"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Does It Mean to Convert?

We live in a time of regular "conversions" among Christians from one tradition to another--to say nothing of moving between Christian and non-Christian traditions. People move into and out of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions with some regularity now. Conversions into Eastern Orthodoxy have of course been coming in finally for some welcome and fascinating scrutiny in such studies as Amy Slagle's, The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity and more recently D. Oliver Herbel's Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church.

Now a new collection looks at conversions more widely still. With chapters on the Ethiopian Church, and with the conversions of Eastern Christians to Islam in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first millennium, this book will be of interest to those who study the movement of people from one tradition into another: Ira Katznelson and Miri Rubin, eds., Religious Conversion: History, Experience and Meaning (Routledge, 2016), 276pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us:

Religious conversion - a shift in membership from one community of faith to another - can take diverse forms in radically different circumstances. As the essays in this volume demonstrate, conversion can be protracted or sudden, voluntary or coerced, small-scale or large. It may be the result of active missionary efforts, instrumental decisions, or intellectual or spiritual attraction to a different doctrine and practices. In order to investigate these multiple meanings, and how they may differ across time and space, this collection ranges far and wide across medieval and early modern Europe and beyond. From early Christian pilgrims to fifteenth-century Ethiopia; from the Islamisation of the eastern Mediterranean to Reformation Germany, the volume highlights salient features and key concepts that define religious conversion, particular the Jewish, Muslim and Christian experiences. By probing similarities and variations, continuities and fissures, the volume also extends the range of conversion to focus on matters less commonly examined, such as competition for the meaning of sacred space, changes to bodies, patterns of gender, and the ways conversion has been understood and narrated by actors and observers. In so doing, it promotes a layered approach that deepens inquiry by identifying and suggesting constellations of elements that both compose particular instances of conversion and help make systematic comparisons possible by indicating how to ask comparable questions of often vastly different situations.

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