Using Paul Ricoeur’s theory of narrative to consider Lofland and Stark’s classic ‘Becoming a World-Saver’, I address a fundamental conundrum in the sociology of conversion. If the conversion story is told in the new light of the new discourse –brought about by the conversion—how can the sociologist use it to explain the conversion and the factors that led to it? We consider the extent to which the sociology of religion has conflated the necessary elements of narrative structure for the stages of conversion. Taking into consideration more recent research, the paper makes a case for careful and comparative sociological study of conversion narratives—considered as narrative accounts. I argue that doing so further opens up avenues for research, particularly if we consider the audiences for whom the stories are told and the purposes the stories serve, and a ultimately constitutes a sound basis for considering the processes of conversion themselves.
Thank you to Elisabeth Arweck and to the two anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Contemporary Religion. I am grateful to Marta Trzebiatowska, Steve Bruce, and Martina Klubal for extended conversations about conversion narratives; I expect that they will all disagree (each for their own reasons) with the argument as presented here, but hope they will find it the stronger for their input. Thanks are long overdue to Betsy Morgan for teaching me to think seriously with stories; this article is dedicated to Betsy, with gratitude.
- Religious Conversion