11 Jul 2017

On Conversion

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


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Phil Knox
Jonathan Morton
Francesca Southerden
Elizabeth Eva Leach
Jennifer Rushworth
Irene Fantappiè
Laura Ashe
Marco Nievergelt
Daniel Barber
Marisa Galvez
Christoph Holzhey
Almut Suerbaum
David Bowe

Organized by

Francesco Giusti
Manuele Gragnolati
Daniel Reeve

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: On Conversion, workshop, ICI Berlin, 11 July 2017 <>