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Religious Conversions Unit

Call for Proposals for November Meeting

The Religious Conversions Unit welcomes individual paper or full paper/panel session proposals on any topic related to religious conversion (with a preference for fully formed panel proposals).  We are particularly interested in papers and panels that challenge established understandings of the category of “conversion” and push the study of conversion in new directions.  We are especially, but not exclusively, interested in featuring panels on the following topics at the 2024 annual meeting. 


Alternative Spiritualities and Reframing of Conversion Discourses

In the academic study of religion, conversions and their associated experiences are often assumed to be centered around individuals and a transfer from one distinct status to another or a shift from one set of social identity markers to another. Sometimes conversion narratives can center around special private or public praxis, such as baptism, making a public proclamation of the shahada or taking the amrit sanchar. Yet different traditions not only conceptualize discourses around conversion differently, but narratives and frameworks can change in response to larger cultural shifts and contexts. This joint session seeks proposals of how emergent traditions (re)frame or (re)conceptualize discourse around “conversion.” Inquires and proposals can engage expansion, additive and replacement models, texts, alchemical processes, homemaking, music, materiality, epiphanies or altered states of consciousness, shamanic encounters, or seduction, as examples. The session will investigate the ways the implicit models that shape how people engaged with alternative spiritualities conceptualize, narrativize and enframe both individual and collective spiritual change. This is a potential co-sponsored panel with the Contemporary Pagan Studies unit for the November meeting. Contact: Edith Szanto,


Political extremism/radicalization as conversion

There have been great shifts in the political sphere in recent years in the US, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.  Some of these changes could be described as modes of conversion.  Is there an overlap between the political and the religious and in what senses are political and religious radicalization different, or not?  What conditions give rise to radical religio-political change?  How do governments, media, and society construct, depict, and address changes in political extremism and/or radicalization in various contexts?  In what ways does the lens of spiritual or religious conversion help in illuminating the ways in which these changes and shifts can be theorized?  This is a potential co-sponsored panel with the Political Theologies Unit for November. Contact: Edith Szanto,


Conversion and abolition

How does conversion provide a context for the assertion of autonomy, or its denial, the granting of full humanity to persons, or its denial, particularly among enslaved persons, prisoners, and people subject to forced labor. Global in scope, this panel seeks to advance our understanding of conversion in prisons, plantations, and similar sites in order to explore the dynamics of conversion under duress or as resistance to confinement. This panel is envisioned as an extension of the Decolonization of Conversion panel from November 2023. Contact: Marc Pugliese,


Queering Conversion Studies

Both coming out and transitioning involve profound change and could be viewed as a kind of conversion.  Moreover, LGBTQ+ folks are moving in and out of faith traditions given both their own profound changes and familial and communal responses. The wave of anti-trans bills and rising queer- and transphobia across the country have, arguably, accelerated these dynamics, as many LGBTQ+ folks (especially trans people) are moving into and out of faith traditions as a result. To examine these dynamics, in the US and beyond, we encourage submissions from scholars exploring LGBTQ+ issues in conversion studies. Contact: Eliza Kent,



As part of the wider societal drift away from organized religion, one sees clergy and laypeople pulling back from active involvement with their churches and synagogues, mosques and temples, many of whom now identify as 'spiritual but not religious'. What catalyzes this process of stepping away, and what do de-converts move towards (new age religions, recovery movements, secular forms of enchantment, etc)? What changes in theological beliefs take place during deconversion? What changes in identity and community formation take place? This panel seeks papers that advance our understanding of deconversion in the contemporary moment. Contact: Linda Mercadante,

Call for Proposals for Online June Meeting

Same as above.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit studies the full spectrum of issues related to religious conversions, in any historical or geographic context, encompassing different forms of religious belief and practice. The scope of the issues we cover is broad and wide-ranging. We consider investigations into the reasons for various types of religious conversions including, but not limited to intellectual, theological, philosophical, historical, experiential, psychological, social, cultural, political, and economic causes. We also study the consequences of religious conversions, both individually and socially, and their implications. We encourage the methodologies of multiple disciplines, as well as interdisciplinary approaches. More narrowly focused areas of inquiry suggested by interested scholars include, but are not limited to the following:

• Multiple conversions
• Group and individual conversions
• Forced conversions
• The narrative and/or literary aspects of conversions
• Deconversions
• Ecclesiological consequences of conversion
• The place and role of conversion in a specific religious tradition
• Theories of conversions
• Formulas of religious conversion (as step-by-step processes)


Steering Committee Members

  • Oakley Hill, George Mason University
    1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
  • Sean McCloud, University of North Carolina At Charlotte
    1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028
  • Linda Mercadante, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
    1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
  • Cody Musselman, John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis
    1/1/2019 - 12/31/2024
  • Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University
    1/1/2022 - 12/31/2027
  • Kathleen M. Self, St. Lawrence University
    1/1/2023 - 12/31/2028



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members