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Plenary speakers: Irene Fosi and Nabil Matar

9th - 11th June, 2011
University of York, UK

Conference home

This three-day conference brought together scholars from across the globe to discuss the politics and enduring influence of religious change during and after the European Reformations. The three-day conference brought together more than sixty speakers from Britain, the US, Canada, Brazil, Poland, Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, New Zealand, and Malta to explore conversions throughout Latin and Colonial America, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Far East.

Delegates compared notes on topics as diverse as women’s conversions in sixteenth-century Vietnam, the Christianisation of Belize, and Turks turned Protestant in early modern London. Some papers dealt with particular case studies, while others opened up the variety of models – from Augustine reading in the garden to Ignatius Loyola’s vision of the Virgin Mary after he was wounded in Pamplona, or St Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus – which early modern men and women drew upon when telling their own stories of changing faith. An important strand of the conference investigated the rhetorical and metaphorical turns of those who shifted Church, opening up new ways of understanding religious experience in this crucial period.

The conference also featured lectures from two plenary speakers, Professor Irene Fosi (Chieti) who offered a thrilling survey of the ways in which the formal questions of the Roman Inquisition framed and prompted particular narratives, and Professor Nabil Matar (Minnesota) whose provocative lecture demanded that we rethink today’s religious politics in the light of a long history of Christian conversions backed by the full force not only of religious institutions but of global trade.



A copy of the programme is available to download here: Conference programme (PDF , 119kb).

   Thursday 9th June, The King's Manor
 9.15 Registration and coffee
 9.45 Welcome (The Huntingdon Room, King's Manor) 
10.00  Converts from Islam and Judaism in Italy
Chair: Simon Ditchfield, University of York
Stephen Bowd, University of Edinburgh, Jewish conversion and Christian ethnologies of the Jews in Renaissance Italy
Peter Mazur, University of York, Alessandro Franceschi: the career of a Jewish Convert in the Roman Curia, 1557-1601
Emanuele Colombo, DePaul University, Chicago, Balthasar Loyola (1631-1667), prince of Fez and Jesuit: a conversion story

Conversion Narratives in Early Modern South India
Chair: Ian O'Neal, University of York 
Paolo Aranha, Warburg Institute, Edifying models: a contextual typology of the conversion narratives in the Litteræ Annuæ of the old Madurai mission (1606-1759)
Ananya Chakravarti, University of Chicago, In the language of the land: Jesuit annual letters from Brazil and India
Celia Tavares, The conversion narrative of the Jesuit Henrique Henriques on the Pescaria Coast in the sixteenth century

 11.30   Coffee

Rhetoric, Narrative, and Conversion in Early Modern East Asia
Chair: Paolo Aranha, Warburg Institute
Tara Alberts, Jesus College, Cambridge, 'After baptism she became an apostle': missionary narratives and female conversion in seventeenth-century Vietnam
Monika Miazek-Męczyńa, Adam Mickiewicz University, The miraculous conversions at the Chinese imperial court related by Michael Boym SI
Bruno Soalheiro, São Paulo University, Rhetoric and conversion: the Jesuit mission in Tibet (1624-1635) 

Letters and Lifewriting: Persuasion and Exemplarity
Chair: Abi Shinn, University of York
Hannah J. Crawforth, King's College, London, A father to the soul and a son to the body: regeneration in Robert Southwell's 'Epistle to his Father'
Olivier Tonneau, Homerton College, Cambridge, Conversion in theory and practice: a study of the writings of Blaise and Jacqueline Pascal
Samuela Marconcini, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, The famous Danish anatomist Nicholas Steno (1638-1686)
 1.30 Lunch

Conversion and Church Membership in the Seventeenth-Century Puritan World
Chair: John Coffey, University of Leicester
Francis J. Bremer, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Not quite so visible saints: reexamining conversion and church membership in seventeenth-century New England
Joel Halcomb, University of St. Andrews, Conversion narratives and visible saints in the gathered churches of the 'puritan revolution'
Hunter Powell, University of Cambridge, The invisibility of 'invisible saints' in the debates of the Westminster Assembly
With commentary from Anne Hughes, Keele University

Communicating Conversion
Chair: Bill Sherman, University of York
Kathleen Lynch, Folger Shakespeare Library, Spiritual experience: testing the cultural limits of method
Christopher Wild, University of Chicago, Communicating conversion in early modern Europe
Abigail Shinn, University of York, Turner's craft: conversion and the art of rhetoric

 4.00 Coffee
 4.30 Plenary: Irene Fosi, 'Conversion and autobiography: telling tales before the Roman inquisition'
 5.30 Drinks reception, sponsored by the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies


  Friday 10th June, The King's Manor 
9.30  Conversion, Anti-Conversion, and Constancy in English Drama
Chair: Chloe Preedy, University of York
Paul Quinn, University of Sussex, 'Let then convert to ashes': violence and anti-conversion discourse in Thomas Drue's The Duchess of Suffolk
Lieke Stelling, Leiden University
, 'Thy very essence is mutability': conversion, change and constancy in early modern drama
Catherine Parsons, University of Sussex, The sexualised anxiety of conversion in Dekker and Massinger's The Virgin Martir
Performance, Rhetoric, and Religious Feeling 
Chair: Kevin Killeen, University of York
David A. Boruchoff, McGill University, Forming converts and missionaries: a comparative study from the early Americas
Elizabeth Graham, Institute of Archaeology, University College London, Maya conversions and religious realities
Anne Dunan-Page, Université de Provence and Maison Française d'Oxford, Seventeenth century dissenting conversion narratives and the history of emotions
 11.00 Coffee

Muslim Conversions to Christianity
Chair: Nabil Matar, University of Minnesota
Dennis Austin Britton, University of New Hampshire, Turks turned Protestant in Early Modern England
François Soyer, University of Southampton, The public baptisms of Muslims in the early modern Iberian peninsula: examining the sources
Matthew Dimmock, University of Sussex, Converting and not converting "the Turk" in London in 1586

Women and Conversion
Chair: Helen Smith, University of York
Laura Branch, University of Warwick, Constancy as conversion: the spiritual narrative of Rose Throckmorton (c. 1526-1613)
Anna Warzycha, Loughborough University, The clothed sould in the garden: women's conversion narratives in mid-seventeenth-century England
Gemma Simmonds, Heythrop College, University of London, From virgin to virago: Mary Ward (1585-1645), a woman finds her place
 1.00 Lunch
2.00  Staging Transgression and Conversion
Chair: Matthew Dimmock, University of Sussex
Chloe Preedy, University of York, Souls for sale: marketing faith in Marlowe's drama
Julia Weitbrecht, Berlin, Performing conversion: Mary Magdalene in German Passion Plays
Laurence Publicover, University of Leeds, The theatricality of transgression in early modern 'Conversion' drama
Iberian and Moroccan Jews: Conversions and Representations
Chair: Giuseppe Marcocci, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim, Instituto de Investigação Cientifica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugese Jews in the Turkish 'carrefour' between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean (16th century): decentralisation and conversion
Bruno Feitler, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, No God's land: conversion and reconversions to and from Judaism and Catholicism in Dutch Brazil (1630-1654)
3.30  Coffee
4.00  Conversion and the Tudor Reformations
Chair: John Cooper, University of York
Angela Ranson, University of York, A network of narratives
Mike Rodman Jones, Girton College, Cambridge, Conversion, polemic, and autobiography
Oliver Wort, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, Conversion narratives and the conversion of narratives: the case of John Bale

Compulsion and Persuasion: Competing Narratives of Conversion
Chair: Emanuele Colombo, De Paul University, Chicago
Maja Quakatz, University of Münster, Christian narratives about Ottoman-Muslim conversions in the Holy Roman Empire
Elizabeth Jessen, Queen's College, Oxford, Jakob Boehme's 'Aurora' and 'Regeneration' as conversion books
Carmelina Gugliuzzo, University of Messina, A Mediterranean microcosm: slavery and conversions in early modern Malta

 5.30 Break  
 5.45 Plenary: Nabil Matar, '"Ridda" and empire: Muslim conversion to Christianity in the early modern period'
 7.15 Dinner  


 Saturday 11th June, Berrick Saul Building  

Conversions to Islam from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean World
Chair: Simon Ditchfield, University of York
Felicita Tramontana, Università di Palermo, Records of conversion from 17th-century Jerusalem
Guiseppe Marcocci, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, A story of slavery and religion: the Abyssinians in the early modern Indian Ocean world
Serena di Nepi, University of Rome, The Roman Inquisition and the conversions of Jews to Islam in the Mediterranean Area

Bodies, Places, and Spaces
Chair: Mark Jenner, University of York
Jane Stevens Crawshaw, Oxford Brookes University, Cleansing the body, cleansing the soul: the Counter-Reformation Plague Hospital as a space of  conversion
Lena Liapi, University of York, Snatching criminals 'from the jawes of Hell': creating accounts of conversion in Goodcole's Newgate pamphlets
Helen Smith, University of York, 'Medicinable to many soules': conversion and cure in early modern Britain
11.00  Coffee  
11.30  Border Crossings: Materiality and Movement
Chair: Piers Brown, University of York
Glyn Parry, Victoria University, Wellington, John Dee's suppressed and publicized conversions
Rachel Adcock, Loughborough University, 'Pledges and patterns': the spreading abroad of Jane Turner's and Deborah Huish's Baptist conversion narratives
Jenny Hillman, University of York, Seeing is believing: the conversion of Anne de Gonzague in seventeenth-century Paris

Cuius Regio: Royal and Aristocratic Conversions
Chair: Rachel Willie, University of York
Marion Lemaignan, European University Institute (Florence), Christina of Sweden's conversion: cross perspectives on a European event
Lorenz Baibl, University of Münster, Conflicting narratives: the experience of conversion among families of the high nobility in the Holy Roman Empire
Nicole Last, Washington University in St. Louis, 'Fie on Such Forgerie!': Henri of Navarre, conversion, and the English narrative

 1.00 Lunch
2.00  Conversion and Reformation in Early Modern Poland
Chair: Amritesh Singh, University of York
Michal Choptiany, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Samuel Przypkowski's Responsio ad scriptum: on what happens when a Socynian becomes a member of the Orthodox church
Waldemar Kowalski, Uniwersytet Jana Kochanowskiego, Kielce, Two patterns of religious conversion in Renaissance Poland
Piotr Wilczek, University of Warsaw, Conversion and transformation: a few remarks on the lives and works of Polish writers of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation
Conceptualising Conversion
Chair: Peter Mazur, University of York
Frans Ciappara, L-Università ta' Malta, Conversion narratives and the inquisition in Malta, 1650-1700
Jörg Deventer, Leipzig University, Behind the text. Conversion narratives and the politics of curing the soul: Saxony as a case study
Andreu Martínez, University of Hamburg, Reducing the self, reducing the other: the Jesuit idea of conversion in the age of the Reformation
3.30    Coffee
4.00  Conversion, Toleration and Cohabitation
Opher Mansour, Penn State University, The Keichõ embassy: diplomacy and conversion in early Seicento Rome
Claire Schen, State University of New York at Buffalo, Amphibians and chameleons: experience and tolerance of conversion

Drinks reception, sponsored by the Journal of Early Modern History



Abstracts; A-M

Abstracts are listed below, ordered alphabetically by speaker. We are grateful for permission to reproduce these abstracts here.

‘Pledges and Patterns’: The spreading abroad of Jane Turner’s and Deborah Huish’s Baptist conversion narratives
Rachel Adcock, Loughborough University

In the 1650s the Particular Baptists began to gather together in regional associations to establish links between churches and discuss doctrine and church organisation, and these included the army garrisons in Ireland. Deborah Huish’s conversion narrative recorded and published by her brother-in-law, William Allen, as The Captive Taken from the Strong (1658) was addressed to these Irish Baptist churches that she had visited with her brothers-in-law who were members of Cromwell’s occupying army. Huish’s narrative, accounting her seemingly miraculous recovery out of extreme despair (she was suicidal at times), would seem to have rallied and united the saints within her congregation. However, as well as encouraging ‘poor, drooping, disconsolate, discouraged souls’ who were suffering in the belief that they were not one of God’s elect, Huish was also made to stand as a metaphor for the wider body of ‘drooping’ believers by Allen. She is made to stand as a ‘pledge and a pattern’ for how the Baptist churches would be raised up by the Lord out of the disillusionment they felt at Cromwell’s ‘falling away’ from the godly ‘old cause’ towards the end of the 1650s.

