The Cultural Politics of Religious Conversion: Narratives, Representations, Negotiations

deadline for submissions: 
December 27, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
David Kern and Christian David Zeitz, University of Cologne, Germany
contact email: 

Call for Abstracts

The Cultural Politics of Religious Conversion: Narratives, Representations, Negotiations


Arguably, the past two decades have brought back into focus questions of religion and faith, and have rekindled anxieties as to the role, function, meaning and place of religion in the 21st century. Especially in the “global West” as an imaginative geography and epistemological economy, which rearranges and regulates the public visibility of religious subjectivity in accordance with secular norms, this has sparked multi-facetted debates as to how a post-Enlightenment present can still accommodate religious world views. However, a resurgence of publicly visible and embodied religion marks a challenge to normative secularism and abstract liberalism, as spiritual approaches to and conceptions of life are being reconsidered and probed into ever more strongly. Such a development can by no means be identified with one particular religion as such, as it encompasses the whole array of a “re-discovery” of spirituality in an age allegedly de-mystified by science, technology, scholarly criticism of religion, or agnosticism and anti-theism marking religion as an abject “other” to “enlightened” thought: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006)being just one case in point.                                                                                                

Does this revival hint at a contradiction within, for example, a Lyotardian post-modern “anything-goes-mentality;” and, furthermore, does secularist liberalism renunciate religious literalism and stigmatize embodied piety and ritual to the effect of revealing its own limitations? From this perspective one could argue that especially discourses about, for instance “Islam and its position in western Europe,” are not so much discourses about a particular national imaginary and its relation to a particular religion, but rather manifestations of anxieties about the increased presence of religious signifiers and ways of being.                     

In this context, the issue of religious conversion and the figure of the “religious convert” become battlegrounds of contemporary debates over religion and its role in public life: why do converts convert, and why would they choose lived religious orthodoxy and -praxy over normative promises of an allegedly “liberated” secular life? How can we problematize such static and obviously enforced ideological binaries? Additionally, how would such a problematization contribute to a cultural theory of religious conversion? The above questions are key to this book proposal, as we intend to shed light on the representational regimes of religious conversion and the potential spaces of self-representation claimed by convert cultural producers.

Encouraging inter- and transdisciplinary contributions, we invite theoretical takes on religious conversion and converts in conversation with cultural, social, literary and media theory, as well as case studies of specific formats and texts dealing with conversion and converts, e.g. novels, poetry, films, documentaries, TV shows, visual arts, literary and digital life writing, magazines, news media etc.  We welcome contributions dealing with, but not limited to

  • Representations of conversion and converts in literature, film, and TV-shows
  • Negotiations and discussions of religious conversion in life-writing and auto-ethnography
  • Figurations and stereotypes of conversion in popular culture e.g. the figure of “the sleeper,” the “romance convert,” the “culture traitor” etc.
  • conversion and converts in blogs, vlogs, and other forms of social media
  • Is there a convert fiction or a fiction of conversion?
  • Conversion and popular music
  • Conversion in post-colonial literatures
  • Conversion in religious literatures, such as Christian and Islamic fictions
  • Conversion, national and cultural identity
  • Conversion and the “post-secular turn”
  • Conversion from the angle of (systematic) theology and religious studies
  • Famous convert cultural producers, e.g. novelists, film-makers, journalists, playwrights
  • Affect, emotion and conversion
  • Conversion and discourse analysis: anxieties about conversion, converts, and “islamization” in public debates
  • Conversion, gender, sexuality and body politics
  • Conversion movements, religious associations, and their media
  • Narratives of de-conversion, ranging from apostasy to “de-jabis”
  • Conversion and critical ethnic- and whiteness studies; conversion and the politics of racialization and ethnicity

This call is part of a proposal to Routledge’s ongoing Cultural Politics of Media and Popular Culture Series. We intend to incorporate selected submissions into the final proposal for an edited volume which is due on 31 Dec. 2017. Abstracts of 500 words and a brief bio-note should be sent to, submission deadline: 27 Dec. 2017. If the volume is accepted, full articles are estimated to be due later in 2018. The exact submission date will be communicated to contributors as soon as possible.