Conversion and Text: the Cases of Hippo, Herman-Judah and Constantine Tsatsos (Paperback)Karl F. Morrison
Paperback Published: 31/12/1992
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Interpreting three conversion accounts, Morrison accents the categorical difference between the experience of conversion and written narratives about it. He explains why experience and text can only be related to each other in fictive ways. The accounts are sample cases taken from different periods in Western history. The earliest and most famous, by Augustine of Hippo is from north Africa under the late Roman Empire. The next was written by Herman-Judah, a Jew who lived in Cologne in the 12th century, in the shadow of crusading pogroms. It is the first known autobiographical account of a conversion after Augustine's "Confessions". The English translation in this book will make the text accessible to many readers for the first time. The latest account, by Constantine Tsatsos, president of the Hellenic Republic, is from 20th century Athens. Unlike the others, it is not autobiographical. By this and other contrasts, it highlights issues of criticism raised by the other two studies. In working out his critical case studies, Morrison raises such questions as whether one can assume that a conversion actually occurred because there is a text about it, and if so, whether one can accept the narrative as a historically accurate description of events. Taking the texts as imaginative renderings into words of experiences that could not be expressed, he examines what the authors suppressed as well as what they told, and their guiding motives. He presents the narratives as deliberate fabrications calculated to achieve specific objectives. "For all three writers", Morrison writes in his preface, "concealment was a condition of the experience and the narrative of conversion. Despite their extreme differences, the hermeneutic project of conversion remained thinkable for them all because of metaphor, defined by tradition with a repertory of meanings...As writers, they took for granted the difference between what was called conversion and a fictive tale about it". The companion volume "Understanding Conversion", outlines the critical framework for the method applied in "Conversion and Text".
Publisher: University of Virginia Press