About Nancy Sherman

Nancy Sherman (CBA ’17) is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. She has affiliate appointments at the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown University Law Center and at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics. From 1997-1999, she served as inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is the author of five books– Afterwar (2015), The Untold War (2010), Stoic Warriors (2005), Making a Necessity of Virtue (1997), and Fabric of Character (1989) and some 70 articles. A recipient of many honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013-14), her work spans the area of ethics, ancient philosophy, moral psychology, psychoanalysis, military ethics, trauma, and the emotions. She is now working on dance and emotional expression, with special focus on modern dance and a critique of its view that expression should make visible what’s inner.

Dance and the Emotions

At The Center, Sherman focused on emotional expression conveyed by the dynamic movement of the body proper in dance.  Research on nonverbal emotional expression has tended to focus on static facial gesturing (as in psychologist Paul Ekman’s work) or on music (as in the philosophical literature). Dynamic movement and gesture have been largely ignored.  Although modern dance, her special focus, often had as its banner the idea of authentically disclosing inner feelings, Sherman’s intuition is that expression in dance is rarely a transparent read-out of the heart. Exploring the performative elements of dance and its connection with the expression of emotion are key to understanding emotional expression more broadly. In a curious way, ballet’s origins in the court of Louis XIV—and the mix of courtly and military arts that gave birth to ballet—offer an important reminder that emotional expression in dance is often more a matter of posing than disclosing. And that lesson is key in understanding emotional expression more generally.


Photo Credit: Cynthia Freeland