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?

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