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Reverence is a high-level word for fear associated with reverence . It always refers to an overpowering ( sublime ) addressee, whether real or fictional. It can be individual or common. Being able to feel it is mostly seen as a virtue . “Awe” is stronger than “ shy ” or “ respect ”, weaker than “ submission ” or “ worship ”. In Brockhaus from 1896, reverence is described as "the highest degree of reverence, the feeling of devotion to that which is valued higher than oneself, be it a person or a spiritual power, such as the fatherland, science, church, state, humanity, Deity ”.

Example and mark

The term is often used in a religious, ethical, or aesthetic context. Moses approached the burning bush in awe when the voice of God told him to do so ( Exodus Bible ). More common examples are awe of the night sky, a famous person, or an important work of art. The term is often referred to as fear of God in the context . As social signs of reverence, rituals and ceremonies often require normatively - different from culture to culture and from milieu to milieu - forms of address or gestures and the like (cf. the kneeling of Warsaw ).


Theory of Keltner and Haidt

Awe is an emotion that - unlike the so-called basic emotions (fear, joy, etc.) - has only recently been intensively researched in psychology . The emotion researchers Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt presented a first systematic approach in 2003 in the journal Cognition & Emotion .

In this article, Keltner and Haidt suggest two key features that characterize awe:

  1. the perception of size / width ( vastness ). This means both physical size (e.g. mountains, cathedrals) and social size (e.g. fame, authority, prestige) as well as stimuli that imply size (e.g. a mathematical formula).

    “Vastness refers to anything that is experienced as being much larger than the self, or the self's ordinary level of experience or frame of reference.” (For example: size refers to everything that a person is larger than himself, their usual horizon of experience or Frame of reference experienced.)

  2. the need for accommodation ( English accommodation ). By accommodation they understand - in the sense of Jean Piaget - the adaptation of one's own cognitive schemata to a new perception, when the latter cannot be easily classified into the already existing mental knowledge structures. They suspect that the process of accommodation could explain the ambivalence of the emotion: If the adaptation succeeds, the awe tends to be experienced positively, if it does not succeed, there is something frightening about it.

Keltner and Haidt distinguish three categories of reverence triggers :

  1. social triggers (e.g. powerful leaders or the encounter with God / the divine)
  2. physical triggers (e.g. storm, wide view, tall buildings, symphonic music, paintings)
  3. mental triggers (e.g. great scientific theories)

They assume that the social triggers - especially submission to a powerful leader - evolved earlier and that awe is evolutionarily adaptive , as it stabilizes social hierarchies that ensure the survival of the group.

“Awe reinforces and justifies social hierarchies by motivating commitment to the leader, countervailing self-interested attempts to overturn the social hierarchy.” (For example: Awe reinforces and justifies social hierarchies by motivating a commitment to the leader and self-serving efforts, the social hierarchy to tip over.)

This original form of awe ( primordial awe ) was then generalized to other triggers ( elaborate awe ) in the course of evolutionary development . In today's egalitarian societies, elaborate awe plays a stronger role from the point of view of Keltner and Haidt. Its triggers include, in particular, experiences of nature such as mountains, oceans or recurring patterns ( fractals , waves), but also human creations such as architecture, music and art.

Similar to awe, according to Keltner and Haidt, are feelings that are felt in the presence of famous but not powerful people (film actors, athletes). Since the central feature of size / breadth ( vastness ) is missing here, it is not actually a question of awe, but rather of admiration .

Keltner and Haidt also point out the possible importance of awe for individual transformation processes. It can induce people to modify their existing self-image or worldview and to grow beyond themselves.

"Given the stability of personality and values ​​[...], awe-inducing events may be one of the fastest and most powerful methods of personal change and growth." (For example: In view of the stability of personality and values, experiences of awe could be one of the fastest and most powerful effective methods for a person's change and growth.)

Since this article appeared, awe has received more attention in psychological research. With the participation of Dacher Keltner , studies have subsequently been published that deal with the connection between awe and collective commitment, prosocial behavior and humility .


See also

Web links

Wiktionary: awe  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Awe - Honest . In: Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon 1894–1896, Volume 5, p. 757.
  2. Dacher Keltner, Jonathan Haidt: Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion . In: Cognition and Emotion . tape 17 , no. 2 , January 1, 2003, ISSN  0269-9931 , p. 297-314 , doi : 10.1080 / 02699930302297 .
  3. Yang Bai, Laura A. Maruskin, Serena Chen, Amie M. Gordon, Jennifer E. Stellar: Awe, the diminished self, and collective engagement: Universals and cultural variations in the small self. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . tape 113 , no. 2 , p. 185-209 , doi : 10.1037 / pspa0000087 .
  4. ^ Paul K. Piff, Pia Dietze, Matthew Feinberg, Daniel M. Stancato, Dacher Keltner: Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . tape 108 , no. 6 , p. 883-899 , doi : 10.1037 / pspi0000018 .
  5. Jennifer E. Stellar, Amie Gordon, Craig L. Anderson, Paul K. Piff, Galen D. McNeil: Awe and Humility. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . doi : 10.1037 / pspi0000109 .
  6. Koran Sura 22, 37 in the Gutenberg-DE project