Measuring Charismatic Expression:
Towards an Integrated Perspective from Cultural and Cognitive Studies
Date: 29 July – 2 August 2019
Convenors: Cordula Vesper (Aarhus, DEN), Adrian Hermann (Bonn, GER)
It is an easy exercise for anyone to think of a 'charismatic person'— a neighbor or colleague, a famous movie star, political leader or, in fact, any other close or distantly familiar person. Despite the apparent ease of finding examples of charismatic people, many questions are difficult to answer: Why are certain people seen as charismatic? What makes them charismatic? How do they create and maintain their special role within their community? And, as researchers, we might wonder: Can we measure any of these characteristics with sufficient scientific rigor to find useful answers about the underlying mechanisms? The aim of the 5-day workshop 'Measuring Charismatic Expression: Towards an Integrated Perspective from Cognitive and Cultural Studies' was to bring together scholars from different academic backgrounds to explore ways in which we can identify, measure and experimentally induce the expression of charismatic characteristics.
The first three days were structured around particular topics related to charismatic expression. The first day focused on how we can conceptualize charismatic expression. Paul Joosse started with a sociological perspective to provide an overview of different follower types. He introduced the notion of counter-roles, i.e. particular people who seem essential for creating a charismatic person's authority. Lou Safra continued with presenting work on the psychology of leadership choices. She pointed out how signaling achievement potential is important for establishing leadership and discussed contextual and individual traits that influence followers' choices. In the following session, Jana Neitsch introduced types of rhetorical questions and explained their function for charisma. Focusing on the perception of charismatic speech, Oliver Niebuhr examined gender effects to show how particular speech styles determine success in selling a business idea. The day ended with a documentary film screening introduced by Adrian Hermann, which show-cased two charismatic persons and their followerships.
The second day focused on measuring charismatic expression. In order to prepare the interdisciplinary audience for this day's topic, Cordula Vesper explained in a tutorial on experimental methods in social cognition how to turn a research question into an experiment and which analysis methods could potentially be applied to study charismatic expression. Felix Götz presented a series of psychological experiments on asymmetric joint actions, i.e. social interactions with clear leader and follower roles, and suggested potential influencing factors. Standing in for Arianna Curioni, Cordula Vesper continued with further empirical examples of how leader and follower roles shape joint actions. In the following session on religious experience, Anna-Konstanze Schröder provided a critical overview of approaches to and questions about charisma, including those discussed during the workshop. She emphasized the importance of conceptual clarity for research, e.g. distinguishing charisma from general leadership. Uffe Schjødt presented an analysis of testimonies from a particular case of charismatic healing through prayer, which he linked to research on belief effects. At the end of the day, a poster and flash talk session featured short presentations in alternative formats, presented by Stephanie Berger, Martin Dockendorff, Lara Engelbrecht and Inge Fiedler.
On the third workshop day, the focus was placed on how charismatic expression can be created. Based on a number of Norse legends, Dirk Johannsen suggested that the majority of stories follows narrative scripts that shape how listeners perceive the charismatic figure. This insight could provide an anchor for experimental work. Adrian Hermann continued with a visual anthropology perspective, exemplifying how different camera perspectives in film documentaries can lead to the perception of authority. In the final session, Mareike Smolka presented an anthropological analysis of group formation and detailed how debate leads to conceptual changes within a group. Julia Stenzel used an example of ritualized theatre to suggest a shift towards studying the environment in which charisma occurs rather than the charismatic person him- or herself.
In a general discussion marking the end of the first part of the workshop, the group of participants identified four threads to follow up on during a second part on the last two days, with the aim to develop concrete interdisciplinary projects. Four subgroups worked on the four identified topics ('setting the scene', 'the role of emotion', 'prediction breaking', 'follower types') and later presented their ideas within the group. On the basis of these intense small-group work sessions, a number of testable experiment and project ideas emerged. Most of the workshop participants expressed their intention to follow up on these ideas during the coming months and to continue the work on understanding charismatic expression.
Cordula Vesper, Adrian Hermann
Stephanie Berger (Kiel, GER), Martin Dockendorff (Budapest, HUN), Lara Engelbert (Amsterdam, NED), Inge Fiedler (Leipzig, GER), Felix Götz (Würzburg, GER), Marie Louise Herzfeld-Schild (Luzern, SUI), Dirk Johannsen (Oslo, NOR), Paul Joosse (Hong Kong SAR, CHN), Jana Neitsch (Sønderborg, DEN), Oliver Niebuhr (Sønderborg, DEN), Lou Safra (Paris, FRA), Uffe Schjoedt (Aarhus, DEN), Anna-Konstanze Schröder (Schwerin, GER), Mareike Smolka (Maastricht, NED), Julia Stenzel (Bonn, GER)