In this paper, I will compare Huish’s conversion narrative with Jane Turner’s Choice Experiences of the Kind Dealings of God before, in, and after Conversion, published in 1653 by her husband Captain John Turner. Her work was addressed to the ‘Precious and dearly beloved Brethren’ in the ‘Churches of Christ who worship God in spirit and truth [...], especially those my dear Brethren at Newcastle, Barwick [Berwick], and Scotland’. Turner relates how she was tempted towards Quakerism, a threat to the Baptist churches in the north of England, and urges believers to withstand their deceitful words. What both Turner’s and Huish’s texts show is how conversion narratives were used for evangelising, spreading news, and strengthening ties between churches across national borders. They also show how the personal tribulations of women (in particular) were mapped onto the lives of the congregations to predict that the Lord would uphold them in desperate times.

"After baptism she became an Apostle": Missionary narratives and female conversion in seventeenth-century Vietnam
Tara Alberts, Jesus College, Cambridge

The prominent role played by women in the development and diffusion of Christianity in the Viet polities of Tonkin and Cochinchina is one of the most striking and understudied features in the global history of Catholicism. In missionary accounts, moments of female conversion often appear as important turning points for the success of local missions in the region. Female converts such as ‘Catherine’, a highborn and well educated Christian convert from the royal court of Tonkin, led churches, acted as preachers and catechists, wrote Christian literature, and developed novel forms of religious life. As sporadic persecutions swept the land, some women and young girls bemused local officials by presenting themselves in the courts, demanding martyrdom. The route taken by such women – from their initial conversion to Christianity to their spiritual development in the service of the young Church, to their final conversion to become martyrs for the faith – was described in detail by missionaries. Missionary depictions of female Christian devotion in Vietnam share many features with other early modern genres of conversion narrative. Yet they also contain many sharp contrasts to accounts of female conversion elsewhere in Southeast Asia and, indeed, in Europe. This paper explores missionary narration of the process and consequences of female conversion in seventeenth-century Vietnam. It considers the problem of the ‘second-hand’ conversion narrative, constructed by the missionary, and explores how we might use such sources to examine the experiences of the convert. Case studies exploring key moments such as the establishment of the ‘Amantes de la Croix’ association of Catholic religious women in Tonkin and Cochinchina, and the visit of four Spanish Clarisse nuns from Manila to Cochinchina reveal much about the encounter between Vietnamese and European concepts of conversion, spirituality and devotion.

Edifying models: A contextual typology of the conversion narratives in the Litteræ Annuæ of the old Madurai mission (1606- 1759)
Paolo Aranha, Warburg Institute, London

The Jesuit mission of Madurai, established in 1606 by the Italian Roberto Nobili, was a major attempt to build up a Christian community in India beyond the political control of the Portuguese thalassocracy, even though within its ecclesiastical patronage (Padroado). Thanks to radical forms of social and cultural adaptation (accommodatio), the Jesuit missionaries were able to foster a thriving Indian Catholic community. The purpose of this paper is to analyze systematically all the episodes of conversions narrated in the Annual Letters (Littera Annua) sent to Rome by the Jesuits of the Madurai mission, since its start and until the suppression of the Society of Jesus in Portugal. These letters, called “annual” but normally sent every three years, both provided statistical figures on baptisms celebrated in each Jesuit residences and reported episodes of individual or collective conversions. On the basis of a comprehensive database of all the conversion narratives available in the Littera Annua it will be possible to derive a contextual typology of conversions. Rather than pursuing an abstract formalist analysis, the paper will classify the conversions narratives according to categories specifically relevant to the historical context of theMadurai region in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Special attention will be paid to material categories such as gender, health, castes belongings and working conditions. The conversions will be then analyzed taking into account spiritual categories like visions, miracles and demonic forces. The diachronic evolution of the episodes highlighted in the Littera Annua, chosen by the missionaries having in mind readers in Europe who had never been to India, will cast light on the way the models of spiritual edification changed between the Tridentine age and the Catholic Enlightenment.

Conflicting Narratives: The Experience of Conversion among Families of the High Nobility in the Holy Roman Empire
Lorenz Baibl, University of Münster

Religious antagonism was characteristic for the Holy Roman Empire since the days of the Reformation. Therefore conversions to Catholicism by Protestant members of the high nobility were seen as important public events with considerable political consequences. While research has emphasized the public character of conversions, it is often neglected that a conversion among the ranks of the nobility was also, even first and foremost a family affair. The religious division of dynasties which were previously united in their adherence to Protestantism manifested itself for the first time in the different views on the actual conversion. While the noble convert naturally justified his change of faith by referring to godly grace, biblical proof or ecclesiastical tradition, the other family members painted a strikingly different picture of the conversion. By attributing this action only to worldly causes like individual career ambition or by presenting the convert as a mere puppet of the Catholic clergy they constructed their own narrative which counteracted the convert’s efforts of legitimization.

In my paper I will exemplify these different ways to tell one and the same story by tracing the cases of two Imperial Counts (Reichsgrafen) who converted to Catholicism during the course of the 17th century and had to deal with the reaction of their Lutheran or Calvinist relatives. By analyzing the family correspondence which immediately followed the conversion I will focus on three questions: How did the Counts try to justify their change of faith and how did the other members of the house react to that? Which rhetorical strategies and theological topoi were used? What was the impact on family relations and dynastic self-perception in the long run?

Forming Converts and Missionaries: A Comparative Study from the Early Americas
David A. Boruchoff, McGill University

This paper examines the similar and self-conscious use of the discourse of exemplarity by two seemingly incongruous groups in early modern America: Franciscan missionaries in sixteenth-century New Spain (Mexico), who used exemplary figures from the remote and recent past to salvage and advance the project of converting Amerindians, and Puritans in seventeenth-century New England, who did much the same in an effort to persuade those who were already part of the community to continue to adhere to the ideals and practices of their founding fathers. Despite doctrinal differences—the Catholic Church encouraged the veneration of saintly persons, whereas Protestants contended that no person is himself saintly; rather, it is the image of Christ that appears in and through him—there is in fact a marked commonality in the historical works written by Franciscans and Puritans in their respective times of crisis, a phenomenon that allows insight into the practice of religious history in the colonial Americas, on one hand, and into the problems of religious projects founded upon ideal paradigms (triumphalism, the “latter times,” etc.), on the other. While I am primarily concerned for conversion narratives—which were deeply influenced in the case of sixteenth-century New Spain by the nation’s recent and ongoing transactions with Jews, Muslims, and their only partially assimilated descendants—I recognize that for this type of writing to be credible and persuasive, especially within the religious community, it necessarily had to engage a broader spectrum of spiritual ideals and topoi. It is for this that common means exist in the rhetoric of Catholic missionaries and Puritan divines, at least in the early modern period.

Jewish Conversion and Christian Ethnologies of the Jews in Renaissance Italy
Stephen Bowd, University of Edinburgh

Recent research has suggested that during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period Jewish converts to Roman catholicism were often viewed with suspicion by their new co-religionists. In order to allay these suspicions – which had a variety of religious, social, historical, and even biological origins – some Jewish converts wrote books about Judaism and Jewish life which mocked their former co-religionists. In doing so, Jewish convert writers attempted to widen the gap between themselves and the Jews and to reaffirm, with some anxiety and vehemence, the strength of their new-found beliefs. In this paper I examine the nature of writings by converts in Renaissance Italy and place them in the broader context of rituals of forced conversion of Jews in major Italian cities and of humanist interest in Judaism. Jewish convert writing has been the focus for studies by historians of Germany and of Judaism but has not received sustained attention from historians of humanism and Renaissance Italy. This paper will give an indication of the current state of research and outline my own findings drawn from civic archives and from printed primary sources. In this paper, part of the work-in-progress of my British Academy-funded project surveying humanist texts on Jews and Judaism in Renaissance Italy (2011-12), I will offer new perspectives on Christian ethnographies of Jews in Renaissance Italy and directions for future research.

Not Quite So Visible Saints: Reexamining Conversion and Church Membership in Seventeenth-Century New England
Francis J. Bremer, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

In 1963 Edmund S. Morgan argued in Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea that New England puritans, in an effort to form pure churches of God’s saints, required all who sought membership to share with the congregation a narrative of their personal religious experience.  Morgan’s position became the orthodoxy among colonial American historians and strongly influenced students of English and Irish puritanism.  Numerous studies claim that such narratives were required on both sides of the Atlantic with no evidence supplied other than a citation to Visible Saints. This paper will argue that Morgan was wrong.  His evidence was drawn from a mere three Massachusetts congregations.  

While it is true that the colonists wished to limit membership to the spiritually converted, those who were the beneficiaries of God’s saving grace, they did not use narratives of personal experience as proof of that state.  Most churches required evidence of godly behavior, a profession of faith, and willingness to subscribe to a church covenant.  The profession of faith was a statement of belief.  Clergy such as John Davenport insisted that true belief was more than mere doctrinal awareness and that whether the candidate’s understanding was illuminated by God’s grace was something that a congregation could judge.  The paper is based on an analysis of what we know of practice throughout New England and not just on evidence from the Boston area.  It includes an examination of the views of clergy such as Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and Davenport, and looks not only at the English congregations but at the evidence of conversion demanded of native American converts.

Constancy as Conversion: The Spiritual Narrative of Rose Throckmorton (c.1526-1613)
Laura Branch, University of Warwick

This paper will examine a short piece of life writing composed in 1610 by Rose Throckmorton (nee Locke) at the age of 84.  Rose was born in London in 1526 into a family known for its evangelical tendencies from the first stirrings of religious change. The narrative, of just a few thousand words, focuses on the experience of Rose and her husband, the mercer Anthony Hickman, during the reign of Mary I. We learn how they lived as Protestants in London under the threat of persecution and their subsequent exile in Antwerp. Whilst this narrative is not unknown to scholars, its qualities as a conversion narrative have not been recognised. In part, this is because the narrative does not adhere to the more well-known Augustinian framework charting a battle against sin, a moment of conversion and a subsequent godly existence. Instead, this is a narrative that utilizes a martyrological framework that emphasises the formative experience of suffering above sin.

Consequently, this paper will argue that this piece of life writing should be reconsidered as an early modern conversion narrative. Rose aimed to demonstrate the steadfastness of her godly piety from an early age and hoped to engender the same level of zeal within her children. This aim was achieved by presenting herself and her husband as living martyrs battling against the sin of papistry during the 1550s. Their moment of conversion was instead an intensification of faith and a crystallization of their religious identity as godly individuals who had clearly forsaken their Catholic ancestry. Thus, this paper will also address the reception of this writing by Rose Throckmorton’s descendants who considered her an exemplar of female godliness inspiring them to copy and preserve her text.

Turks Turned Protestant in Early Modern England
Dennis Austin Britton, University of New Hampshire

Recent scholarship on “turning Turk”—or Christians converting to Islam—in early modern England has illustrated not only that the English feared that trade with and travels to Muslim countries might lead Englishmen to forsake Christianity, but also that numerous Englishmen did just that. Consequently, Turks and other Muslim peoples were often demonized in everything from sermons and prayers to travel narratives and dramatic productions. Such acts of demonizing surely affected how the English viewed Turks who converted to Christianity, an early modern English phenomenon that has been studied far less than that of turning Turk.

This paper examines four narratives about Turks who turned Protestant in early modern England: Meredith Hanmer’s The baptizing of a Turke, A sermon preached at the Hospitall of Saint Katherin… (1586), John Despagne’s The joyfull convert: represented in a short but elegant sermon preached at the baptizing of a Turke (1658), Thomas Warmstry’s The baptized Turk, or a narrative of the happy conversion of Signior Rigep Dandulo…(1658), and Thomas White’s A true relation of the conversion of and baptism of Isuf the Turkish chaous, named Richard Christophilus…(1659). Although these narratives insist that the new converts sincerely believe in Protestant Christianity, they nevertheless reveal a concern about the converts’ racial and genealogical origins—the narratives include discussions of the converts’ individual ancestries and the ancestries of Turks, Moors, and Saracens. That these narratives first provide these ancestries suggests that racial and religious identity were seen as linked in the early modern period, so much so that race and lineage even seem to determine religious identity. But how does conversion affect this linkage?  While conversion is always a miracle, the authors of these narratives express that the conversion of a Turk to Christianity is all the more miraculous because it severs what was considered the natural relation between race and religion.

