Conversion and Negotiation
Todd Olson, Ivonne del Valle
Tuesday | Thursday: 9:30 - 11:00am
The concept of conversion is regularly employed to refer to changing religions; one leaves a set of beliefs and practices to adopt new ones is the context in which it is most commonly used. This process can be personal or historical, involve a single individual or entire groups, such as at the moment of conquest and colonization of the Americas, when thousands of indigenous people were forcibly or willingly converted to Christianity.
In this course we will explore what it means to “convert”: if it is a one-time process by which change gets effected and is final, or if, on the contrary, it is an ongoing act made of multiple connecting and disconnecting points, a set of negotiations, that involve both acceptance and rejection, reversals, deceit. Could it also be that the converter becomes, in turn, curious about and affected by the beliefs of those he (it’s usually a he) tries to gain over to his religion? We will also look at what conversion implies. The adoption of monotheism after being a practitioner of polytheism has multiple ramifications that have to do with nearly everything we take for granted—ideas about the world that surround us, technology, urbanism, our relationship to others and society, our responsibility to everything that exists. In the Bible, this transformation as it is recounted among the Jewish people (the first monotheists) was a painful process that took many years. What happens when the change is made abruptly, for example? What implications does it have for art, technology, thought?
We will look at how this complex concept gets portrayed, discussed, and represented in different types of media that speak of divergent forms of literacy: textual, pictorial, ritual. While this course will primarily take case studies from the early colonial Americas, students will draw on other geographies for comparative purposes in order to trace the historical transmission of recurrent and inter-connected models of conversion on a global scale.
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical areas (C), and Chronological period (II).