The Conversion Experience in America: A Sourcebook on Religious Conversion Autobiography

The Conversion Experience in America: A Sourcebook on Religious Conversion Autobiography

The Conversion Experience in America: A Sourcebook on Religious Conversion Autobiography

The Conversion Experience in America: A Sourcebook on Religious Conversion Autobiography

Synopsis

This volume provides a sourcebook for the study of American religious conversion narratives. It includes chapters, arranged alphabetically, on 30 significant writers of conversion narratives including early colonial writers, such as Mary Rowlandson, 19th-century women writers, such as Carry Nation, 20th-century social gospel writers, such as Dorothy Day, writers from the age of televangelism, such as Jim Bakker, and writers from outside the mainstream of American culture, such as Frederick Douglass, Eldridge Cleaver, and Piri Thomas. Each entry provides a short biography, discussions of the narrative and the critical response, and a bibliography.

Excerpt

The Conversion Experience in America is intended as an original sourcebook for the study of American religious conversion narratives. America is rich in both conversions and autobiographies; since the first European settlers arrived, Americans have been recording their experiences in the new land, and many of these experiences involve radical transformations. Whether writing for their children, to evangelize, or to better understand their own experiences, American religious autobiographers have left an elaborate record of religious conversions in America.

No single volume could begin to document the thousands of narratives written in America over the past five centuries. This book presents biographical, bibliographic, and critical commentary on thirty significant writers of American conversion narratives. It is an introduction to the study of the subject of American conversion narratives in general and to the works of these specific writers in particular.

Although most conversion narratives follow a predictable three-part structure--early sinful life, the conversion experience, life and works after conversion--each writer adapts that pattern to the particular circumstances of his or her own experience. In writing about the transformations of their lives, these writers have left a record of the transformation of American culture as well. Thus the narratives of such colonial writers as Thomas Shepard, Jonathan Edwards, Mary Rowlandson, and John Woolman record the search for identity and order in a frontier society. The autobiographies of such nineteenth-century women writers as Rebecca Cox Jackson, Carry Nation, and Ann Eliza Young, on the other hand, demonstrate a dissatis-

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