In the language of the land: native conversion in Jesuit public letters from Brazil and India
Ananya Chakravarti, University of Chicago

From almost the inception of the Jesuit order, the concern for the form, content and circulation of its letters -- the principal mechanism for its operations in the far-flung corners of the world -- was remarkable. By the end of 1542, Ignatius had begun to formulate and disseminate his notions on epistolary practice, developing most importantly the distinction between the public, particular letter and the private hijuela. The former was to include sermons, confessions, exercises and other spiritual works and, “if the earth is sterile” and the missionary lacked things to write, then it was to include a few words about physical health, disputations with others and such matters, while the hijuela could be written quickly, “out of the abundance of the heart.” As the Society developed, Jesuit letters, particularly the annual letters written from the Provinces, became increasingly disciplined, not only in Rome where carefully selected extracts would be disseminated and published for European audiences but at the level of the Provinces themselves. The colonial public letters of the later sixteenth century, apart from providing a census of the number of priests, converts, residences and colleges, baptized and catechumens, included edifying anecdotes to illustrate the devotion of the new converts or some particularly satisfying moment of conversion for the consolation of their distant brothers. These letters thus represent an important genre of sixteenth century conversion narratives, undoubtedly bound by the strictures of Jesuit epistolary practice and the need to promote their own colonial activities in Europe, but nonetheless a potentially revealing source for the history of native conversion. This paper will examine the annual letters sent from the hinterlands of Salvador da Bahia in Brazil and of the city of Goa in India in the late sixteenth century in an attempt to understand the generic features of these conversion narratives. These areas, within the penumbra of Portuguese power, required a certain ingenuity on the part of the Jesuits to paint as entirely successful mission fields, not least because of the possibilities of flight from conversion offered to the natives of these areas. The systematic differences between the narrative strategies employed in Brazil and India to report native conversion are not merely due to the differences between the pre-conversion religious background of the natives; they reflect rather the different configurations of Portuguese political power, which undergirded Jesuit authority and which established very different sorts of relationships between the Jesuits and their new converts in these colonial theaters.   

Samuel Przypkowski’s Responsio ad scriptum: On what happens when a Socynian becomes a member of the Orthodox church
Michał Choptiany, Department of Old Polish Literature, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland

This paper is devoted to the analysis of a narrative about the conversion of Jerzy Niemirycz (1612−1659), a Polish nobleman of Ruthenian origin and highly influential politician who was raised in a fervent Socynian family and devoted his political career to the defence of political and religious rights for the members of his congregation. Despite of his services for the Polish Brethren, Niemirycz remains an ambigous figure, especially due to his conversion to the Orthodox faith in 1658. This decision was perceived by his fellow believers as an act of treason, although it is still doubtful whether Niemirycz did this in a coldly calculated manner (as a politician he was responsible for the execution of the Treaty of Hadiach (1658), a treaty between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Orthodox Zaporozhian Cossacks) or whether this decision was a genuine act of faith.

Niemirycz created in Polish an essay titled Skrypt (‘A Script’), unfortunately remaining lost, in which he dealed with the issue of his conversion and expected conversion of other members of the Reformed churches living in the Eastern borderlands of the Commonwealth. Both, Niemirycz’s decision and book have raised a serious controversy amongst the Polish Brethren and evoked a violent reaction of Samuel Przypkowski (1592−1670), an excellent Socynian writer, pastor and theologian. Przypkowski wrote a polemical Latin text Responsio ad scriptum in which he extensively summarized Niemirycz’s story of his conversion and arguments for it, adding his own critical comments and arguments against such decision.

Through an exploration of an exotic small chapter in highly complex and manifold intellectual, political and religious history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, this paper aims at giving a twofold analysis. From one hand, its goal is to describe a peculiar case of an indirect narrative on a Socynian who became a member of the Orthodox church while from the other, it is expected to provide the rhetorical and logical analysis of a Socynian view on this act of religious treason and/or conversion.

Conversion narratives and the inquisition in Malta, 1650-1700
Frans Ciappara

This study is based on the 534 apostates to Islam who, on arriving on Malta between 1650 and 1700, appeared before the tribunal of the inquisition. Those of them who were judged to be 'formal' heretics, having drafted away from the observance of Christian customs, were just a handful: twelve or 2.2 per cent. Another 116 had been forced to apostatise while they were still young and the inquisitors simply made them make a profession of faith. The greatest number of renegades, 406 or 76.0 per cent, were guilty only of suspicion of heresy. In most cases they had been forced to renounce Christianity in order to avoid death. However, in their narratives to the inquisitor would they not try to minimise the number of incriminating details in their accounts so that they would possibly even gain their liberty? The inquisitors were not so gullible as to believe them and in their sentences they inserted the phrase 'as you said' (come dicesti). However, they wanted to allow the greatest number possible of apostates to re-enter the Church rapidly and easily. Moreover, these erring Christians would have accepted Islam only externally since they kept their faith in their hearts. Despite their deviant outer behaviour they still considered themselves part of the Christian community.

Balthasar Loyola (1631-1667), prince of Fez and Jesuit. A conversion story
Emanuele Colombo, De Paul University, Chicago

My paper recounts the conversion story of Muhammed el-Attaz, later known as Balthasar Loyola: the son of the king of Fez (Morocco) who converted to Christianity, became a Jesuit and spent some years of his life converting Muslims. The case of Balthasar Loyola is not isolated, and the phenomenon of kings and princes from the Maghreb entering Italy or Spain and converting to Catholicism is frequent during the 16th and 17th centuries (as showed in a recent book by Beatriz Alonso Acero). The story of Balthasar Loyola, however, has many peculiarities.

First, to the best of my knowledge, this is the only case of a Muslim prince joining the Society of Jesus. Balthasar Loyola is one of the few exceptions to the rule that prevented the descendants of Muslims from joining the Society of Jesus; in fact, the 5th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1593) decided that the so-called New Christians, people of Jewish and Muslim ancestry, could not join the Society, and this law remained in effect for a long time (until 1946) – although it was partially mitigated. For this reason the superiors of the Society asked for a serious “investigation”, which is well documented in the archives, to find out if he really was the son of the King of Fez.

Second, Balthasar was involved in the very fruitful activity – which also has solid archival documentation – of converting Muslims in Genoa and Naples.

Third: while we usually have only stereotyped accounts of the stories of these converted Muslims rulers, here we have a broad range of sources. Christian and Muslims sources, an unpublished autobiography, an unpublished life written by Balthasar’s spiritual director Domenico Brunacci, and more than 300 letters. Additionally, a sacred drama by Calderón de la Barca performed in Jesuit colleges (in Europe as well as overseas) allows for the understanding of the perception of this story in contemporary Spanish society.

In my paper I show that, while Balthasar himself wanted to underline his new identity – as a Catholic, a Jesuit, and a preacher – and to forget his past, Jesuits and Catholic authorities always wanted to underline, despite of his own efforts, Balthasar’s former identity. It is fascinating to observe the struggle between Balthasar, who wanted to be a common Jesuit, and the Jesuits, who wanted him to be the Prince of Fez.

A Father to the Soul and a Son to the Body:  Regeneration in Robert Southwell’s ‘Epistle to His Father’
Hannah J. Crawforth, King’s College, London

Shortly after his arrest, the Jesuit priest and poet Robert Southwell wrote to Sir Robert Cecil, confirming his Catholicism and thus condemning himself to imprisonment, torture, and eventual death. The letter states that Southwell had returned to England from the relative safety of the Jesuit College in Rome in order to minister to his family, who appear, unlike their son, to have conformed to the Reformed religion. In another letter, Southwell’s ‘Epistle to his Father’, he signs himself ‘Your most dutiful and loving son’. Dutiful it may be, but loving this letter certainly is not. The text, written upon his return from Rome in 1586, is extraordinary in its tone, particularly when contrasted with the popular Renaissance genre of fathers’ letters of advice to their sons, as it would be when published alongside Walter Raleigh’s Instructions to his Sonne (1632). Southwell threatens his father with a horrifying vision of his ‘departing-bed’, asking him to imagine himself ‘burdened with the heavy load of your former trespasses, and gored with the sting and prick of a festered conscience’, feeling ‘the cramp of death wresting your heart-strings’.

As just one instance of the way in which the English Reformation resulted in families divided by faith and intergenerational conflict, this paper explores Southwell’s ‘Epistle to his Father’ as a work that reverses – or converts – the generic conventions of a text such as Raleigh’s, recasting the roles of father and son. I also examine Southwell’s ‘regeneration’ in a different sense: that of his hopes to convert or restore his father to the Catholic faith (one of the word’s meanings in the Renaissance was to be ‘born again’ into religion).

Cleansing the body and cleansing the soul: the Counter-Reformation Plague Hospital as a space of conversion
Jane Stevens Crawshaw, Oxford Brookes University

Plague hospitals, established to prevent and cure one of early modern Europe’s deadliest diseases, were features of urban centres across the continent, particularly ports.  The institutions stood on the borders of cities and offered care to inhabitants during epidemics as well as acting as barriers against the importation of disease as a result of trade.  The institutions responded to the wide and deep meanings of health during the early modern period.  In the context of the Counter-Reformation in Spain and on the Italian peninsula, plague and plague hospitals were thought to provide opportunities to experience the effects of the Catholic Church’s reinvigorated teaching on penance and grace, to intensify one’s faith and to convert to Catholicism; quarantine, as a symbolic period of forty days’ purification, offered the chance to cleanse both body and soul.  This paper will explore representations of these institutions in printed accounts of plague epidemics and Inquisition records, which describe plague hospitals as sites of charity, contemplation and conversion.  In particular, the accounts of conversions of merchants, visitors and slaves will be used to consider the hospitals as spaces of conversion.  The paper will illustrate that these sites were reconceived during the Counter-Reformation as places for holistic purification, protecting cities from heresy, immorality and epidemic disease; the conversions of individuals became deeply significant for the spiritual and physical health of the collective.

Behind the Text. Conversion Narratives and the Politics of Curing the Soul: Saxony as a Case Study
Jörg Deventer, Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at Leipzig University

In a period when church and state cooperated to impose religious conformity, conversions between the Christian confessions were far from being an anomaly, but rather a widespread phenomenon. This brings to the fore a number of questions: Who were the main advocates of conversion? What sorts of strategies and institutions did secular and ecclesiastical authorities develop for the mentoring and monitoring of converts? In what ways did personal networks and social and political contexts influence the conversion of early–modern people? What were the means of constructing convertsۥnew confessional identity? To explore these questions, this paper will consider both individual life histories as well as institutional policies and practices. Focusing on conversions to Lutheranism at Leipzig University in the seventeenth century, the paper will analyse printed revocation sermons (German: “Revokationspredigten”) authored by former members of the regular and secular clergy who migrated from the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy into the motherland of the Reformation in order to become Protestant. Here, special attention will be paid to narrative patterns, topoi, and rhetoric strategies. Furthermore, this paper discusses a range of archival sources from the Dresden court as well as Leipzig City and University Archives, which gives accurate insight into the staging of the conversion process and provides pause for further thought about the range of reasons that lay behind conversion.

Conversion narratives in seventeenth century gathered Churches: performance and emotion
Anne Dunan-Page, University of Aix-Marseille

In the seventeenth-century, membership of a Calvinist congregation or ‘gathered Church’, whether it was Congregational or Baptist, was dependent on the success with which the candidates gave an account of their conversion or ‘experience’. These extempore accounts were delivered orally, before the whole congregation, and supplemented by testimonies of credible witnesses as to the good conduct of the individuals concerned. Four major collections of conversion narratives have survived, compiled by John Rogers, Henry Walker, Samuel Petto and Charles Doe. These have naturally formed the basis for most modern discussions of the spiritual autobiographies. Although manuscript collections survive for colonial Churches, no such body of evidence is available for England to establish a comparison between these narratives as they exist in manuscript and print, or to clarify the differences between colonial and English practices. In the absence of such documents, I propose to reconstruct the performance of the narratives, insofar as that is possible, using a body of manuscript and printed works that extend from Church orders and pamphlets to archival Church records. The materials date from the 1640s to the 1720s. My contention is that modern scholars have leaned too heavily upon the printed accounts and have therefore somewhat impoverished our sense of the performing dimension.

The oral accounts were delivered in many different contexts: in private houses, in barns, in chapels or even on the banks of a river which the printed versions necessarily reduce or ignore. In addition, the printed copies tend to efface our sense of the role that emotion played in public delivery, and which surely played its part in shaping the accounts. Particular attention will therefore be given to ‘shame’, ‘bashfulness’ and ‘infirmity’ that candidates invoked to seek exemption from a public appearance, and to the supposed role of the Holy Spirit in sustaining the oral delivery of the weakest members.

