Politics and Conversion

Though we often associate conversion with the ordinary pressures, compromises, and motivations that commonly affect individual choices, major geopolitical events also could affect the way that conversions were pursued and undertaken in sixteenth century Europe, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Take the example of the surprise defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.  The Spanish monarchy had provided support for the English Catholic institutions founded in continental Europe during the second half of the sixteenth century, including the English college in Rome, where a group of Jesuits under the guidance of Cardinal William Allen (1532-1594) trained priests for the difficult task of ministering to English Catholic community and negotiating the political hazards of Elizabethan England.  It was a place of indoctrination, where the religious preparation of Catholics easily merged with attempts to intimidate members of the Church of England who found themselves away from home and in an unusually vulnerable position. Continue reading

CFP: Conversion narratives goes to Washington

The Conversion Narratives team, in collaboration with the Folger Shakespeare Library, invite expressions of interest from scholars who are keen to be part of a small series of panels or round table events addressing the theme of early modern conversion narratives at next year’s Renaissance Society of America conference in Washington DC. Continue reading

Conversion Conveyor Belt

‘Although they [the Jews] agree with the Turke in circumcision, detestation of Images, abstinency from swines-flesh, and divers other ceremonies: neverthelesse the Turkes will not suffer a Jew to turne Mahometan, unlesse he first turne a kind of Christian.’

George Sandys, A Relation of a Journey Begun Anno Dom. 1610, Observations of the Egyptians and Jews.

George Sandys was a poet and travel writer who visited Venice, Turkey, Egypt and Palestine. As a member of the Virginia Company he also spent time in the North American colony. In the above quote from the Relation Sandys describes how Jews seem to have much in common with Muslims, but that if a Jew wishes to convert to Islam they must first become Christian. This succeeds in placing Judaism at the foot of a hierarchy of faith, but also indicates that the movement between religions could be very complex indeed. Sandys’ account has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it raises the question of whether conversion between the three religions of the book was ‘equal’. For instance would a Jewish convert to Christianity be more acceptable than a Muslim? Were converts from the Americas who were often described as having no faith, a more desirable catch than Europeans who had been polluted with heresy?