The Self and the Sacred: Conversion and Autobiography in Early American Protestantism (review)

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stephen R. Yarbrough, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Payne attempts to tackle a very difficult problem—an explanation of the relationships among the Enlightenment conception of the autonomous self, the evangelical Christian conception of self, the experience of the individual's conversion to such a self, the language of the convert's autobiography, and the converted self's subsequently changed perception of its relation to its community. The primary evidence for Payne's investigation comes from American nineteenth century evangelical spiritual autobiographies,and his main claim is that the discourse in which these authors wrote descriptions of their conversion experiences did not merely "demonstrate a degree of correspondence between their experiences and a preordained morphology of conversion" (91) or "replicate the pietistic formula of despair, conviction, and conversion (86), but rather, these "texts of conversion (as opposed to texts about conversion) served to constitute self, experience, and community for early American evangelicals" (2). In other words, such descriptions of conversion could not and did not represent an experience of something existing prior to and independently of the discourse that claims to report it, but, as with any other experience of "fictional realities"(my words, not Payne's), the experience of conversion is an experience of an entanglement in signs whose only referents are other signs.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
review, Protestantism, early America, Christianity, enlightenment

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