Colleen Shantz 
University of St. Michael's College
University of Toronto

Changing Minds: Consciousness, Conversion, and Religious Identity

Project Description:

I propose to investigate the cognitive underpinnings of religious conversion as a change of mind. In particular I will examine the structure and functioning of consciousness under normal conditions and the extraordinary conditions of some dramatic conversion events. While the single term “conversion” designates multiple kinds of events and processes, it continues to include—indeed to be typified by—religiously formative experiences that arise from alterations in the functioning of consciousness. The phenomena of these alterations, the cognition that is generated through them, the affect that imbues them, and the cultural contexts in which they arise and are interpreted all contribute to changed identity and behavior. Paul and Augustine, paradigms of (Christian) religious conversion, will serve as examples. By placing them in the context of cognition, I will reconsider the phenomenology of “changes in mind” and their contribution to identity and behavioral change.

Colleen Shantz is Associate Professor of New Testament and Christian origins at the Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael’s College and cross-listed to the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. She is a specialist in Pauline studies and the formation of the earliest Christian communities, with particular interest in the “experiential” aspects of the Christ movement: emotion, ritual, religious experience, and social identity. Her publications include the award winning book, Paul in Ecstasy (Cambridge University Press), and two edited volumes of essays on religious experience in early Judaism and Christianity.