Remembering and displaying conversion



Year of publication 2020
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Religious conversion represents one of the most fundamental concerns across the various disciplines of social sciences and humanities. Yet, there is no comprehensive theory of conversion or associated research program. Moreover, in the last decades, there is a decline in academic interest in the studying of conversion. There are a couple of reasons for the topic’s exhaustion. First, after more than a hundred years of study, the concept of conversion is still one of the vaguest and most theologically loaded notions connected mainly to private experience of pertaining change. Only recently has been fully brought convert as a social role and part of the group’s dynamics into consideration. The authenticity of an individual’s religious conversion must be acknowledged by others, and thus conversion has to be learned and suitably displayed, including bodily postures and emotion displays. Second, conversion research found itself in a methodological dead-end condemning scholars to a retrospective study of the past conversion process. Since the conversion is often a gradual, ongoing process open to changes and shifts, it makes no sense to isolate and reconstruct the past conversion event. Moreover, the analytical status of the convert’s account and constructive and social nature of our memories do not allow us to have direct access and accurate description of one’s experience. After detailing these pitfalls, I will argue for approaching conversion as a part of the general neutral affiliation process, including the conversion concept. The shared concept of conversion by group serves as organizing schema and narrative for reconstructing one’s memories and building identity by offering appropriate behavioral cues. In the talk, I will argue for acknowledging conversion through its demonstration events connected to behavior and ritual as well as for studying conversion as the part of the social and cultural ecology and group hierarchy.
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