Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts

Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts

Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts

Religious Conversion and Identity: The Semiotic Analysis of Texts

Synopsis

The way in which people change and represent their spiritual evolution is often determined by recurrent language structures. Through the analysis of ancient and modern stories and their words and images, this book describes the nature of conversion through explorations of the encounter with the religious message, the discomfort of spiritual uncertainty, the loss of personal and social identity, the anxiety of destabilization, the reconstitution of the self and the discovery of a new language of the soul.

Excerpt

Italian writer Piero Meldini's first novel, L'avvocata delle vertigini ('The advocate of vertigo', Meldini 1994) reports the probably apocryphal story of Blessed Isabetta's religious conversion. Isabetta was a terribly sinful woman; one day, for no particular reason, she felt disgust at her life and resolved on committing suicide. She climbed up the bell tower of the local cathedral, but, when she tried to throw herself off, an insuperable attack of vertigo prevented her from committing the insane act. From this miraculous event on, Isabetta's life was spotless, and after death she was celebrated in popular memory and devotion as the advocate of people struck by dizziness, giddiness or vertigo.

I ignore the question of whether this story is true, but, notwithstanding, let me invoke the Blessed Isabetta, that she might preside over the writing of the present work, wherein I shall explore the vertiginous depths of religious conversion. The concept of vertigo is suitable in order to introduce this topic. I shall try to demonstrate it through a survey of the rare insights which this fascinating physiological phenomenon has triggered in semiotics and psychoanalysis.

First of all, as regards the physiology of vertigo, it has to be admitted that medical treatises which deal with this subject are quite uninteresting for scholars working in the humanities. In fact, they do not generally take into account the aesthetic dimension of this phenomenon, and restrict themselves to explaining the anatomical causes of it, which are always the same. Nevertheless, some rare but interesting philosophical clues about vertigo can be found in that branch of medicine which is called semeiotics, or the science of symptoms, and is usually considered as a specific part of general semiotics, at the junction between natural and human sciences. Physiologists Guerrier and Bassères, for example, in their essay Le vertige et le vertigineux ('vertigo and the vertiginous', Guerrier and Bassères 1984), make a point which is interesting for a semiotician: as is the case for an average human body, equilibrium cannot and must not be perceived. This means that when one feels one's own equilibrium, it always happens negatively, as an absence, as a lost

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