The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography - Vol. 19

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography - Vol. 19

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography - Vol. 19

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography - Vol. 19

Excerpt

The religious experiences illustrated in these documents are instances of the phenomenon commonly known as "conversion." A conversion experience-- whether it be in religious or other form--is marked by a sudden and a striking "change of heart," with an abrupt change in the orientation of attitudes and beliefs. It is accompanied by what is described as an "emotional regeneration, typically sudden in its advent and consummation." Conversion, thus, affects radically one's outlook toward life and his conception of himself.

It should be noted that the conversion experience is not limited to the world of the supernatural. Similar experience is observable in leaders of certain types of social reform movements. A sudden right-about-face is a common experience of radicals, reformers, and great prophets. Leaders and members of new sects, humanitarian cults, idealistic communities, and an array of esoteric movements of the more recent decades, seem to undergo conversion experiences. Nonetheless, religious conversion is the commonest type: the Protestant Christian faith expects it, provides a means for the expression of one's inner struggle and conflict of values, and rewards one with dramatic expression by giving him certain status within the religious organization. Moreover, the conversion experience is not confined to a particular segment of the population, though it is more generally associated with adolescence. Indeed, conversion is not an experience unique to a single people or race, albeit it is more frequently associated with Negroes, mountain folk, and the "down-trodden poor." In other words, the conversion experience is a fairly general phenomenon and it is because a of this fact that the attention of the students of social sciences is focussed upon it.

Because the conversion experience is an integral phase of the growth of individual personality, it can be said to fall within the orbit of social . . .

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