Narratives of Conversion in Reformation Europe, ca. 1550–1700 (seminar)

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Simon Ditchfield and Helen Smith
Fall 2014 Faculty Weekend Seminar

Can there be conversion without narrative? This seminar investigated the narrative sources and the source narratives of conversion produced in Europe and its colonies in an age that witnessed not only the Protestant and Catholic Reformations (as well as the so-called voyages of “discovery”) but also the apogee of Ottoman power in Europe and the Mediterranean. Twelve to sixteen faculty participants collaboratively considered the place and effect of narrative structures in religious change, and the diversity of narratives (from court records to letters, and from painting to poetry) which articulate conversion as concept and practice. Issues included whether narratives are necessarily social, and what kinds of identity were called into being by the fragmented narratives of transformation and by the possibility of one individual existing under multiple names and within multiple narrative arcs. Are particular narratives specific to confessions? Is there a Catholic or Protestant conversion narrative, or do the two share tropes for conversion as the intensification of feeling? The seminar welcomed literary critics, historians, art historians, and scholars of religion and material culture with research projects that challenged the concept that the conversion narrative exists as a coherent genre, and that investigated the narrative seepages, transformations, and turns that structured and effected individual and social conversions.

Co-Directors: Simon Ditchfield is Reader in History at the University of York. He recently published Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (2013, with Katherine Van Liere and Howard Louthan). He is currently completing a volume for the Oxford History of the Christian Church series entitled, Papacy and Peoples: The Making of Roman Catholicism as a World Religion 1500-1700.

Helen Smith is Reader in Renaissance Literature at the University of York. Her publications include Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (2012) and Renaissance Paratexts (co-edited with Louise Wilson, 2013). Together they directed the AHRC project Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe. Their edited collection on Gender and Conversion is forthcoming.