Strange gods : a secular history of conversion / Susan Jacoby.

Jacoby, Susan, 1945- author.
New York : Pantheon Books, [2016]
xl, 464 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
First edition.

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Conversion -- History.
"In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century "religious marketplace" in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one's choice or to reject belief in God altogether. Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--each claiming possession of absolute truth--Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures--the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin's dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters' religion--the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims. Finally Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West's religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages."--Jacket.
Part I: Young Christendom and the fading pagan gods. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) ; The way, the truth, the life, the Empire ; Coercion, conversion, and heresy
Part II: From Convivencia to the stake. Bishop Paul of Burgos (c. 1352-1435) ; Impureza de sangre : the crumbling of the Convivencia ; The Inquisition and the end
Part III: Reformations. John Donne (1572-1631) ; "Not with sword ... but with printing" ; Persecution in an age of religious conversion
Part IV: Conversions in the dawn of the Enlightenment. Margaret Fell (1614-1702) : woman's mind, woman's voice ; Religious choice and early Enlightenment thought ; Miracles versus evidence : conversion and science ; Prelude: O my America!
Part V: The Jewish conversion question : where Christianity stumped its toe. Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) : convictionless conversion ; The varieties of coercive experience ; Edith Stein (1891-1942) : the sainthood of a converted Jew
Part VI: American exceptionalism : toward religious choice as a natural right. Peter Cartwright (1785-1872) : anti-intellectualism and the battle for reason ; Remaking the Protestant American compact
Interregnum: Absolutism and its discontents. True believers
Part VII: The way we live now. "The greatest" : Muhammad Ali and the demythologizing decade ; American dreaming
Conclusion: Darkness visible.
Includes bibliographical references (pages 433-438) and index.
9780375423758 (hard cover : alk. paper)
0375423753 (hard cover : alk. paper)
9781101870969 (e-book)