No God's land: Conversions and Reconversions to and from Judaism and Catholicism in Dutch Brazil (1630-1654)
Bruno Feitler, Universidade Federal de São Paulo/ Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Brazil)

The religious situation in Dutch Brazil is usually described as very tolerant, even more tolerant than that of Amsterdam and the Low Countries. As a matter of fact, Dutch Brazil was a very peculiar place:  a land under Calvinist dominion, but whose population was mostly Catholic, and a land where Judaism was allowed.  Despite the fiery sermons of the Calvinist preachers, New Holland was a place where Catholics and Jews could more or less openly worship God in their own way as well as participate in the commercial goings-on of everyday life.  Nevertheless, and this is a point that is not frequently stressed, there was a surprising easiness with which people could and did declare themselves, and convert, to and from Catholicism, Judaism, and, to a certain extent, Calvinism.  To understand this specific historical context, this paper will be divided in three parts. The first one will describe some of these fascinating cases, the second part will try to show the different techniques of conversion in use by Jews and Catholics, second class groups in a Calvinist land.  In the last part, we will try to understand the reasons that compelled (and allowed) people to so easily switch religions in that particular time and place.

Maya conversions and religious realities
Elizabeth Graham, Institute of Archaeology, University College London

In the conference announcement, the implication is that 'conversion' reflects an experience in which, as William James describes, a person is 'regenerated' and goes through a process by which 'a self hitherto divided . . . becomes unified . . . in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities'.  We tend to employ 'conversion' to describe a change in what we call 'religion' or 'faith', but how would we describe 'conversion' under conditions in which people have no concept of 'religion'? What exactly is it in human consciousness that 'converts'? And can we speak of 'conversion' as a process separate from responses to economic and political power?  One of my topics of research has been the process of conversion among the Maya of lowland Yucatan and Belize in the period from about 1544 to 1700.  Although I have drawn from documentary sources, textual narratives were complemented by my main source of information: the excavation of three 16th-century churches in Belize and the burials and material culture associated with the churches.  Although most Mesoamericanists have long argued that the Christianity introduced at the time of the Spanish Conquest was merely a veneer among the Maya, I diverged from this view and accepted the Mayas’ claims to have become Christian. This enabled me to explore the variety of reactions to Spanish political and religious authorities in new ways. Results suggest that the 'conversion' experience exists as part of an intricate web of feelings and expectations that are deeply influenced by social, economic, and political forces as well as by new views of spirituality. Conversion under these conditions involves shifts in allegiance. These shifts operate at a number of levels to allow the converter to become more fully functional in a new world that is only sometimes of his choosing.

Relevant publications: Maya Christians and their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize (2011)

A Mediterranean Microcosm: Slavery and Conversions in Early Modern Age Malta
Carmelina Gugliuzzo, University of Messina

Early Modern Age Malta represents an important laboratory for the study of Mediterranean slavery and religious conversions. During this period, both sides, Muslims and Christians, had nearly equal power; it was really a clash of empires and taking slaves was part of the conflict. The arrival of the Order in Malta had led to a rapid increase in population. Although an island off the coast of Sicily, previously out of touch with the rest of Europe, Malta was fast becoming a mixed cosmopolitan centre. The Birgu area - the Order’s first seat of Government before the building of Valletta - was undoubtedly most exposed to heresy, and soon proved to be contagious, infecting the educated sectors of society.

The Roman Inquisition (pope Pious IV ordered a resident Inquisitor on the island in 1561) on Malta ostensibly guarded against the introduction of Lutheranism and rooted out heresy, ignorance, and superstition. But the Inquisitor also checked the power of the Grand Master on Malta and reported to the pope about the ecclesiastical misconduct of the Knights and their servants.  The Maltese Inquisitor's tribunal in Birgu formed one of the three centres of ecclesiastical power on Malta, balancing the Bishop in Mdina, and the Grand Master in Valletta. The office of the Inquisitor provided a stepping-stone to ecclesiastical promotion. The Inquisitors realized that most of the cases coming before them sprang from ignorance of religious orthodoxy: husbands feigning illness to eat meat on fast days, foreign sailors blaspheming in taverns, and slaves who claimed to work magic.  Questions of religious identity arose concerning Maltese sailors who had been captured by Muslims and who may have converted to Islam. The local parishes encouraged the Maltese people to denounce blasphemers, sorcerers, and heretics to the tribunal. These denunciations reflect village conflicts and tensions. These circumstances also suggest that the greatest challenge facing the foreign-born Inquisitors was not eradicating heresy but understanding the language of the islanders.

The experience of conversion differs according to faith, status, age and gender. In many cases people like Jews and Muslims, were forced to convert in order to maintain ‘privileges’ or properties. The records of the Maltese Inquisition reveal much about daily life in Malta; the aim of this paper is to reveal particularly the lives of the peasants and other classes usually hidden from the historical record.

Seeing is believing: the conversion of Anne de Gonzague in seventeenth-century Paris
Jenny Hillman, University of York

In the late 1660s, Anne de Gonzague, princesse Palatine (1616 – 1684) composed a spiritual autobiography in the light of her recent ‘pious’ conversion. Less than two-thousand words, the printed narrative offers a brief account of Gonzague’s conversion experience and the penitential regime she devoted the remainder of her life to. On the 9th August 1685 at the church of the Carmelite convent in the Parisian faubourg Saint Jacques, the site for Anne de Gonzague’s funeral, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet relayed an account of this very event to the congregation, ensuring the preservation of the text. Using Gonzague’s version of events, this paper will examine the familiar narrative tropes within which she reflected on her experience: in particular, the way she employed blindness as a metaphor for her lack of faith; starkly reminiscent of the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.

The second part of the paper will reflect on the way in which Gonzague’s conversion may have been informed by and, in turn, helped to inform, the material environment of her Parisian townhouse. By her own admission, pouring over the confessions of St Augustine and the life of St Antony moved her to tears during her spiritual reawakening. Using a rich, extant manuscript probate inventory of Gonzague’s residence in Paris, this paper will reconstruct spaces such as the cabinet and oratoire in order to further understand the relationship between material culture and conversion in this period.

Conversion narratives and visible saints in the gathered churches of the ‘puritan revolution’
Joel Halcomb, University of St. Andrews

It is one of the great axioms of the historiography of England’s civil wars and interregnum that when ecclesiastical authority broke down after 1640 many puritans gathered themselves together into covenanted bodies of visible saints. In these new churches, prospective members joined the church by proving their godly living, by subscribing to the church’s covenant, and, above all, by narrating their conversion to the scrutiny of the existing members. Together this proved their status as visible saints, and therefore worthy of communion in Christ’s visible church. This account can be found in textbooks as well as detailed scholarly works. 

But like all historical axioms, this one needs to be tested. This paper will reexamine the actual membership practices of the gathered churches of England’s ‘puritan revolution’, and will show that the concept of visible saints did not necessarily require a conversion narrative. Indeed, for more conservative gathered church movements, like the congregationalists, their membership requirements were often indistinguishable from their presbyterian brethren. Much of our understanding of the use of conversion narratives in these gathered churches come from three collections of narratives printed in the 1650s. Yet when we take a closer look at these collections and their churches it becomes clear that their appearance in print was context specific, and cannot be used to make broad conclusions about other churches during the period. Overall, what emerges is a more complex and diverse picture of how radical puritans understood the relationship between conversion and church membership. 

Jakob Boehme’s ‘Aurora’ and ‘ Regeneration’ as conversion books
Elisabeth Jessen, Queen’s College, Oxford

This paper will investigate how texts by the German Lutheran mystic writer Jakob Boehme (1575-1624) – which circulated widely and rapidly throughout Early Modern Europe - can be conceptualized as ‘conversion texts’. More specifically, I will explore Aurora (Boehme’s first work, 1612) and Regeneration; or the New Birth (1622), using literary analysis within a theological framework. In doing so, I will suggest that the texts are written not as autobiographical and retrospective recollections of Boehme’s own conversion – but as forward-looking texts that are aimed at converting the reader (conversion here is understood as an intensification of faith and a spiritual awakening within it). Although Boehme occasionally refers to his own experience of conversion or awakening, I will argue that the recollection of this experience serves a particular purpose in the texts: instead of casting Boehme himself as the centre of attention, the autobiographical experience is used in order to give Boehme authority as an author to affect the lives of his readers through the experience of reading. I will then explore how Boehme creates a sense of reaching out to the reader by his many direct addresses to the reader – and how, in doing so, he establishes parallels between the reader and himself. This sense of reaching out, I will argue, is reinforced by the particular way he circulated his texts: they were not printed and widely distributed, but were passed on in unfinished manuscript form from reader to reader, almost acting as a textual and personal icon. More generally, I will show that conversion texts are no always so much about the conversion of the author, but about the conversion of the reader – Boehme’s texts work to inscribe themselves into people’s lives and own experiences through calling on them as readers, claiming that spiritual transformation is open to anyone willing to ‘walk with me upon my narrow bridge’, as he puts it.

Conversion, Polemic, and Autobiography
Mike Rodman Jones, University of Nottingham

Narratives of conversion during the early English reformations tend to seem thoroughly lacking in the specific frame of reference and sense of interiority with which we now associate the term ‘autobiography’. Rather, many of these narratives are shaped and governed by the sharply controversial needs of polemic: the genre of writing which we might think of as containing the least space for recoverable personal experience. The narratives written by early converts from Catholic Orders (particularly the mendicant orders) to Protestantism can, however, tell us a great deal about the different types of self-narrative which were useful to writers of early conversion narrative.

This paper focuses on the conversion narratives of John Bale, William Barlowe and John Donne, stretching from c. 1530 to 1610. In these texts (Bale’s Summarium and Catelogus; Barlowe’s Lutheran Factions; Donne’s Pseudo-Martyr), I argue that while biblical archetypes dominate some conversion narratives, others take recourse to complex, self-exposing narratives of personal and familial shame and recantation, narratives which are often accompanied by considerable risks as well as the rewards of different types of argumentative and persuasive capital. In particular, in the case of Barlowe’s Lutheran Factions, the paper reads this conversion (and re-conversion) narrative alongside a remarkable holograph recantation letter written by Barlowe to Henry VIII, and demonstrates how narrative and documentary evidence intertwine in a complex moment of personal and institutional articulation about confessional identity.

Further reading:

Molly Murray, The Poetics of Conversion in Early Modern English Literature: Verse and Change from Donne to Dryden (CUP, 2009)

Peter Marshall and Alec Ryrie (eds), The Beginnings of English Protestantism (CUP, 2002)

James Olney (ed.), Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton UP, 1980)

James Amelang, The Flight of Icarus: Artisan Autobiography in Early Modern Europe (Stanford UP, 1998)

Alec Ryrie, The Gospel and Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation (CUP, 2003)

Brian Cummings, The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (OUP, 2002)

Two patterns of religious conversion in Renaissance Poland
Waldemar Kowalski

I will discuss two patterns of religious conversion that were propagated in Poland at an early stage of the Counter-Reformation and the implementation of the Tridentine decrees. The patterns were exemplified in two prints penned by Polish bishops. Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius, the Warmia (Ermland) ordinary and a leading European promoter of the reforms codified during the Council of Trent, made Fabian Quadrantinus the main character of his work Palinodiæ sive revocationes. At the age of about 23, Quadrantinus converted from Lutheranism at the Jesuit cloister at Braniewo (Braunsberg). Having been ordained, he joined the Society of Jesus and became well-known as a preacher and missionary.

In the aforementioned book, the first, 1571 issue of which was followed by several others, Hosius presents, in the name of Quadrantinus, the motives behind his giving up the faith he had been raised in, and consequently his reasons for joining the Roman Church. The importance of Palinodiæ has already been high­lighted in my article “From ‘the Land of Diverse Sects’ to National Religion: Converts to Catholicism and Reformed Franciscans in Early Modern Poland,” Church History 70.3 (2001): 482-526. The presentation I am now proposing would, however, discuss the importance of that treatise for the cure of souls, particularly that of the Jesuits.

The moral instructions from Joseph Wereszczyński, a Benedictine abbot at Sieciechów, in central Poland, and later an ordinary of the Kiev diocese, were published in 1585 as The Certain Highroad for Inordinate Soakers and Odious Mug Exhausters of this World. The religious conversion the author calls for was defined as the breaking free from everyday sins of which excessive drinking was the worst. This piece of guidance on morality was tailored following the then popular exempla collections, the genre commonly employed to both entertain and teach. The author condemns lay people of various social strata for unrestrained indulgence in food or drink but criticizes monks’ way of life as well. Surprisingly, too, his discourse is free from anti-protestant polemics usually formulated on such occasions, and is addressed to “all Christians”. A comparison of the two models of religious conversion aptly illustrates the methods that were elaborated to influence various social circles and shows the major priorities regarding the cure-of-souls during those decades.

