(B2-18) Conversio, or: You Must Change Your Life. Figurations– Scenes – Media

‘Conversion’ is understood to mean ‘proselytism’ or ‘converting from one denomination to another’. The Christian primal scene is the so-called Damascene conversion of Saul. Acts 9:3-4 say: “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” Even if, in the Bible, the change of name from Saul to Paul is not associated with the conversion outside Damascus, it indicates, in popular perception, the radical reformation of Saul through the revelation of Christ. Later conversion scenes show a similar pattern, such as the conversion of Augustine in the garden in Milan as he describes it in the Confessiones: Augustine, agonising, hears the voice of a child from the neighbouring garden calling again and again, “tolle lege”, “take and read”. On hearing this voice, Augustine remembers the conversion of St Anthony who, when reading the Bible, suddenly felt personally addressed. So in turn Augustine, following this example, reaches for the Holy Scripture: “I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell […] instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart”.

Conversions were still being modelled on Paul and Augustine, and outdoing these, in pietism. Thomas Luckmann pointed out that converts are guided by communicative models of experiences of conversion, that is, that social-cultural narratives, value systems and interpretive patterns are also always invoked in the descriptions of conversion experiences. In its first part, the project analyses conversion scenes particularly with regard to their linguistic-rhetorical figuration and the media applied in them, such as light, voice, writing etc. Particular attention will be paid to the voice of God, its ambiguity between outer and inner, its possible un-definiteness, its changing between literal and figurative meaning, and its medial extensions. The second part will investigate the continuation of the moment of conversio in biographical and autobiographical texts from the 18th century onwards. The (medial) transformations they go through in their secularisation process are in the focus of attention. The question as to the unambiguousness of the ‘turnaround’ or, respectively, the relationship of the ‘before’ and the ‘after’, which is possibly influenced by ambiguity, and as to the actio and the passio will play a central systematic role. So will the political functionalisations of the conversio. The question will be pursued whether there are still any such “radical change[s] in the concept of reality” (Luckmann) in modern lives, and to what extent these turning points in life retain a transcendental element (cf. Rilke, Sloterdijk). In a third part, current accounts of conversions will be analysed with regard to the scenes of decision, to their mediality and their structures of unambiguousness or ambiguity.