Guest post: a conference report

Many thanks to Lizzie Swann, a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, who has allowed us to post this report on our recent conference on ‘Conversion Narratives in the Early Modern World’. Sadly, Lizzie was’t able to attend every one of our parallel sessions(!),and we hope to publish one or two additional accounts over the next weeks. Continue reading


Conversion Narratives Walking Tour GroupThanks to everyone who braved the heat and crowds to join us for our Conversion Narratives walking tour of York yesterday. We’ll be posting up a little bit of the information from the walk on this blog over the next few weeks, so if there’s anything you’re particularly keen to hear about please do let us know. Thanks too to English Heritage for allowing us access to Clifford’s Tower, and to the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall and the Churchwarden of St-Martin-le-Grand for allowing us in to their beautiful spaces.

Conversion – problems of definition

During the ‘Conversion Narratives in the Early Modern World’ conference it became apparent that there was no stable, fixed definition of conversion being employed by the delegates. Rather, there were a series of differing forms of conversion being discussed, from conversion as a change of faith to conversion as a political manoeuvre. The range of definitions is testament to the sheer complexity of religious experience during a period of extreme and protracted spiritual conflict and change. Below we have briefly put together a few of the forms of conversion raised – please feel free to let us know if you think of any others.

  • Conversion as a change of faith
  • Conversion as an intensification of faith
  • Conversion as a renouncing of faith
  • Conversion as process, accumulative – Augustinian
  • Conversion as event, singular, instant – Pauline
  • Conversion en route or in transit – reminiscent of pilgrimage and the wandering of errant knights from myth and romance
  • Conversion prompted by a change of geography, a move to Rome or Geneva
  • Conversion as a ‘turn’
  • Conversion as a change in language and rhetoric
  • Conversion as a costume change – the staging of public baptisms
  • Conversion as an economy of faith – language of profit, deficit, debt, balancing of books, conversion as currency.
  • Conversion as politics – In the words of Henri IV “Paris was worth a Mass”
  • Conversion as cure
  • Conversion as a return – motif of the prodigal son
  • Conversion as a physical transformation, does the convert change their racial identity?
  • Is there such a thing as an anti-conversion narrative?
  • Martyrdom as a celebration of conversion, perhaps the final transformation of the convert?