“Fie on Such Forgerie!”: Henri of Navarre, Conversion, and the English Narrative
Nicole Last, Washington University of St Louis

This paper uses the conversion of Henri of Navarre – arguable one of the most high-profile conversions of the sixteenth century – to explore the ways in which Englishmen constructed the narratives that determined their relationship to the world. Henri had been framed excitedly by English forward Protestants in both letter and in print as the rising prince-hero of an international Protestant cause to challenge the great Catholic monolith they saw overshadowing Europe. But in July 1593, he converted to Catholicism in order to win Paris, become crowned the king of France, and end the Wars of Religion. The ways in which the English digested, appropriated, and represented the news of Henri’s seeming betrayal reveal exactly what was at stake in discussion of religious conversion in England. Prior to Henri’s conversion, Englishmen had followed his career as Protestant prince-hero through news, military service, and a powerful discourse of transnational Protestant identity. He was in fact so popular in London in the early 1590’s that many English – impatient under the pragmatic rule of the aging Elizabeth – began claiming Henri as their own, plotting him into their own narratives of faith, struggle and identity. The violence with which they distanced themselves from him after 1593 reveals just how much they had come to identify with him. This essay will examine English understandings of Henri’s conversion through a number of lenses. Elizabethan statesmen scrambled for their maps, conscious that one man’s conversion had just changed the shape of the European world. Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare addressed Henri’s conversion directly in contemporary works, eviscerating him on grounds of religious betrayal and failed masculinity. And finally, the London news coverage of his career speaks to the development of English public opinion, the politics of translation, and an evolving understanding of the individual’s relationship to knowledge. Englishmen had invested in Henri so heavily that his conversion literally changed the way they understood themselves.

Christina of Sweden’s Conversion: Cross perspectives on a European event
Marion Lemaignan, European University Institute (Florence)

In 1654 Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) abdicated the throne of Sweden – one of the most powerful protestant kingdom after the Westphalia peace –, she left her country and went to Brussels where she secretly converted. Almost one year later she officially converted to Catholicism in Innsbruck before getting to Rome where the Pope Alexander VII sumptuously received her. This event received a great echo all around Europe and many different kind of writings were published and widely circulated about the event, building divergent discourses at a wide scale. One may thus notice the wide range of conflicting European discourses about the Queen’s conversion. Apologetic relations of her travel and conversion, dedicated to the Pope, built the figure of a Queen of Catholicism working for the glory of Roman universalism in the context of Counter Reformation and conflicts between Pope and temporal powers. At the same time, in France, many pamphlets charged Christina of Sweden with false conversion, atheism and dissimulation. Finally, the avvisi, handwritten information sheets circulating all over Europe (initially designed for diplomats), showed strong doubts about the permanence of conversion and writers wondered for eight years whether Christina would not finally return to Protestantism.

I aim at showing that the conversion first of all cannot be comprehended as a singular event but needs to be considered as a process in a larger time frame. Secondly, beyond the event itself, the Queen’s conversion is the occasion of a discourse about Europe and balances of powers. Indeed, Christina’s religious conversion appears as a political tool on the European stage. Lastly, if one consider together abdication and conversion in a larger period, one may raise the hypothesis of the discussion within the texts of a new Royal mysticism elaborated by Christina of Sweden.

Snatching  criminals ‘from the jawes of Hell’: creating accounts of conversion in Goodcole’s Newgate pamphlets
Lena Liapi, University of York

The focus of this paper will be a pamphlet written in 1618 by Henry Goodcole, visitor of Newgate, titled A true Declaration of the happy Conversion, Contrition and Christian Preparation of Francis Robinson, Gentleman. This pamphlet is a triumphal account of the power of God, whose providence reveals the guilt of Francis Robinson, the narrative culminating in the moment of conversion, when Robinson, who was converted to Catholicism, at once admits his guilt and recites from memory a biblical passage, marking symbolically his reconversion to Protestantism. The moral lesson, that adoption of Catholicism is the first step to a life of uniquity, and that Robinson’s reconversion was of prime importance, is driven home repeatedly in the pamphlet.

In the early seventeenth century preachers were appointed by the City of London to visit condemned criminals and return them ‘to God’s flock’. This decision was inspired either by a sincere interest in the convict’s soul, or by a wish to elicit a ‘staged’ performance of conversion that would act as a powerful piece of propaganda about the legitimacy of judicial procedure and the power of ‘true’ religion. This paper wishes to explore the way in which this public and publicized account of this particular conversion was structured, reaching its climax at the moment of conversion and ending with Robinson’s dying speech. Differences of emphasis between Goodcole’s account and the dying speech will be delineated, as well as questions of audience and popularity, taking into consideration the place of such pamphlets in the contemporary book trade and how their format helps us to speculate about their potential readership.

Spiritual Experience: testing the cultural limits of method
Kathleen Lynch, Folger Shakespeare Library

The protestant conversion narrative was quickly codified in the mid-seventeenth century, under revolutionary conditions in England and its Atlantic colonies. The delivery of one’s spiritual experience came to be a requirement of membership in some of the gathered churches, and a lock-step methodology was formulated by which such narratives were produced and validated among like-minded believers. Highly formulaic, these narratives also had the effects of replicating selves. They were widely disseminated through print and among a highly mobile group of religious exiles and itinerant ministers.

After many decades of keeping the traditions in old and New England separate (the better to discern the beginnings of a uniquely American literary tradition), scholars are now again examining these narratives through an Atlantic world angle. In my forthcoming book on Protestant Autobiography in the seventeenth-century Anglophone World, one chapter focuses on a neglected moment of critical cross-fertilization and codification. If it is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one, to say that the Protestant conversion narrative was born—in print—in 1653. Several anthologies of spiritual experiences were published in London that year. They represent churches gathered in London, Dublin, and New England, bringing very differently inflected communities and practices into the same conceptual sphere.

The reason I believe that this is such an important moment of synchronicity is that we have the simultaneous working out of a method among English Protestants (by and large, this is conversion as an intensification of faith, not a change of religion) and the exposure of the cultural limits of the method, with the first printed conversion narratives of Amerindians. My goal for the conference paper is to foreground the value of bringing those different examples into the same frame of analysis. Method is the bridge. For it seems, method (in a proto-scientific or proto-anthropological sense) has been emphasized in the study of the Amerindian narratives but hardly admitted into discussion of the English examples. In those cases, we are to take as given that these narratives are deeply interiorized, authentic self-representations. There are other simultaneous movements we could bring into the same analytical frame, and I would focus on several key examples, including the intense interest of the English Protestants in the adventures of the Dutch among the East Indians and the movement (among many of the same people) to encourage the return of the Jews to England.

Writing about similarly synchronic interdependences among missionary conversions and the formation of English identity in later periods, Gauri Viswanathan has argued that conversion was an element that destabilized both parties’ sense of identity. We do not have to wait for eighteenth and nineteenth century evangelical movements to see how cross-cultural religious conversions exposed unstable religious or national identities at home, as it were. Those volatile processes were set in motion even as the method of replication of religious selves was codified among the English “saints.” As eager as they were to assert new personal and social identities, they were anxiously testing the cultural limits of those identities.

The Keichõ Embassy. Diplomacy and Conversion in early seicento Rome
Opher Mansour, Penn State University

In 1615, the Roman diarist Giacinto Gigli noted in his diary:

On 29th October 1615 there came to Rome an ambassador from the Indies, brother of the King of Japan…he was not received by the Pope in consistory…because the King of Japan is not yet baptised. The ambassador was christian, he was baptized in Spain by King Philip III, who gave him his name, calling him Francesco Filippo of Austria. The others [members of his entourage] were also christians, one of whom was baptized in Rome, at S. Giovanni in Laterano, by the hand of Cardinal Borghese, and had his name from the Pope, calling himself Paolo Camillo Borghese.

Gigli records the impression made in Rome by the Keichõ embassy, a diplomatic mission headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga (in actuality, a minor vassal of the Daimyo Date Masamune)sent from Japan to Spain and the Papal state in 1613. Contemporay descriptions like Gigli’s vividly illustrate the importance of conversion and baptism in the public profile of such exotic embassies Indeed, a comparison with the earlier Tenshõ embassy of 1582-90 reveals the extent to which the Papacy’s desire to represent itself as a global center had transformed the visual and literary representation of non-European diplomatic guests.

This paper examines the significance of conversion as a trope in the rich literary and visual material surrounding the Keichõ embassy. In the context of diplomacy and courtly ceremony, conversion played a public role both on the personal and state levels; individual converts like Hasekura came to be represented as exemplary of both their cultures and polities, and to figure in a broader narrative in which the Papacy sought to depict itself as an expanding spiritual force, often in rivalry with other Catholic powers. The conversion of foreign visitors acquired a particular resonance during the reign of Paul V (1605-21). Over this period, Rome received several ambassadorial visits from non-European states. Some, like the Kingdom of Kongo, recently christianised; others, like Safavid Persia, stubbornly infidel; others, like Japan, the site of intense but (by 1615) decidedly faltering missionary activity. 

Such embassies were of particular interest to Paul V who, in 1616, instructed Agostino Tassi and other painters to incorporate portraits of several non-European visitors, including Hasekura (figs. 1 and 2) into the frescoes of the expanded Quirinal Palace (in the very room, in fact, through which Hasekura and other ambassadors had passed in the course of their papal audiences). Hasekura was also portrayed on at least two other occasions during his visit, as both ambassador (fig. 3) and convert (fig. 4).  Collectively, these images instantiate both the particularities of Hasekura’s position, and broader themes: the representation of non-european societies as culturally and religiously permeable, awaiting transformation through conversion; and the increasingly emphatic incorporation of conversion into a discourse of specifically papal worldwide spiritual authority.

A Story of Slavery and Religion: the Abyssinians in the Early Modern Indian Ocean World
Giuseppe Marcocci, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

The paper will focus on the Abyssinians sold as slaves in the Indian Ocean World during the 16th and 17th centuries. These men came from Ethiopia, a land where Christians and Muslims had coexisted peacefully during the second half of the 15th century. By the first half of the 16th century, a violent endemic war broke that balance and turned the inhabitants of the Ethiopian Highlands into easy prey for slave-traders from the Arabian Peninsula. The Abyssinians became a familiar presence in many South-Asian territories, especially in India. This spread was parallel with the Portuguese expansion in the Indian Ocean world. At the beginning, the Portuguese looked at the Christian Abyssinians as possible allies in their global war against Islam, but soon the latter started to be classified as heretics, to be converted like any Eastern Christian. Some missionaries went as far as administering a second baptism to Abyssinians.

The condition of the Abyssinian slaves in the Indian Ocean world was complicated by the fact that Catholic and Islamic legal traditions shared a similar vision about slavery and religion: no conversion involved the automatic emancipation of an infidel slave. Following the methodology of connected history, the paper will focus on two cases, one from the Portuguese colony of Chaul in the northwestern coast of India, and the other from the Deccan Sultanates. In particular, my analysis of the story told to the Inquisitors of Goa by the Abyssinian slave Gabrile will show how slaves were well aware of the opportunities opened by the difference of the political and institutional contexts. Not only they were able to cross borders, but they also tried to use conversion as a medium to turn religion from a cause of slavery in an agent of freedom, sometimes successfully.

The use of a private letter as a propaganda tool: the case of Nicholas Steno
Samuela Marconcini, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

The Danish anatomist and geologist Nicolas Steno (1638-1686) abjured the Lutheran faith in Florence in 1667: he became a Catholic, took Holy Orders and ten years after was appointed bishop, gradually abandoning his scientific activity. Steno's conversion amazed not only his acquaintances and friends, but also the learned scholars of all Europe. In 1677 Steno decided to publish a very short letter written five years before to the Calvinist preacher Johannes Sylvius, in order to explain the reasons that had led him to convert. Steno’s religious passage was determined both by intellectual and material reasons, among which he recalls the imposing Christi Dei procession he attended in Leghorn and his friendship with influential Catholics, such as Lavinia Arnolfini, the wife of the Tuscan Grand Duke’s ambassador in the Republic of Lucca. By comparing the two versions of the letter, this paper will show that Steno, from the beginning of his new life as a Catholic, was well aware of the socio-cultural and political value his conversion had, so that he used the same arguments he would have employed in a public debate in answering a private letter: rather than being an intimate confession, the letter offers the retrospective story of a passage to Catholicism from a Catholic point of view. Steno's conversion was in fact enthusiastically hailed as a success not only for the glory of the Medicean dynasty, but also because of the importance it had regarding the relationship between science and the Church in Italy.

