Affect before Spinoza: Reformed Faith, Affectus, and Experience in Jean Calvin, John Donne, John Milton and Baruch Spinoza

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2009

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Abstract

Affects are not reducible to feelings or emotions. On the contrary, Affect Before

Spinoza investigates the extent to which affects exceed, reconfigure and reorganize

bodies and subjects. Affects are constitutive of and integral to dynamic economies of

activity and passivity. This dissertation traces the origins and histories of this definition

of affect, from the Latin affectus, discovering emergent affective approaches to faith,

devotional poetry and philosophy in early modernity. For early modern believers across

confessions, faith was neither reducible to a dry intellectual concern nor to a personal,

emotional appeal to God. Instead, faith was a transformative relation between humans

and God, realized in affective terms that, in turn, reconfigured theories of human agency

and activity. Beginning with John Calvin and continuing through the work of John

Donne, John Milton, and Baruch Spinoza, Affect Before Spinoza posits affectus as a basis

of faith in an emergent Reformed tradition as well as a term that informs disparate

developments in poetry and philosophy beyond Reformed Orthodoxy. Calvin's

configuration of affect turns existing languages of the passions and of rhetorical motives

towards an understanding of faith and certainty. In this sense, Calvin, Donne, Spinoza

and Milton use affectus to pose questions of agency, will, tendency, inclination, and

determinism.

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Leo, Russell Joseph (2009). Affect before Spinoza: Reformed Faith, Affectus, and Experience in Jean Calvin, John Donne, John Milton and Baruch Spinoza. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/1356.

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