The first half of my book The Crossing is on psychosis, the second half is on conversion and how conversion and psychosis are related. In both experiences one may hear angels sing, in both experiences something drastic is happening in your life. Conversions and psychoses are the type of experience you will never forget. Now a lot has been written about psychoses, trying to understand what is happening in the mind of someone who is undergoing such a thing. Can the same be done with conversions? Can conversion become part of an intellectual-analytical debate? Can one study conversions? Is there such a thing as, or is such a thing possible as: conversiology?
I not only think that it is possible, but I believe it already has been done. In the third part of my book, entitled ‘Conversions’, I use two conversiological texts: firstly, William James’s unforgettable The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), in which we can find two full chapter on conversions . And the second one is Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Live (2009), which deserves to be named as a genuine conversiological study.
Also in mimetic theory, ‘conversion’ is part of the deal. René Girard insists on what we might call self-implication of the insights of his theory. Desiring ‘according to the other’ and inclinations to redirect your own violence to innocent victims – is not something we simply find out to be there in empirical reality. It is part of our own life stories. We are in it. I think of this as something that could be called the spiritual core of mimetic theory.
The 9th chapter of my book is entitled – The Conversions of René Girard. I like to use the word ‘conversion’ in plural and in the case of Girard this is clearly justified. The conversion story of Girard started at the end of 1958 and culminated at Easter 1959 – just a couple of weeks before I was born… In his descriptions and evocations Girard distinguishes an ‘intellectual’ conversion from a ‘religious’ conversion. The text is in the interview with Michel Treguer in Quand ces choses commenceront (1994). The conversion story is quoted in extension in Wolfgang Palaver’s René Girard’s Mimetic Theory (2011).
In The Crossing I write that I only had one conversion whereas Girard had two. With the help of Girard, I try to assess: what was the type of thing I went through? Was it religious? Was it intellectual? My conclusion is that it was a religious conversion, I shifted from a secular orientation to a religious orientation, an orientation in the christian tradition. Though it took me more than two decades to find my church, Jesus had entered my life somewhere in 1984 and stayed there. But let us not get too much into personal stories, as I also try to do in my book. Let us keep with the philosophical or with the conversiological questions.
In La conversion de l’art (2008) Girard says that he prefers to stick to the word ‘conversion’, instead of ‘metanoia’ or ‘tesjoevah’, although to some it has the same effect as a red rag on a bull. Why did he prefer to keep using this apparently provocative term? Why didn’t he choose two different words for his two different conversions? Peter Sloterdijk opts for the word ‘metanoia’, which is a Greek word, spoken for insance by John the Baptist in the early chapters of Mark and Matthew. Sloterdijk links this word to Heidegger’s so called ‘Kehre‘. All these translation questions and all these relationships between different types of conversion is fascinating stuff. I hope there will be more conversiological studies in the coming years!