What makes a person change their mind? How can one find words to explain an experience that cannot be understood in terms of reason, logic, and empirical proof? These questions are key when thinking about religious conversion, and reading conversion literature reveals seismic changes in how humans have thought about God, themselves, and their communities. In this course, we will think together about the relationship between religion and identity, focusing especially on how literature mediates and refracts that relationship. At times, religion has been thought of as antithetical to modernity, something that humans should outgrow now that scientific and philosophical developments enable us to "know better" and explain the world without relying on religious traditions and sacred texts. In this context, modern religious converts seem anachronistic, deluded, or reactionary. Yet many prominent writers and intellectuals underwent dramatic conversions in the twentieth century, and today, the influence of religious communities on American culture and politics is obvious. For these reasons, taking a close look at the literature of conversion is essential for understanding what converts are turning toward, and what they are turning away from. Questions we will consider include: How are community boundaries drawn and enforced, and how do outsiders become insiders? How is Christianity historically and symbolically connected to definitions of whiteness and respectability? What pressures do gender, sexuality, and social class exert on converts? How does literary form-the differences between fiction, memoir, and poetry-shape our understanding of what the experience of conversion is or could be?
Prerequisite: first-year standing.
Course Attributes: EN H; FYS; BU Hum; AS HUM; FA HUM; AR HUM