A History of Christian Conversion

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A History of Christian Conversion | David W. Kling

A History of Christian Conversion

David W. Kling

Oxford University Press

July 2020


852 pages

Conversion has played a central role in the history of Christianity. In this first in-depth and wide-ranging narrative history, David Kling examines the dynamic of turning to the Christian faith by individuals, families, and people groups. Global in reach, the narrative progresses from early Christian beginnings in the Roman world to Christianity’s expansion into Europe, the Americas, China, India, and Africa. Conversion is often associated with a particular strand of modern Christianity (evangelical) and a particular type of experience (sudden, overwhelming). However, when examined over two millennia, it emerges as a phenomenon far more complex than any one-dimensional profile would suggest. No single, unitary paradigm defines conversion and no easily explicable process accounts for why people convert to Christianity. Rather, a multiplicity of factors-historical, personal, social, geographical, theological, psychological, and cultural-shape the converting process.

A History of Christian Conversion not only narrates the conversions of select individuals and peoples, it also engages current theories and models to explain conversion, and examines recurring themes in the conversion process: divine presence, gender and the body, agency and motivation, testimony and memory, group- and self-identity, “authentic” and “nominal” conversion, and modes of communication. Accessible to scholars, students, and those with a general interest in conversion, Kling’s book is the most satisfying and comprehensive account of conversion in Christian history to date; this major work will become a standard must-read in conversion studies.

David W. Kling is the author of A Field of Divine Wonders: The New Divinity and Village Revivals in Northwestern Connecticut, 1792-1822The Bible in History: How the Texts Have Shaped the Times; co-editor (with Douglas A. Sweeney) of Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad: Historical Memories, Cultural Movements, Global Horizons; and an area editor (American Christianity) for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Miami.


1. An Anatomy of Conversion

Part One: The Roman World

2. The New Testament (50-100)

3. The Early Church through Constantine (100-337)

4. The Western Imperial Church and Beyond (312-500)

Part Two: Medieval Europe

5. Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Europe (500-1000)

6. Rulers, Missionaries, Popes, and Patriarchs (400-1200)

7. Conversion by Coercion: Jews and Pagans (400-1500)

8. Interior Conversion: Monks, Mendicants, Mystics (1050-1500)

Part Three: Early Modern Europe

9. Protestants and Continental Reformers (1517-1600)

10. English Protestantism (1520-1700)

11. European Catholicism (1500-1700)

12. The Rise of Evangelicalism (1675-1750)

Part Four: The Americas

13. Catholics in Colonial America (1500-1700)

14. The Puritans and the Great Awakening in America (1630-1790)

15. American Evangelicalism in Black and White (1750-present)

16. Protestants and Pentecostals in Latin America (1900-present)

Part Five: China

17. The Church of the East and the First Catholic Mission (635-1840)

18. Protestant Entrance and Christian Expansion (1840-1950)

19. Independent Protestant Movements (1930-present)

Part Six: India

20. Upper Caste Conversions (1500-1900)

21. Lower-Caste Conversions (1530-present)

Part Seven: Africa

22. The Age of the Prophets (1900-1930)

23. The East African Revival (1930-2000)

24. Catholic East and Pentecostal West (1800-present)


25. Revisiting Themes in the History of Christian Conversion

“A massive undertaking has produced a massive book: 836 pages on conversion across space and time in the Christian era … A history of Christian conversion represents a remarkably comprehensive enterprise .. a fine achievement.”
David Bebbington, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

The History of Christian Conversion is an impressive work. I commend Kling for his efforts at pulling together rich, variegated material related to Christian conversion, his openness to the subject of Christian conversion, and his willingness to consider the dynamic nature of Christian conversion as an ongoing reality realized in and through various and often messy historical contexts.”
Kathleen Borres, Catholic Books Review

“All told, History of Christian Conversion is a significant contribution to the field of conversion studies. It has been extensively researched and displays significant familiarity with the persons and themes involved … Both the Church and the Academy are served by the work Kling engages in here, and his work will be a key reference point for a rising generation looking to further their understanding of the process of religious transformation in the Christian context and beyond.”
Joshua R. Ziefle, Pneuma

“Students and professionals interested in Christian conversion should consult Kling’s work in their studies, as it offers insightful stories and commentaries on Christian conversion in many different contexts … it would be wonderful to find Kling’s book not only on the bookshelves in theological and religious studies libraries but also in the offices of teachers and students of Christian conversion alike.”
Kathleen Borres, Catholic Books Review

“impressive in its chronological and geographical scope and in the effort it clearly entailed, A History of Christian Conversion…is comprehensive and engagingly written…”
M.A. Singer, Minot State University, CHOICE

“This book would be useful in a variety of settings – schools, churches, mission fields, and Christian homes. It can even be used as a devotional book. By reading one portion each day, the reader can reflect and learn from history and the many life stories.”
Perlita Tan, Evangelical Missions Quarterly

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