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Emotions and Conversion

Emotions and Conversion Image 250px

Date: 1 and 2 July 2013
Venue: The University of Western Australia
Convenors: Prof Jacqueline Van Gent (UWA) and Dr Spencer Young (UWA)
Keynote speakers include:

James Amelang (Universidad Autónoma)
Eric Dursteler (Brigham Young University),
Claire McLisky (Copenhagen University),
Karen Vallgarda (Copenhagen University).

Download a copy of the full program


Emotions & Conversion
As scholars working on emotions in a variety of fields increasingly reject the head/heart and reason/emotion binaries in favour of a view that emotions are in fact an integral part of cognition, and of particular importance with respect to belief formation, maintenance and/or alteration, the subject of religious conversion offers fruitful terrain for examining the role that emotions play in crucial aspects of human experience. At the same time as these developments have taken place in the study of emotions, scholars of religious conversion have increasingly come to focus on a variety of social, political and economic motives behind and embedded within this process, whether in addition or in contrast to any conventionally-defined "religious" motives (e.g. doctrine). Yet the process as understood by the converts themselves, and revealed in self-authored narratives and other source documents that reflect the converts' own telling of this experience, frequently assigns a prominent role to the considerable emotional dimension of conversion as the convert (to varying extents) embraces new networks, beliefs, and practices while also rejecting old ones. Because conversion was often an ongoing, complex, episodic experience rather than a singular or linear one, emotions could come into play at many points of these narratives, encouraging or discouraging further conversion. Moreover, as the narrativization of the experience was itself a constitutive part of the conversion process, the role assigned to emotions within these stories affords insight into varieties of conversion across different religious traditions, each with particular features subject to historical, cultural and religious contexts.

In order to see how the new history of emotions might further our understanding of the history of religious conversion in various traditions, this workshop will focus on the role of emotions in a number of different types of religious conversions (understanding that this is not a static term and also subject to interrogation) during the medieval, early modern and modern periods. Papers may approach such topics as:

  • •    Which emotions emerge within conversion narratives and what function(s)  do they perform within the conversion process?
  • •    How do the emotions of conversion affect relationships between the convert and others? (e.g. family members, new co-religionists, former co-religionists)
  • •    How do the emotions of religious conversion inform concurrent discussions of gender, race, etc?
  • •    How do those who play an active role in the conversion process of others (e.g. missionaries) view emotions as indicators of conversion, or how do they incorporate a role for the emotions in their conversion strategies?
  • •    Are the emotions of religious conversions distinctive or shared with other types of conversions?


For more information contact Spencer Young.