Constantin Rieske


Practices of Changing Faith in the 17th Century


For those affected, conversions and changes of faith in Early Modern Times meant a processual change of relations to the self and the world. Initiated through lingering doubts of personal belief, experiences of alterity during travels or political opportunism made religious practices, which had been executed over many years, seem dubious. The physical behaviour of converts changed and they became entangled in a new, religious self.

On the one hand, one should not assume that the altered understanding of the self and the world had been solely prompted by external processes. Hence, converts were never only converted to a new faith through religious instruction and denominational arrays. In a praxeological perspective, on the other hand, changes of religious faith can neither be construed as carefully planned behaviours, which safely and irrevocably lead towards a new spiritual self. Converts reacted to the interpellative character of the different actors, spaces and artefacts surrounding them and acted within social scopes. They ensnarled and entangled them- and their-selves always in different practices and, thus, in the process of their religious subjectivation. Reading spiritual scriptures could play just a well a role as conversations about a different belief, a belief that seemed peregrine.

Through observation, imitation and incorporation of belief-practices, converts acquired different, potentially conflicting forms of practical knowledge and capabilities and, hence, got into a tension field between routinised behaviour and stubbornness. Accepted everyday behaviour – be it in church service or within the setting of an individual prayer – was decisive for a durable success of the conversion. Converts wanted and could receive appreciation within the process of subjectivation and manifest their religious self. In doing so, they became formed through the regular execution of socially produced practices within the process of their change of faith; while converts as subjects, at the same time, had an impact on these practices. In fact, they became agents of transformations and potential changes of those cultural schemas.

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