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Grant number like: FA-50078-04

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William M. Reddy
Duke University (Durham, NC 27705-4677)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2004 – 8/31/2005

The Rule of Love: The History of Western Romantic Love in Comparative Perspective

This project aims to clarify what is unique, what is not, in Western practices of romantic love, and to offer a critical historical evaluation of these practices and their role in the shaping of modernity. The resulting book will be wide-ranging and comparative; it will also draw on primary research I have been carrying out since 1987 on French marital and family relationships. A remarkable outpouring of research and reflection on gender and sexuality in the last two decades has focused on legal norms, identity, and the relative worth and rights of persons. The issue of love has come up, but has seldom been explored in its own right. Emotions in general have been lost from view, because emotions are viewed as central to "subjectivity," a category widely regarded as a mere cultural construction. But, as I have argued elsewhere, emotions are not merely Western cultural constructions. In all cultures examined by ethnographers, emotions turn up as a crucial domain. The romantic love ideal in the West is just as important as explicit sexual norms and regulations. It has shaped the lives of many millions of people in ways just as vital as the formal prohibitions of church and state. A new examination of its role in Western culture is long overdue. "Love" in the abstract may be universal, but a uniquely Western distinction between love and lust first emerged in the twelfth century. I will show how this distinction has contributed to the elaboration of the modern idea of individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness. I will argue that this distinction is not grounded in nature but in an emotional skill that each of us learns. This distinction underlies many of the strengths of the current institution of marriage as well as many of the challenges it faces.