Conversion and social change

The study of conversion has for a long time been one of my interest in the study of religion. Once again it has risen on top of the list of my research and writing interests, not the least because of my doctoral research, and one article I am about to write concerning these topics. In the course of social change in religious communities the conversion is of crucial importance. In conversion a person undergoes not just a change but multiple changes. Furthermore s/he is changing the community s/he is converting to. For a succesfull conversion process the background of a convert is very important. It dictates the steps and rituals one has to go through, in order to be accepted to the community.

In a Pentecostal community the conversion is crucial for the fundamental ethos of a millenarianistic-evangelistic movement: one has to be saved and make own decision to follow the Christ, and be assured of one’s salvation for the coming of the Christ. This sounds dramatic and it usually is for the ones who convert outside the movement. Their conversion is their own decision, also a decision to make a clear separation between old and new life. For the socialized members, the children who grow inside the movement and continue their parents’ culture, a conversion is very much different, even though it is many times described the same way. These two different life paths and conversion process experiences construct different religious identities, which inevitably mean that the whole community will face the dilemma of change. Wether the group receives more converts from outside or inside, this will at some level determine where and how the group is changing.

These and other questions I am pondering in the coming article as well as in my post-doc-research on ex-pentecostals. The conversion experience and the culture of one’s religious community doesn’t always meet. Therefore the individual decisions and consequences may vary, and sometimes be very dramatic.


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