Abstract: How is it that confession – a highly ritualized, dialogically structured speech act – appears to transparently reflect and reveal the inner states of confessants? This article explores this question by closely engaging select post-Vatican II defences of the Sacrament of Penance, which lay out the requirements of ‘modern’ confession in striking detail. A close reading of these theological texts demonstrates that felicitous confession is the product of three correlated (meta-)semiotic processes: (1) the figuration of the pentinent memory as a storehouse for sin; (2) the management of ritual time into discrete stages of ‘private’ meaning-making and ‘public’ pronouncement; and (3) the erasure of the social scenery of the confessional utterance. In concert, these processes render indexical signs as iconic ones and, in so doing, naturalize confession as the cathartic revelation of inner truths, already constituted as such.
Abstract: In this article, I use historical and ethnographic data to analyse the Great Repentance, a violently emotional conversion movement that swept through the Indonesian island of Nias from colonial conquest around 1915, with recurrences until the 1960s. Against rationalist and materialist explanations, I argue for a constitutive role for emotion in the conversion process. I show how the techniques and idioms of Protestant missionaries suppressed indigenous meanings and encouraged a native emphasis on ‘the speaking heart’. The existential dilemmas of modern Christians in Nias, their sense of exclusion, can be accounted for by the paradoxical ethical and affective legacy of the repentance movement. The article is a contribution to both the study of emotion in historical perspective and to the analysis of conversion.