Understanding Religious Conversion


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Lewis R. Rambo

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Religious conversion provides converts with an opportunity to embrace a community of faith and a philosophy that nurture and guide, that offer a focus for loyalty and a framework for action. Whether the conversion is from one religious tradition to another, from one denomination to another, from no involvement to participation in a religious community, or is an intensification of commitment within one's faith, the process can be complex but compelling and transformative.

In this book Lewis Rambo discusses the dynamics of conversion, presenting it as a multifaceted process of change with personal, cultural, social, and religious implications. Drawing on insights from psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, theology, and missiology, as well as on interviews with converts from disparate backgrounds, Rambo explores the forces that shape the conversion experience. He considers various theories of conversion, examines the role of cultural and social factors in the conversion process, and describes how different religions and disciplines view conversion. While acknowledging the individual nature of each conversion experience, Rambo discerns stages that are illuminating. These include opening oneself to new options; seeking a resolution to the dilemma or deprivation that makes change seem attractive; meeting the agent who embodies the religious vision; learning new roles, rituals, and rhetoric; and committing oneself to a new way of life. His book will not only encourage empathy for the converting process but will also provide a nuanced strategy of critique and evaluation of religious conversion throughout the world.

Lewis R. Rambo is professor of psychology and religion at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.

"A work that is elegant in design and acute in conception and execution."—Lamin Sanneh, Yale University

"An important and readable contribution. More than a study about conversion, it is also a complete theory of culture change. Indeed, it functions well as a survey of the social science of religion."—Alan F. Segal, Barnard College

"A broad coherent understanding of a major phenomenon."—Choice

"Rambo's approach to the conversion literature is determinedly eclectic, encompassing, and affirming. . . . His organization and review of the literature admits of and allows for almost every conceivable dimension, variable, and variation. . . . This volume is likely the single most comprehensive compendium of the literature on conversion. It is the new 'must read' for anyone who wants to be abreast of the topic."—John Lofland, Sociology of Religion

"The reader cannot avoid coming away with a heightened sense of the richness and multidimensionality of the conversion process. Descriptions of supporting case histories and data are vivid and well integrated. . . . Explicitly and implicitly, Rambo invites the social scientist of religion to initiate exciting research, and the theologian to consider what converts to various faiths have in common. The prism of Rambo's model will help to provide focus for those who study the process of conversion; the interdisciplinary conversation thus encouraged can begin to identify many pieces of this compelling puzzle."—Patricia Schoenrade, Contemporary Psychology

"Rambo has reviewed a wide range of conversion studies written by authors representing the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and religion. His multidisciplinary approach provides a very nice representation of the diversity of work produced on this intriguing topic. . . . The general reader will benefit from his overview of representative studies of this phenomenon. in addition, Rambo identifies aspects of conversion that deserve more attention than they have received."—Richard Machalek, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"Mr. Rambo has given us a good and interesting book on the subject of religious conversion. . . . The author has sought to draw a graph that attempts to capture the entire field of play of the conversion process. He has done this in a way that will be helpful to missionaries, scholars, students, and recent converts who are seeking to understand what has happened to them. . . . In a convincing manner he has drawn attention to aspects of the process that should be taken seriously. This book is worth the effort. Read it!"—Robert R. Recker, Calvin Theological Journal

"Although the author is clearly writing from within the Christian tradition, his interests embrace major world religions (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Zen, Yoga, etc.) and many of the modern para-church movements as well (including cults, self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, independent churches, etc.). . . . Each chapter is thoroughly researched, well-documented, and carefully written with an impressive amount of scholarly detachment."—Clinton Bennett, Missiology: An International Review

"This is an erudite, systematic study of the process of religious conversion by a scholar whose exhaustive knowledge of the subject is probably unequaled. . . . It is one of the best examples I know of how a scholar's consuming interest over a career can be expressed in a volume that has great heuristic value."—H. Newton Malony, Journal of Religion

ISBN: 9780300065152
Publication Date: October 25, 1995
260 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/2