See also:

Nicolai Stenonis opera theologica, ed. by K. Larsen and G. Scherz, 2 vols., NYT Nordisk Forlag, 1949

Nicolai Stenonis epistolae et epistolae ad eum datae, ed. by G. Scherz, 2 vols., NYT Nordisk Forlag, Verlag Herder, 1952

S. Miniati, Nicholas Steno's Challenge for Truth. Reconciling Science and Faith, FrancoAngeli, Milano 2009

K. P. Luria, Conversion and the Politics of Personal Identity in Early Modern France: Benoît de Canfield's Miraculeuse Conversion, in Les Modes de la conversion confessionelle à l'Époque moderne, ed. By M-C. Pitassi and D. Solfaroli Camillocci, Olschki, Florence 2010, pp. 41-61

Reducing the self, reducing the other: The Jesuit idea of conversion in the age of the Reformation
Andreu Martínez, Hiob Ludolf Centre for Ethiopian Studies, University of Hamburg

Founded in the middle of the sixteenth century, the Society of Jesus became one of the leading institutions that promoted the Catholic doctrines during the age of the Reformation. The Jesuits were tireless in propagating the Catholic dogmas in the political centres in Europe and in countless missions overseas. Whilst Jesuit conversion strategies have received significant attention in the last decades, the actual meaning of the Ignatian conversion project needs to be further evaluated. The aim of this paper is to explore the mechanisms underlying the religious conversions promoted by the Society of Jesus: When did the conversion process of an individual start and when was it considered to be completed? How was the identity of the converted reshaped? Which tools, visual, oral, written, were employed and what kind of narratives did emerge from this process? In order to answer to these questions the paper will focus on some key concepts at the centre of Jesuit proselytizing, such as that of ‘reduction’, employed by St. Ignatius and ever present in the Jesuit writings. The texts of Jesuit theologians and of their fellow missionaries will be also explored to appraise the meanings of conversion within this influential religious order.

The miraculous conversions at the Chinese imperial court related by Michael Boym SI
Monika Miazek-Męczyńska, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

For many years the Middle Kingdom was the main goal of Jesuits, travelling to the Far East. They belived that conversion of China, beginnig with the conversion of the imperor, would prompt conversion of all Asia. Only one time in the history of the Jesuit mission to China this dream could become truth. On 18 December 1646, the last adult pretender to the throne from the Ming dynasty, Zhu Youlang (1623-1662), Prince of Yongming, was proclaimed the Yongli Emperor. His most loyal supporter the Great Chancellor Pang-Achilleus Tianshou (?-1657) was a Christian. At his instigation the Chinese Empress and Queens started to show interest in the teaching of the Western missionaries. By reason of that Pang-Achilleus introduced to the Yongli court a Jesuit missionary Andreas Xavier Koffler (1603-1652), who in 1647 baptised the Emperor’s wife, and named her Anna, followed by the Emperor’s mother (Maria – Maliya), the legal wife of his deceased father (Helena – Liena) – and a few days later – by the Emperor’s son, the Imperial Prince Cixuan, who was named Constantinus. Some 50 concubines, 40 officials and an unknown number of eunuchs were also baptised. All these events were accompanied by miraculous circumstances, described by Polish Jesuit Michael Boym (1612-1659) in his Brevis Sinarum Imperii Descriptio. This manuscript, which can be found in the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (sign. Jap.-Sin. 77, ff. 33-66v), became a base of a better known publication entitled Brevis Relatio, which had few editions (Italian, French, German and Polish) and gave to Europe the most current informations about the state of Catholic faith in the Middle Kingdom in the first half of XVII century.

Abstracts; P-W

John Dee's Suppressed and Publicized Conversions
Dr Glyn Parry, History Department, Victoria University, Wellington

Conversion narratives often implicitly support the modern conceptualization of early modern religion as divided into monolithic Catholic and Protestant blocs. From that perspective the act of conversion often appears a self-conscious crossing of a religious divide. Yet until the late sixteenth-century many intellectuals belonging to the international ‘Republic of Letters’ nurtured dreams of repairing the torn fabric of Christendom by resolving its theological disputes. Inspired by ancient prophecies of a period of reform under a Last World Emperor, these ‘cosmopolitans’ frequently sought the alchemical philosopher’s stone, through which the Emperor would create global harmony. The conversion experiences of the ‘cosmopolitan’ alchemist, astrologer and occult philosopher John Dee (1527-1609) help to focus attention on the limitations of our modern conceptualizations. Because as a young man Dee became a Catholic priest for very secular reasons, including political self-preservation and pressure from his patron. Only thirty years later did he formally reconcile himself to Rome, and then for very spiritual reasons. Relying on the revelations of his ‘scryer’, Edward Kelley, who he believed could communicate with God’s angelic messengers, Dee accepted that God had commanded them both to confess and receive Catholic communion in Prague. However, in one of the most remarkable conversion narratives of the sixteenth century, Dee described how he and Kelley negotiated their way to Catholic communion by relying on sympathetic figures amongst the Catholic clergy, while evading the opprobrium of the Catholic hierarchy which strongly condemned their angelic magic.

The fact that Dee spent much of his life in Elizabethan England carefully concealing his Catholic priesthood, but publicized his later conversion narrative in European courts in order to demonstrate the contradictions between Rome’s hierarchy and God’s angelic revelations, suggests that his process of conversion requires more subtle analysis than our modern perspective on early modern religion has yet provided.

The sexualised anxiety of conversion in Dekker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martir
Catherine Parsons, University of Sussex

My paper will focus on the anxieties surrounding the problems of religious conversion and apostasy central to Dekker and Massinger’s 1620 play The Virgin Martir. The fearful threat of forcible alienation from the ‘true’ religion, Protestantism, experienced both by the embattled inhabitants of Bohemia under the Roman Catholic Hapsburg occupation and James I’s English subjects from the king’s pacifist and ‘pro-Papist’ policies are expressed through the tropes of sexualised religious opposition. I examine the ways in which the imagery of oppositional female embodiment from the Biblical Book of Revelation is brought into play in conjunction with the reworking of the traditional hagiography of the Roman martyr, St Dorothea, in order to express the parallel fears of loss of spiritual and national integrity in both countries. Female chastity becomes a paradigm for the safety of the state, and the female body threatened with rape and despoliation a symbol of the threat of enforced mass religious ‘reconversion’.

I show how the early modern understanding of Protestantism as the direct ideological inheritor of the original purity of ‘primitive’ Christianity is evoked through the emphasis upon female sexual probity to represent the Protestant Church. In opposition to this, the threat of Roman paganism, as the seductive paradigm for the decadence of the Roman Catholic ‘anti-religion’, is figured in the language of whoredom, promiscuity and adultery held to characterise the ‘spiritual fornication’ of idolatrous Papistry. The loss of individual and national masculine identity is therefore shown as the result of seduction by the sexualised lures of this ‘whorish’ religion which will inevitably result in the infection by, and eternal damnation from, the apostasy to this heretical ideology.

The invisibility of ‘invisible saints’ in the debates of the Westminster Assembly
Hunter Powell, University of Cambridge

The period between 1640-45 brought forth the most intense, complex, and thorough discussions on church government of the Puritan Revolution. The standard historiography paints a picture where ‘Independents and Presbyterians’ struggled for control of England’s new church (or churches). This ‘grand debate’ was fought on the battlefield of the Westminster Assembly and the concomitant public pamphlet skirmishes. Would England follow a model of classis, synods, and national assemblies that would bind the nation together under a Presbyterian roof, or would they fall prey an Independent ploy to restrict membership to confessing Christians, without any superstructure to police the orthodoxy of the disparate churches England? This crude binary conflict model has obfuscated many of the real issues that divided and united these divines. Perhaps, this is nowhere more evident than the over-emphasis on the notion of ‘visible saints’, the reductionist lens through which the historiography of 17th century congregationalism has been refracted through.

The stringent catalyst for membership in a church was through a credible profession of faith, and this has been the primary demarcation between congregationalism and all other post-Prelatical polities. Yet, in all of the debates in the Westminster Assembly, and in the writings of the members of the Assembly, we rarely find any mention of this concept. It remains a fact that the concept of a church with confessing Christians was not particular divisive, especially between the Scottish Presbyterians and the congregationalists at Westminster. This paper will look at how these two reformed models of church government understood the nature of church membership, the rights of those people in the church, and how that manifested itself of their discussions of church, and how little the concept of visible saints divided them.

Souls for Sale: Marketing Faith in Marlowe’s Drama
Chloe Preedy, University of York

Recent studies of conversion narratives in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama have perceptively highlighted the role frequently played by suspect considerations of self-interest and secular advantage, particularly in relation to early modern fears about the prevalence of conversion to Islam among English traders and travellers. However, a related assumption which informs such theatrical representations of conversion is equally important: the role played by financial considerations in these stage narratives simultaneously implies that both the fictional converts and the religious authorities have set a price on the spiritual allegiance which is being traded away. Belief (or at least the external performance of belief) has a market value in such transactions, and one which can potentially be purchased by anyone who is willing to pay.

Characters who openly articulate this notion of confessional allegiance as a marketable commodity are especially common in the plays of Christopher Marlowe. This paper will focus on four main “conversion” narratives in Marlowe’s work: Faustus’ surrender of his soul to Lucifer, which raises questions of property ownership and exchange; Ramus’ attempt to buy the rights to his own conscience in The Massacre at Paris; and the dual episodes in The Jew of Malta whereby Ithamore and Barabas respectively offer to switch religious allegiances to augment their worth in the eyes of those who possess power over them. It will also briefly relate such episodes in Marlowe’s drama to the conversion narratives authored by other early modern playwrights, including Thomas Kyd, George Peele, and Thomas Heywood. These fictional treatments of conversion will be contextualised through reference to both early modern anxieties about those Englishmen who turned Turk, and more immediate domestic concerns about the Elizabethan enforcement of compulsory church attendance in the face of Catholic recusancy and puritan separatism.

The Theatricality of Transgression in Early Modern ‘Conversion’ Drama
Laurence Publicover, University of Leeds

Entering attired as a Moor towards the climax of the first part of Heywood’s comedy The Fair Maid of the West, the apprentice Clem unexpectedly quotes from The Spanish Tragedy: ‘It is not now as when Andrea liv’d’, he intones; ‘Now may I speak with the old ghost in Jeronimo’. Visiting the court of Fez and dressed in the garb of an ethnic other, Clem seems to think of himself, primarily, as an actor: ‘I am perfect in both your parts without prompting’, he later tells two merchants for whom he has promised to act as a lobbyist. Having transformed himself into a Moor, Clem feels himself to be on stage.

The ‘liminal’ figures who cross borders and transgress moral boundaries in dramas set in and around the Mediterranean—characters including Kyd’s Basilisco, Daborne’s Ward, Shakespeare’s Antony, and Massinger’s Vitelli, Gazet, and Grimaldi—have, correctly, been read and interpreted within the context of a broader cultural anxiety in early modern England over conversion to Islam. This paper, while acknowledging the vital role wider cultural narratives play in shaping these texts, will approach them from a different perspective. Early modern conversion dramas, it will suggest, are in a number of respects deeply ‘theatrical’: they are richly intertextual; they are conscious of their own commercial viability; and they are fascinated by questions of performance. Clem’s commentary on his own ‘conversion’, and other, similar passages from these plays, betray an interest in sartorial extravagance that is connected to, but also in some sense distinct from, the extravagance of the plays’ geography. These conversion dramas, it will be suggested, are not (as has been sometimes implied) singular cases within the early modern dramatic canon, but instead characteristic of a literary mode that consistently explored and delighted in the prosthetic aspects of identity.

Short bibliography:

Barbour, Richmond, Before Orientalism: London’s Theatre of the East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Dimmock, Matthew, New Turkes: Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).

Hutchings, Mark, ‘The “Turk Phenomenon” and the Repertory of the late Elizabethan Playhouse’, EMLS Special Issue 16 (October, 2007).

Matar, Nabil, Islam in Britain 1558-1685 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Publicover, Laurence, ‘Strangers at home: The Sherley Brothers and Dramatic Romance’, Renaissance Studies 24:5 (2010), 694-709.

Robinson, Benedict, Islam and Early Modern Literature: The Politics of Romance from Spenser to Milton (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007).

Vitkus, Daniel, Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean, 1570-1630 (New York: Palgrave, 2003).

Lutheran-Christian narratives about Ottoman-Muslim conversions in the Holy Roman Empire
Manja Quakatz, Münster

During the Great Turkish War not only Ottoman prisoners of war but also captives with the status of slaves came to the Holy Roman Empire. Those Ottomans, mostly women and children, were captured by German soldiers during their military campaigns in South Eastern Europe (e.g. Ofen, 1684/1686 and Belgrad, 1688) in order to keep them as servants and slaves in their households, or to present them as valuable war booties, either to superiors or friends. Frequently Ottoman captives, all considered as Muslims by their Christian contemporaries, were forced to convert to Christianity. Ottoman children were adopted by Christian families and baptized Ottoman women were married to Christian men in order to become integrated more effectively into Christian society.

