Conversion – from the Latin conversio – implies a (re)turn and a change of direction. In the Christian tradition, it is normative and teleological, accompanied by repentance and/or longing for rebirth. The convert’s soul turns towards goodness and renounces evil in order to enter a new and true life. Conversion can be presented as a return to the self, or rather as the very constitution of self-identity: in these cases, it represents a solution to inner conflict, providing a divided ‘I’ with a feeling of coherence and integrity. In Western conversion narratives, for which Augustine’s Confessions are the paradigm, the narrating self must be radically and definitively different from, and yet in continuity with, the unconverted self whose story is told. This complex temporality is one of the core tensions of conversion: is it an event which befalls the inner self, or a lifelong process which will be fully accomplished only after death?

How can one think of the relationship between the definitiveness of conversion, the teleological reconstruction of the past, and the integrity of the self? What are the implications in terms of subjectivity, gender, and desire? Is conversion a process that can be narrated or rather something constituted through the performance of narration itself? Can the paradox that conversion appears as both the condition and the performative product of self-narration be resolved through conversion’s teleological temporal structure? To what extent is an irreducibly complex experience reduced by being unfolded in such a linear temporality and at what cost for the self and for others? And finally, if Western paradigms not only of autobiography but of narration as such have arguably become inextricably bound up with conversion and its temporality, can one think of (narrative and textual) forms that propose other articulations of time and subjectivity?

This workshop will problematize the concept of conversion by looking at the interactions between theological discussions and literary re/presentations. It will also question conversion’s temporal structure by considering contemporary critiques of teleology, normativity, and futurity.

The workshop includes a presentation by Daniel C. Barber and will discuss texts by Augustine, Foucault, and Ryan Szpiech.


14:00 Daniel Barber: Death of Recognition
followed by discussion

15:00 Coffee break

15:30-17:00 Discussion of pre-circulated texts

17:00 Coffee break

17:30-19:00 Discussion of pre-circulated texts

In English

Phil Knox (Cambridge)
Jonathan Morton (KCL)
Francesca Southerden (Oxford)
Elizabeth Eva Leach (Oxford)
Jennifer Rushworth (Oxford)
Irene Fantappiè (HU Berlin)
Laura Ashe (Oxford)
Marco Nievergelt (Warwick)
Daniel Barber (Pace U)
Marisa Galvez (Stanford)
Christoph Holzhey (ICI Berlin)
Almut Suerbaum (Oxford)
David Bowe (Oxford)

Organized by

Francesco Giusti, Manuele Gragnolati, and Daniel Reeve

The event, like all events at the ICI Berlin, is open to the public, free of charge. However, the workshop – due to a limited number of seats – requires prior registration. Workshop materials will be sent to registered participants. The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin. If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

KV On Conversion