For scholars of Early Modern Europe, "conversion" is a term that normally refers to religious phenomena. The conversions we will study, however, are geographical, socio-cultural, literary, artistic, biological, cognitive, and affective, as well as being religious. Much Early Modern research also looks at how things were rather than at how things changed. We, in contrast, seek to develop an idea of conversion able to foster an understanding of historical change across a range of kinds of thought and practice. A conversion is a "turning in position, direction, destination" (OED) within a field of possibilities that reconstitutes the field itself. In our view, conversion translated the horizon lines of knowledge and redrew the world-pictures of individuals and groups in Early Modern Europe. Taken together across disciplinary boundaries as a nexus of movements in real and metaphorical space, forms of conversion will provide the foundation for both a new account of early modernity and an argument for conversion as a mode of individual, social, and historical change.
Forms of Conversion has four key objectives: (1) to formulate a working theory of conversion that can serve a critical, integrating analysis of a wide range of individual, social, and ideological changes; (2) to fashion an interdisciplinary methodology able to address multiple forms of conversion. As we learn each other's disciplinary languages and learn about conversion in diverse settings, we will make use of Wittgenstein's idea of "family resemblance," where relationships among phenomena are not a rigid structure but rather a "complicated network of similarities, overlapping and criss-crossing"; (3) to work with a Research Associate in Digital Humanities (position to be funded by a Google Faculty Research Award) in order to develop a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) able to gather the work into an intelligent and searchable database; and (4) to draw the theory, methodology, and VRE together into the basis for a larger project on conversion across the whole of Europe and its world.