The language of the sources, which were composed by Lutheran theologians, offers a quite different picture of the proceedings during this period. Forced baptism does not exist there. Instead all preserved sources describe the conversions of Ottomans as acts of free will. All Lutheran narratives tell stories about Ottoman converts, who recognized their true faith voluntarily and freely chose to be instructed in Christian religious principles.

My paper will pose questions such as: which arguments, narrative topoi and narrative structures were used and interposed in conversion accounts to represent conversions of Muslims from the Ottoman Empire as autonomous and genuine decisions of the converts themselves? Who were the writers of such sources? Which theological intentions are located in these kinds of texts? For what reason did they invent fictitious conversion accounts? Finally, how can we reconstruct accounts of conversions and forced baptism, when we are only able to rely on sources written from a Christian perspective.

‘Let then convert to ashes’: violence and anti-conversion discourse in Thomas Drue’s The Duchess of Suffolk
Paul Quinn, University of Sussex

Thomas Drue’s The Duchess of Suffolk (1624, 1632) dramatises events from the life of Katherine Willoughby during the reign of Mary Tudor. Drue’s major source for his play was Foxe’s Acts and Monuments but Drue substantially revised Foxe’s account of the duchess and included interpolations from Thomas Deloney’s ballad The Duchess of Suffolk’s calamity (1602). The most obvious revision to Foxe’s account of the duchess is the appearance in Drue’s play of Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London. This is a significant alteration. The Duchess of Suffolk may be the titular heroine, but Bonner is the play’s dramatic centre. Bonner’s dominance has an obvious impact on Drue’s narrative.

As this paper will demonstrate, when the language of conversion appears in The Duchess of Suffolk, it belongs to Bonner or is implicitly linked with his campaign to re-establish the Church of Rome in Marian England. In this provocative positioning of conversion discourse, Drue creates an anti-conversion narrative; in place of a narrative of conversion we find a discourse of violence. As this paper will argue, The Duchess of Suffolk replicates the ideological standpoint of its major source material in rejecting the possibility of Protestants willingly converting to Roman Catholicism. In Drue’s play, a desire to convert marks a lack of sincerity. This paper will demonstrate the rejection in The Duchess of Suffolk of the idea of conversion as a spiritual or religious event and the replacement of that conventional model of conversion with an all together different type of transformation – this understanding of conversion is drawn from the Foxean past but is applied by Drue to events contemporaneous to the original composition of his play.

A Network of Narratives
Angela Ranson, University of York

In his book English Reformations, Christopher Haigh suggests that it was not political reformations that converted England from Catholicism to Protestantism over the sixteenth century, but the evangelical reformations that occurred between individuals. This paper expands on that idea through the study of conversion narratives in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. Foxe used conversion narratives to enhance the sixteenth-century martyrs’ saintly reputations. Some of the martyrs’ stories, including that of Bishop Hugh Latimer, included tributes to the reforming preacher or mentor whose example inspired their own devotion to the gospel. Other stories claimed influence over the conversion of prominent reformers, using them to prove the martyr’s own effectiveness in winning others to the truth. Thomas Bilney converted Latimer; John Frith influenced John Rastell, Thomas Cranmer convinced Nicholas Ridley, Ridley in turn convinced John Bradford. The conversion narratives of these and other martyrs supported Foxe’s providential history of the Reformation. They helped him construct his ‘great cloud of witnesses’: the chain of martyrs linking the earliest Christian church to the English Reformers. The result is not only a narrative of conversion but a network of conversion, one which used shared experience to create an atmosphere of unity. Thus, the evangelism between individuals became one of the means by which the Reformation advanced, through both their stories and their sacrifices.

Amphibians and Chameleons: Experience and Tolerance of Conversion
Claire Schen, Associate Professor of History, State University of New York at Buffalo

Conversion, one of the two great taboos for early modern Christians according to the modern scholar Benjamin Kaplan, occurred as English men traveled and sailed into distant cultures and religions. For English Protestants in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries conversion was taboo, whether to Catholicism or Islam. Yet English Protestant captives and travelers did convert. They may have been pulled toward it by the promise of freedom and even wealth and prestige or pushed to it through physical and psychological coercion.

In this paper, I propose first studying the inducements to “turn” that Protestant captives in North Africa and other Mediterranean regions encountered. More significantly, however, I plan to explore reactions to captives who converted, yet wished to be “re-admitted” to the church in England when they were ransomed or made their way home through other routes, including piracy. Preachers railed against amphibians and chameleons, a broad category of slithery creatures that included more than the repentant apostates in front of them. Preachers suspected sea-faring men and merchants and their factors of being “ambidextrous” in their faith and as changeable as the apostate. Further, preachers blamed parishioners for being insufficiently outraged by apostasy and conversion. Sermon writers feared parishioners either held apostasy to be a slight offense or had once similarly doffed their faith in another setting. In addition to lesser known preachers, the famous William Gouge performed the Laudian rite for the readmission of a lapsed Christian. The alliance between puritan divine and archbishop demonstrates the importance of conversion in terms of spiritual and national policy.

Scholarship has tended to emphasize the dichotomy between English Protestants and people of other faiths and, more broadly, between the English and the “other.” Conversion and the range of reactions to it demand a more nuanced interpretation of religious interaction, however. In this area, even conversion to Islam becomes a test of what ordinary people may have been willing to tolerate in the early modern period.

Turner’s craft: conversion and the art of rhetoric
Abi Shinn, University of York

The religious convert, with their attendant association with turning and movement, provides a useful model for rhetoricians as the desired end of any persuasive speech must surely be to move, persuade or convert one’s audience, recalling Cicero’s injunction in De Optimo Genere Oratorum that an orator should instruct, delight and move, ‘docet et delectat et permovet.’[1] An examination of the rhetorical nature of conversion narratives, specifically the form that they take, their artifice and their employment of figures and tropes, will provide an insight into the compositional pressures (particularly the rhetorical emphasis upon persuasion) exerted upon texts ostensibly concerned solely with personal matters of faith. This paper will argue that in the early modern period the turning of words was no trivial matter and often had profound ramifications for believers who had to decide between the validity of different rhetorical manoeuvres and find an appropriate vocabulary for their own religious experiences. Such was the pervasive nature of spiritual rhetoric that writers looked to figures and tropes in order to represent conversion’s transport or translation of the soul, resulting in the convert becoming an embodiment of figurative language.

From virgin to virago: Mary Ward (1585-1645), a woman finds her place
Gemma Simmonds, Heythrop College, University of London

Born into a Catholic recusant family whose male and female members suffered imprisonment and death for their faith, Mary Ward was imprisoned for obstinate recusancy by the English State and for heresy by the Inquisition for daring to challenge the prevailing Catholic view of women’s role in church and world. The founder of the first entirely unenclosed order of religious women, based on the Jesuit model, her story was suppressed for centuries both outside and within her own order until her rehabilitation in 1909. The Painted Life, a series of seventeenth-century paintings, gives a fascinating insight into the process of her conversion from a traditionally-minded Catholic to a woman described by the Pope as a ‘heretic, schismatic and rebel to Holy Church’.

‘Medicinable … to many soules’: conversion as cure in early modern England
Helen Smith, University of York

In an address to the reader of Bristow’s Motives, Richard Bristow explained that he had prepared a print edition of William Allen’s influential Articles after an English friend begged him for a copy, seeing ‘how medicinable it would be to many soules’. In this paper, I will trace the insistent twinning of cure and conversion across a range of polemical and devotional texts and spiritual autobiographies, exploring the ways in which it acts as both a metaphorical and physical frame for the experience of religious change. I will briefly draw out the centrality of the sick-bed or physical illness to narratives of conversion, and trace the biblical histories and typologies that inform the early modern insistence that ‘the conuerting of a sinner, is the curing of a sick and wounded soule, and the Phisician is God himself’. In conclusion, this paper revisits a series of historiographical assumptions about the purpose and operations of metaphor, in order to posit an alternative model which allows us to more fully understand the embodied bases of faith and religious conversion and the somatic cast of the immortal soul.

Rhetoric and conversion: the Jesuit mission in Tibet (1624-1635)
Bruna Soalheiro , São Paulo University, Brazil

In this paper, I shall explore the rhetorical justification of the first Jesuit mission in Tibet. My research is focused on the strategies of conversions that took place in west Tibet, and its geo-political implications, for the plans of the Order as well as for the modern European knowledge about the “roof of the world”. Our main questions may be summarized in: 1.How was Buddhism described and understood by the priests so they could choose a prudent way to convert the Tibetan people? 2. How was Tibet described in the letters, and why was Tibet presented to the European readers as a potential Christianity? 3. How the strategies of conversion in Tibet can be understood within a global reference, considering the presence of the Order in the New World and in the Far East?

After reading the correspondence regarding this first period of the Tibetan mission, it is possible to say that, from observing the habits and the laws of the Tibetan people, the Jesuits were able to elaborate a concept: “devoted people” (“gente pia”). This expression - as it appears in the letters - was the very basis of the strategies of conversion once it made possible the inclusion of these Buddhist in a Christian Universe. The present analysis is also based on the idea of Narratio as defended by Hansen: a constructed report to an absent person that shall inform about the present moment (“estado de coisas” or “state of things”); but also antecipates the actions and projects of intervention of the Order. In this sense, the Narratio propose a dialogue between the situation as it appears at the present moment and a perspective of a future time. Therefore, in this paper, rhetorical, political and religious spheres are considered.

The Public Baptisms of Muslims in the Early Modern Iberian Peninsula: Examining the Sources
Francois Soyer, University of Southampton

Long after the end of the medieval "reconquista" in 1492, the Catholic Church in Spain and Portugal continued to consider the conversion of non-Christians to Catholicism to represent an important part of its evangelical mission. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, many Muslims – prisoners of war and slaves – continued to be baptised in both kingdoms. Between 1500 and 1800, numerous Muslims were baptised in elaborate, almost theatrical, public ceremonies that deliberately sought to deploy a panoply of powerful religious imagery and which employed symbolic rituals in order to underscore the perceived triumph of Catholicism over both the Devil and the perceived enemies of the Christian faith. Accounts of these fascinating ceremonies have survived in a variety of primary sources, including private letters and official publications. These texts demonstrate that the mindset forged within the Christian populations and clergy of the Iberian Peninsula by the medieval struggle between Christianity and Islam meant that the sacrament of baptism was deliberately used as a symbol of the inevitable victory of Christianity over Judaism and Islam. Nevertheless, these sources also offer conclusive evidence that public baptisms were also deliberately used to promote other causes and highlight other concerns. As yet, this subject had not received any scholarly attention and has not been studied in detail. This paper will present an examination of the sources and what they can reveal about the numerous rituals that were employed in the ceremonies that accompanied the public baptism of infields in the early modern Iberian Peninsula, their variations over time and space as well as their social and religious significance.

‘Thy very essence is mutability:’ Conversion, Change and Constancy in Early Modern Drama
Lieke Stelling, Leiden University

Scholars of religious conversion have traditionally focussed on autobiographical or biographical texts. The authors of these sources, however, tend to provide a more positive image of early modern conversion than playwrights, who are less interested in the self-asserting or self-defining aspects of religious change than in the emotions conversion evokes in witnesses, the social responses to conversion. This paper will map a number of unmistakable though surprising patterns in the manner in which conversion is staged in early modern conversion drama. These patterns point to the profound issues of constancy and change in the experience of conversion and religious identity, issues that became more urgent than ever due to the religious upheavals that marked late sixteenth and seventeenth century England.

Virtually all early modern plays performed between 1558 and 1642 portray conversion from one religion to another as unambiguously positive events only if the convert is a woman who marries her Christian husband and adopts his faith at the same time. In tragedies converts meet with death regardless of the religion they embrace. In A Christian Turned Turk (1612), for instance, Robert Daborne’s titular hero commits suicide. Yet the Christianization of the former pagan persecutor of Christians in Massinger and Dekker’s the Virgin Martyr (1620) is also accompanied by his death. Comedies, too, problematise conversion that is not part of a marriage, but in a more subtle manner. Thus, unlike Jessica’s happy Christianization-cum-marriage, Shylock’s baptism in The Merchant of Venice (1596) is primarily a punishment and lacks religious motivation, while at the end of Massinger’s The Renegado (1633) the former renegade and reborn Christian comes to realize that he is “nothing.” In addition, his undistinguished fate stands out in stark contrast to the true Christian hero of the play, who resists conversion to Islam and marries an attractive Islamic woman who simultaneously adopts his faith. I shall argue that stage representations of interfaith conversion can be understood as attempts to rescue Christian identity from the destabilizing effects of conversion by investing religious exchange with the irreversibility of death and marriage.

