? Do we need a process of sentimental education?

CHRISTINE UNRAU - There are strong advocates of this idea. For example Leonardo Boff calls for a world ethics based on the principle of compassion. And he has good arguments, e.g. that most religions and philosophical traditions attribute a high value to compassion. As Judith Shklar point out, to be “deaf” to the suffering of others is to be unjust. She illustrates this with reference to “L’ingiustizia”, a painting by Giotto from the beginning of the 14th century which shows the personification of injustice: It is someone who remains completely unmoved by the suffering that is going on right in front of his eyes.

However, I think we should also be aware that the compassion or love we can possibly feel for strangers is not the same what we experience with our family and friends.If we felt compassion for everyone at every single moment we would no longer be able to live our lives nor – as Hannah Arendt reminds us – to do politics, that is, to come together, to argue, to convince, to persuade, to compromise. So this wall that we have built to protect us against the “misery of the world” is to a certain extent necessary.

However, what we do need to develop is a sense of the immensity of suffering which we are constantly preventing from arousing our emotions. Theologians within the Global Justice Movement attribute this task to the religions. Another way of “sentimental education” is through narration, a process of focusing on individuals, learning about their stories and becoming able to imagine their future. Therefore, Richard Rorty explicitly calls for “sad sentimental stories” to be told in order to retrieve our compassion, citing as examples the Aeschylos’ drama “The Persians”, the novel “Oncle Tom´s Cabin” and TV programmes about atrocities.However, the fact that this is actually a technique, which can be used for manipulation, also shows that sometimes, our compassion might not always be a reliable indicator of what needs to be done politically. Also, “education” always leads to the question: Who is entitled to educate whom?

In my view, we should develop an experiential culture which takes emotions seriously and sees them as indicators of what is going wrong, but at the same time takes other dimensions of experience into account – reason, for example.



The researcher Jaby Mathew, from the University of Toronto, gave an interview to the colloquium’s blog about the research he will present at the event. As he said, “this particular work of mine is part of project which wants to challenge a still dominant binary, despite the vigorous critique made of it in the last few decades, between ‘West’ and the ‘East'”. This challenge will be brought by an analysis that points out vast intersections between west and east through the Hindu text Bhagawad Gita.

Read the interview below >

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - In your research, you showed that the Hindu text Bhagawad Gita has a strong influence on the construction of the idea of democracy on the Western, as it inspired the abolitionist writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau in United States. How could you discover that? This relation happened by accident?

JABY MATHEW - I would not say that Gita had a strong influence on the idea of democracy in the West or even in India. The connections that I am exploring are tenuous. What we know in the case of Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau is that “Hindu” thought was one of the many influences in their writing, and they eagerly read those early Indian texts which they could lay hand on. Gita was one of those enthusiastically received text by the Transcendentalists. My paper argues that Emerson and Thoreau’s ideas on individual action and duty have connections with their abolitionist positions. And, one of the reasons why Gita was read during the anti-colonial movement in India by many nationalist leaders was for conceptions of individual action and duty, which in turn leads to multiple versions of freedom and means to attain freedom in India. The larger point is that in the context of slavery in America one of the important voices of abolition came from the Transcendentalists, and these thinkers in arriving at those thoughts were not just relying on only one tradition but on multiple sources including Indian.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - You also said that the influence of Gita in our culture could lead us to think of Hinduism as a “Western” religion? Did you intend to say that Hinduism influenced our Western culture so deeply that we can almost see it as a Western religion? Could you explain this idea?

JABY MATHEW – The point about Gita enabling Hinduism to be “western” religion is made by Shruti Kapila and Faisal Devji in their introductory remarks to a volume on Gita and modern thought published in the journal Modern Intellectual History. The different articles in the volume discuss the status of Gita as a philosophical and ethical text in the modern period both in South Asia and its travel outside India. I think the point they are making is not that Hinduism has deeply influenced the western culture, but that the way in which many of the Hindu idioms and practices are so commonplace in the West now that we cannot think of it as Indian or Western. The best example is Yoga. One could ask whether contemporary Yoga is Indian or western? Gita was one of the early Hindu text that travelled to the West in modern times and was widely read, and could be thought of as having a impact on making the Hindu western and the western Hindu. This particular work of mine is part of project which wants to challenge a still dominant binary, despite the vigorous critique made of it in the last few decades, between “West” and the “East” with west being democratic, equal and free and east being despotic, hierarchical and slavish. It is in this context that revisiting one of the early travel and readings of Gita in the United States can open up possibility to think transnationally rather than in strict binaries.

TRANSNATIONAL JUSTICE’S BLOG - How did Gita influenced Mahatma Gandhi, but at the same time it was criticized for defending the system of caste and inequality in India? How could it be possible for the same text?

JABY MATHEW – Gita was one of the main sources of inspiration for Gandhi. But Gita also defends what is know as varna or the classification of society into four classes. Gandhi in his different discourses on Gita defends this theory of varna present in Gita, and this is one of the reasons for many to argue that Gandhi despite being critical of caste practices like untouchability was not critical of caste as a structure itself. The more interesting question here is how could we argue that Gita, which defends caste, could also be possible source for some abolitionist thinking? The answer lies in the de-contextualization of the text. Once a text travels from its points of origin it becomes susceptible to other interpretations and appropriations. In the caste-based Indian context portions of the text serve the function of justifying hierarchical relations, but through travel into another space certain of its ideological functions could be discarded.