An Interview with Jan Garside

Jan Garside, with one of her collaborators, John Angus, and the woven book

Jan Garside, with one of her collaborators, John Angus, and the woven book

Jan Garside, a textile artist, recently completed a set of three responses to our research and to the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition at Hardwick Hall. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Jan to talk through her inspiration and the challenges of her work, and to learn more about the ‘Drawing Room’ installation. Continue reading

Weaving histories: contemporary textiles at Hardwick Hall


Yesterday, I made another trip to Hardwick Hall to help (well, mainly watch) textile artist Jan Garside and her collaborators install a set of three responses to our research, and to the themes of the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition.

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What’s in a Name? Curating ‘Virtue and Vice’


The first of the four rare painted hangings in the Hardwick Chapel which inspired our exhibition. ©NTPL/John Hammond.

On a visit to Hardwick in the summer of 2011, I encountered two striking textiles. One was a magnificent appliqué hanging depicting ‘Faith and his contrary, in the person of Mahomet’: something I had read about in the inventories Bess made of her three properties in 1601, but never seen. The other was a rare and important painted cloth which illustrates the conversion of St Paul: a theme beloved of artists across Europe during the Renaissance, but which I was surprised to find painted onto fabric in a household chapel. Between them, these two luxurious objects encapsulate many of the obsessions and events of the Elizabethan age. The connections and conversations they make possible inspired the ‘Virtue and Vice’ exhibition. Continue reading

Update: Magdi Allam


Magdi Cristiano Allam, the Egyptian naturalized Italian journalist and convert from Islam to Catholicism profiled in an earlier post, made a new announcement on Monday regarding his religious identity.

In it, Allam announces his formal departure from the Catholic church, saying that “I consider my conversion to Catholicism over,” though he continues to consider himself a Christian “and to proudly identify myself with Christianity as the civilization which more than any other moves man closer to God.”

Behind the timing of this move lay the recent abdication of Benedict XVI, who personally baptized Allam on Easter Sunday in 2008, and the subsequent election of Pope Francis, who has called for greater dialogue with the Islamic world. Continue reading

Alien Encounters as Conversion Parables

An awestruck Jodie Foster.

Over Christmas, before I joined Conversion Narratives, I was familiarising myself with the blog and seeing what I’d be getting myself into (as one does) whilst watching the 1997 film Contact. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Contact is a sci-fi film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel of the same name from 1985. The film tracks the first confirmed communication from extraterrestrial beings with a view of reflecting upon the cultural conflict between science and religion, the nature of belief and of faith. Although I will not give away the plot too freely, during the course of the film, its protagonist Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster), a confirmed religious sceptic, experiences her own form of ‘conversion’. This inevitably leads to the truth of her own narrative being questioned and her faith tested.

As I was reading Peter Mazur’s post on Augustine it struck me – and bear with me on this one – that there is a kind of correspondence between the conversion narratives and spiritual journeys under examination by our research project and the narratives of alien encounter films, tenuous though it may be. Continue reading

Conversion and controversy in the modern world

It is difficult not to recognize similarities with the distant (early modern) past in the ceremony held on March 22, 2008, when the Egyptian born and naturalized Italian journalist Magdi Allam, a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs who has worked at various times for all of the most important newspapers in Italy—first at La Repubblica, then at il Corriere della Sera, and later at il Giornale—was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter mass in St. Peter’s. Continue reading

A ‘good’ Christian, perhaps, but not a ‘great’ one: David Cameron and the King James Bible

Two weeks before the end of the year which marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version of the Bible (popularly known as the King James Bible), the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, joined his voice to the wide variety of commemorative testimonies, telling an audience in Oxford that ‘the King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history’. Given our participation in the successful York Conference on the Bible in the Seventeenth Century, held in July this year, the Conversion Narratives team have to agree. Yet Cameron’s speech, which has already been singled out by the playwright David Edgar as a continuation of the PM’s attack on multiculturalism, offers a very peculiar version of the KJV, flattening out much of the difficulty and drama of its language, its appropriation, and its politics. Continue reading

In the Archives: an Interview with Craig Harline

The cover of Craig Harline's book on ConversionsCraig Harline’s recently-published Conversions brings together two stories of changing faith: one from the Dutch Reformation, the other from 1970s California. Craig’s book offers an accessible and engaging account both of Jacob Rolandus, the son of a Dutch Reformed preacher, who converted to Catholicism in 1654 and ran away from home, and of ‘Michael Sunbloom’, a young American who converted to Mormonism in 1973, but left the church when he began to explore and embrace his homosexuality.

It is a book about religious change, and about the effects of movement between Churches on both families and wider communities, and closes with a moving plea for the tolerance and understanding needed to understand and interpret these diverse stories.

Craig was kind enough to meet up with the Conversion Narratives team at the recent Sixteenth-Century Studies Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, and to talk to us about a rich range of topics, including the importance of these stories, the role of the historian, the challenges of writing popular history, and his own experiences as a converter. You can listen to the full interview on our project website.

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