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Early Modern Conversions

The ability to convert is uniquely human. When we awaken to a new faith, join a new political movement, or take on a new identity, we exercise our freedom to reinvent ourselves and also to become who we were always meant to be. But what if conversion is really a leap into a false ideal, a con game, or something imposed on us by external forces? We treasure the freedom to remake ourselves, but we are also troubled by our own changeability and impressionability.


Based at McGill University in Montreal, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Early Modern Conversions Project has brought together an international team of scholars and artists to study the first great Age of Conversion. From around 1400 to 1700, Europeans converted their religious, social, political, and even sexual identities—sometimes voluntarily, sometimes by force.


Led initially by McGill’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (IPLAI), and subsequently from within the English Department there by Professor Paul Yachnin, the project has brought together some twenty research centres in Canada, USA, Australia and England. The University of Warwick is one of these partners, where project co-Investigator Professor Peter Marshall (History) is working in collaboration with colleagues from the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance to help fulfil the project's aim of rethinking early modernity as an “age of conversion.” In addition to its thirty core team members, the project has involved other scholars as collaborators, as well as drawing in artists, and members of the public. Numerous younger scholars (including several from Warwick) have been affiliated as Graduate Student Associates, giving them access to funding to attend project events and to pursue thematically related research projects.  


Since 2012, the project has sponsored over 70 conferences, workshops and symposia in multiple locations (for a complete listing see here), including, at Warwick, a workshop on the Politics of Conversion at Warwick in July 2015 and a symposium on Bodies and Minds in the Early Modern Catholic World in March 2017. 


Warwick-based research outputs funded by the project include Peter Marshall and John Morgan, ‘Clerical Conformity and the Elizabethan Settlement Revisited’, Historical Journal, 59 (2016), winner of the 2017 Harold Grimm Prize for best Reformation-themed article of the year, and Peter Marshall, Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation (Yale University Press, 2017), awarded the Wolfson History Prize, 2018. 


Legacies from the project will include the book series ‘Conversions’, published by Edinburgh University Press (https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/series-conversions.html )

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