Conversion Narrative of the Jesuit Henrique Henriques on Pescaria Coast in the sixteenth Century
Célia Tavares, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

This presentation aims to analyze the letters of the Jesuit priest Henrique Henriques who has worked in the mission on Pescaria Coast , India, from 1548 to 1600. Henriques lived with people who had been converted in the 1530s, and practiced some forms of adaptation, with the approval of the superiors of the Society of Jesus.

Portuguese Jews in Turkish "carrefour" between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean (16th century): decentralism and conversion
José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim, Departamento de Ciências Humanas (Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical), Lisbon

This paper aims to analyse the cases of multiple conversion of some Portuguese Jews in the context of the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, it was the lack of homogeneity of the Ottoman Sephardic Communities that explained the success of “triple faced” men, as shown in the cases of Duarte da Paz, Tomé Pegado da Paz and Matias Bicudo. They changed dress, religion (Catholicism, Judaism, Islam), and masters all along their careers as informers because they remained inconspicuous within the Ottoman Empire given their diminished social position; and there was a wild possibility of identity change without the general knowledge by the different religious groups. Simultaneously, they maintained strong relations with men and governments which they had served before in Christian countries.

The incapacity of people like D. Grácia Nasci, D. Joseph Nasci and D. Salomon ibn Ya´ish to perform so easily this type of change (officially they were solely Christians in Christian countries and Jews in the Ottoman Empire) had something to do with their “centrality”: since their strong social, economic and cultural position in the midst of some Sephardic groups, and their close relationship with the Osmanli Sultans made such a metamorphosis virtually impossible.

The main source for this paper is a reconversion narrative given by Tomé Pegado da Paz to please the Inquisitors – we can say that it is a “closeted” manuscript written and kept by the latter to prove religious decisions, and also to obtain more information on similar future cases like those of Duarte da Paz and Matias Bicudo. Conversely these two latter cases are examples of men who changed often of religious identities in their lives, but have failed to present us with narratives of their successive conversions, which were “discovered” and disseminated by their contemporaries. This is also a clue to reflect upon the “role” played by the self-narrative/“autobiography” in depicting these extraordinary cases of multiple conversions.

Conversion in theory and practice: a study of the writings of Blaise and Jacqueline Pascal
Olivier Tonneau

One of the most disturbing religious doctrines of the Early Modern period was that of predestination. According to this doctrine, conversion (the strengthening of faith to the point that it actually rules the life of the convert) seems to occur only thanks to God’s free grace, the individual having no part to play. Such an account of conversion seems to reduce to nothing exhortations, prayers, and all forms of work on oneself; predestination takes all significance out of religious life. Yet it is not necessarily so. I will study the relation between human agency and divine predestination in the process of conversion, by focusing on the writings of Blaise Pascal and his sister Jacqueline.

Pascal’s Essai sur la grace is a theological exposition of Augustine’s conception of grace. His Pensées, on the other hand, are aimed at helping the reader work towards conversion. They do not aim at converting but convincing, that is, operating an intellectual realization that is essential in bringing about a transformation in the heart. The Ecrits sur la conversion du pécheur follow the process of conversion from what we may term a psychological standpoint, describing the joys and turmoil of the one whom God is reaching out to. Although these texts belong to three different genres (theology, philosophy and psychology), none of them are real life accounts. But we also possess testimonies on Pascal’s own conversion, in the letters addressed by his sister Jacqueline, a nun at Port-Royal, both to him and to their sister Gilberte. What these letters reveal is fascinating; Jacqueline, who was in awe of Pascal’s intellectual understanding of God and of the life of faith, nonetheless saw clearly that he was caught in forms of self-delusion and self-love which, although he knew them so well in theory, still hampered his religious progress in practice. This dichotomy between theory and practice reveals the endless twists and turns whereby a human can claim to have given up on his own will and put himself in the hands of God when he actually has not. Could the central tenet of the doctrine of predestination be that no man can willingly renounce his will, and could this be why only God can truly convert? My hypothesis will be that a man who is trying to renounce himself is doing the opposite – he is indulging in the most hidden form of hubris. In doing so, he is actively opposing God’s grace and therefore cannot receive it. Paradoxically, it is only when he asks God to help him renounce his desire to renounce himself that he is open to God’s grace, should God freely decide to give it.

Records of Conversion from 17th Century District of Jerusalem
Felicita Tramontana, Università di Palermo

My paper focuses on conversion to Islam and to Catholicism in Ottoman Palestine. Although during the 17th century the majority of the population in the area was already Muslim, nevertheless every year members of the Christian and the Jewish community and foreigners decided to convert to Islam. By the first decades of the same century, moreover, Catholic missionaries arrived in the region pursuing their activity of evangelization. Being the apostasy from Islam strictly forbidden, their action was directed at Christians of Eastern Churches. Both conversions to Islam and to Catholicism were recorded and the documents represent an important source for the study of conversion in the area. Conversions to Islam were recorded in the local court. For what concerns the spread of Catholicism, two different kinds of documents are available. Firstly, the Franciscans friars recorded all the conversions in a sort of Register. A more detailed narration is contained in the Cronache della Custodia di Terra Santa, local Chronicles drafted by the Franciscans. In the documents from the Franciscans, conversions to Islam of the “renegades” are accounted as well. All the three sources present their own features. A comparative analysis of the three of them is fruitful in many respects. The paper investigates differences among the documents, their purposes, and the recording procedures in order to gain a deeper understanding of conversion in the area, its social and legal consequences, the circumstances in which occurred and what local population would themselves have understood as “conversion”.

'I see my self cloath’d with the bright white robes of thy pure innocence': women’s conversion narratives in mid seventeenth-century England
Anna Warzycha, Loughborough University

In the seventeenth century the nakedness of unbelievers was thought to be covered by spiritual clothing during the process of conversion. ‘Jesus with his own hands’ was imagined to distribute ‘rich Robes of his own Righteousness’, which encouraged sinners to ‘Put forth the hand of Faith, and put them upon your naked souls’. The wardrobe of ‘purple clothes’ he offered symbolized the sinner’s new faith and the purpose of this metaphorical act of dressing was to make them realize their immoral conduct and, consequently, convert them into members of Church. Once their nakedness had been covered with this unusual garment, they were invited to enter a symbolical mystical garden.

This paper will discuss a process of spiritual conversion of the soul from ‘naked’ to a ‘clothed’ and the qualities of the spiritual garden as a paradise for the soul ‘clothed’ in faith. My argument will be based on three female-authored texts, beginning with an exploration of Elizabeth Major’s Honey on the Rod: Or a Comfortable Contemplation for One in Affliction with Sundry Poems on Several Subjection (1656), whose ‘naked’ author comes to God and appeals to Him to ‘clothe’ her with his ‘rich robes of righteousness’. I will then contrast this text with Eliza’s Babes (1652), whose anonymous author claims to be wearing Christ’s robes, making her ‘beautiful to thee [God]’, and with An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditations (1653), presenting the writer’s ‘clothed soul’ in the spiritual garden of ‘rare fruits’. Although these women writers begin the process of conversion from a total ‘nakedness’, their souls not only become fully attired with divine clothes, but they are also equipped with wardrobes of garments, allowing them to proceed in the same act of distribution as Christ performs.

Performing Conversion. Mary Magdalene in Early Modern Drama
Julia Weitbrecht, Berlin

Early modern accounts of conversions have been an object of broad academic interest in the past years. The interdependence between historical or biographical accounts and the hagiographic foil to such narratives, the saints’ legends, however, has not been much focused upon. There are a number of saints’ legends in which conversion represents the crucial point in the process of sanctification. One of the most popular and most ambivalent converts is Mary Magdalene: The story of her conversion is so powerful that it appears to dominate all other narratives about her. The formation of her as a repentant sinner follows the logic of conversion narratives: It is given a paradoxical coherence, because the convert, in her radical renunciation of her former self, is constantly made to invoke this former, false life. The teleological self-reference to the “old” life leads to a demarcation and constitution of a “new” identity. Thus, the sinful past life receives its function through the conversion: In the cancelling of everything that is sinful and false the licence is found to show precisely these things in an entertaining way. In the paper, this interrelation will be inquired into both in legendary narrative and in German Passion plays (15th century). In the latter, we find a dramatic and dynamic representation of the conversion in which Mary’s worldly life and the act of her conversion are presented much more extensively than her later virtuous life. Thus, Early Modern conversion drama stages the vices it at the same time condemns. The paper will explore the possibilities of analyzing conversion narratives as literary and performative media of religious communication.

Conversion and Transformation: A Few Remarks on the Lives and Works of Polish Writers of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation
Piotr Wilczek, University of Warsaw

The paper is devoted to the problem of religious conversion in the lives and literary output of several Polish writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The author focuses his attention on the diversity of approaches to conversion, understood both as an experience associated with the adoption of a new religion and as an inner/moral transformation, a sinner’s repentance, not connected with a change of denomination. In the first part the author discusses the case of St. Augustine, the most representative Christian author who wrote about conversion in his Confessions and influenced writers of later generations. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation both forms of conversion were popular. Some writers were inspired by debates of the day to intensify their religious experience within a Church to which they belonged, as did both Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski, a metaphysical poet of the late Renaissance, and Kasper Twardowski, a Baroque religious poet who disavowed his own erotic poetry and wrote new religious poems inspired by the Jesuits. Others converted to another denomination, as did Kasper Wilkowski, who converted from Antitrinitarianism to Catholicism and described his conversion in a dramatic confession of his new faith. There were also writers who presented in their lives and works an ambiguous attitude towards religion, so that their alleged conversions remain mysterious. This is the case of the most famous Polish Renaissance writer, Jan Kochanowski with his supposed conversion from Catholicism to Lutheranism and his enigmatic statements about religious issues. All these poetic testimonies should be discussed not only as documentation of the religious wars of that time, but most of all as evidence of the spiritual and existential experiences of individual writers.

Communicating Conversion in Early Modern Europe
Christopher Wild, University of Chicago

On the one hand conversion consists in the experience of an universal truth, on the other it is profoundly personal and subjective. It happens and must happen to the self as self. If a conversion happens to another self, if that self suddenly knows the truth, it means nothing to the unconverted self. The truth may be universal and generally applicable, but it is true only for that particular subject through its conversion. Put differently, conversion is the moment when an abstract truth is concretized by the self and, thus, subjectified. Theologically speaking, the divine intervention which effects conversion is understood as a radically personal call. It is addressed to a particular self and cannot be simply transferred – unless that other person gets in turn called by God. The famous Book VIII of Augustine’s Confessions illustrates this problem of transferring or communicating conversion. In fact, it is as if the plethora of conversions occurring around Augustine also serves to illustrate the difficulty of communicating conversion from one self to another. On the one hand, it is clearly transferred by exemplary replication, on the other it is far from a foolproof mechanism. The reform of religious media brought about by the Protestant and Catholic Reformations also found new solutions to the concomitant problem of communicating conversion; a problem made all the more pressing by the multiplication of faiths and the impending end of times. Starting with the history of the codex as a conversive medium I will examine other such random generators like lottery dials and card catalogs that are designed to solve this communicational problem by individualizing and operationalizing the divine call.

Conversion Narratives and the Conversion of Narratives: The Case of John Bale
Oliver Wort, Murray Edwards College and the Faculty of English, Cambridge

Despite the existence of influential models of conversion, chiefly Saul’s journey to Damascus in Acts 9 and Augustine’s Confessions, ‘[t]he tens of thousands of Europeans who in the course of the sixteenth century turned to Protestantism left very few accounts of their experiences of conversion’ (Judith Pollmann). Leading English reformers were no exception to the rule, save for at least one oddity, John Bale (1485-1563), who wrote not one but four conversion narratives. As I will demonstrate, these texts, by preserving for posterity multiple versions of the convert’s past, reveal how one man viewed his religious metamorphosis at different stages of his life. Crucially, they show how Bale reconceived his past in the light of his present, reflecting events as he wished they had been, rather than as they were.

Bale was driven by a strong impulse to narrativise his own life, and each of his utterances was an attempt to fashion for himself a definitive biographical portrait. My paper, a reading of his conversion narratives, will show how during the process of rehearsal Bale reimagined the whys and wherefores of religious change, renegotiated historical sequences, discovered new truths about his conversion, and forgot old concerns. What his texts reveal is that even for the apparently self-assured, conversion was an ongoing process, one in which a new vocation was periodically reified and the past was rewritten, even shunted aside. What this reveals in turn, I will argue, is that the historical agent, ‘John Bale’, hitherto the subject of historical and literary studies, is not necessarily consonant with the multiple ‘John Bales’ discovered in his literary productions.