Date of Award

2001

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Regional Professional Studies

Abstract

Religious converts routinely report differences in the way they attribute meaning as a consequence of religious conversion. Previously known objects, events and persons arc perceived differently as a result of a new plausibility structure being brought to bear. Converts experience themselves and their lives as fundamentally problematic due to their limitations in the f:lce of seemingly insurmountable physical, moral or spiritual crises, and set out in search of a resolution to their anguished existence. The resolution comes as they encounter God, the one whom-it is thought-holds within his hands the resolution to their problem and the seeds of their transformation into a new life. The stimulus for this research has come from the researcher's experience over 25 years of observing converts' tendencies toward the reattribution of meaning during and subsequent to their conversion experiences. It was clear 'that' changed meanings took place: it was not clear 'how' and 'why' such changes occurred, nor 'where' the impulse for such change came from. This research is concerned to explicate how contemporary Christian converts in Western Australia have experienced conversion as a transformational event. It does so by interacting with the self•reports of converts as they reflect on their experiences of conversion. The primary research question for this inquiry-in its preliminary form-is : what is the experience of acquiring new religious knowing, and what account may be given of the processes of change within the believer's perceptions of God, self and world? Seven converts were interviewed in open interviews in which they were asked to divulge their beliefs about God, the world and themselves, before during and after conversion. Participants seIf•reports were explicated phenomenologically through a process of imaginative re-experiencing and deep-listening. The eidetic structures and universal essence of those experiences were allowed to emerge into the foreground to make themselves known. 44 themes were identified from respondents' transcripts and shaped to form the substance of five key chapters whose primary emphases are, the world as the context of meaning change (chapter 5); the self and its crises as the catalyst for new interpretations of reality (chapter 6): the Christian religious tradition and the meanings it holds within its myth-like gospel (chapter 7); the self in the presence of God (chapter 8); and the place of the mind in Christian conversion (chapter 9). The notion of the mind of Christ' is a motif furnished by the Apostle Paul. His experience of scales falling from his eyes and his statement "we have the mind of Christ" portrays the possibility of the reception of a noetic awakening to enlightenment which religious believers participate in through conversion. Through the explication of respondents’ experiences of meaning-change, a description has been developed in this research which Constitutes new believers as imbibing the Christian 'mind' through contact with the Bible, and a myth- like and Christ-centered metanarrative which is re•told through litany and liturgy in the context of private and public worship. Radical change was found to occur within converts' beliefs, attitudes and actions, in relation to God, themselves and the wider world, during and after the conversion event. It was found that subsequent to conversion converts’ feel themselves to have become seers of the supernatural, hearers of mysteries, and tasters of divinity, because they have been in contact with God and have imbibed aspects of his character and perspective. Thereafter converts hold a plausibility structure which is deeply influenced by the person of Christ and the Christian 'idea' of history as salvation-history. Converts were found to undergo a personal self- transformation as a result of conversion, to which they moved from an 'end of self to an elevated status in which they both derived life and wisdom from God, and participated in thea divine nature. Converts also were found to have undergone a revision of the world as a result of conversion, in which the cosmos became 'new' in the sense that it was created by God for his purposes, and that his presence intrudes into it, making the mundane realm into a sacred temple. This research is generated from within the Christian faith tradition. It seeks to understand the experience of the believing soul in the 'art' of conversion as it encounters and imbibes new meanings and attributions of truth. It will be of interest to scholars, religious practitioners, and most importantly to religious converts themselves

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