From Inheritance to Choice: How Conversions Changed the Meaning of Religious Identity in the Nineteenth-Century United States
Jan. 16th, 5:30 – 7:00 pm
Walnut Room, IMU
In the nineteenth-century United States, thousands of people converted between religions, and many more faced the opportunity to convert. As conversions became ubiquitous, they changed the meaning of religious identity for everyone, because the explicit choices of converts forced an implicit choice on all. Religion became less an identity to be inherited and more a choice that had to be warranted to oneself and justified to others. This idea was refracted through many religious traditions, including Protestants who developed a new ritual of instantaneous conversion, Cherokees who translated Christianity into their own cultural idiom, African Americans who negotiated conversion in slavery and freedom, Jews who competed with Christianity by winning converts to Judaism, and converts to Catholicism who rejected the American free market in religion. Because of conversions between religions, the United States became a place where most people experienced religion as a Jamesian “forced, living, and momentous” choice.
Lincoln Mullen is a PhD candidate in the history department at Brandeis University and a historian of American religion. His dissertation, titled “The Varieties of American Conversion: The Origins of Religious Choice in the United States,” is a history of conversion between religions in the nineteenth century.
Sponsored by the Department of Relgious Studies.