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Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America (New Directions in Narrative History) Hardcover – September 15, 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Compelling . . . A beautiful book, illuminating in a time when almost half of Americans report switching religions.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
(Publishers Weekly)

“An absorbing, creative book… it will definitely become a go-to book for readers interested in the history and psychology of conversion.”—Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God: A Memoir (Lauren Winner)

“An unexpected joy. . . . A compelling, insightful examination. . . . Conversions is a journey well worth taking.”—Gerald S. Argetsinger, Affirmation.org
(Gerald S. Argetsinger Affirmation.org)

“Will appeal to lovers of history, Christians, and religious enthusiasts alike.”—Rhett Wilkinson, Deseret News
(Rhett Wilkinson Deseret News)

“Once I started, I could not put it down. It is hugely compelling. All the narrative skills which are so apparent in Harline’s earlier work are now bent towards a purpose which shows what history is for: illuminating present concerns through wise, informed, and serious reflection upon the past. A superb, important book.”—Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
(Diarmaid MacCulloch)

“We are pleased to add Craig Harline’s remarkable book Conversions to Yale University Press’s series New Directions in Narrative History. This bold work builds on Harline’s deep knowledge of early modern Europe to forge powerful connections with events and people close to the present—all in the service of exploring themes of trans-historical significance. The focus moves, in alternating sequence, between two compelling personal stories. The first is that of a young 17th-century Dutchman, in the process of converting from Protestantism to Catholicism. The second follows a 20th-century American, moving in and out of Mormonism while passing at the same time from straight to gay life-ways. Though manifestly different in surface particulars, they are profoundly linked by underlying concerns with family and community tensions and with the puzzle of personal identity. Harline’s gifts as a writer enable him to describe, to evoke, to analyze, in seamless combination. Readers will be moved not only by his portrayal of the main characters; they will feel as well the tremors of connection to their own lives.”—John Demos (Yale University) and Aaron Sachs (Cornell University), Series Editors
(John Demos and Aaron Sachs)

“I have never seen put more clearly or potently the divisions that occur in families because of religious differences. Conversions is great storytelling, combining history and heart in a splendid, remarkable way.”—Carol Lynn Pearson, author of Goodbye, I Love You 
(Carol Lynn Pearson)

“Though every inch a professional historian, Harline writes accessibly, personally when appropriate, and so vitally overall that those he writes about become near-tangibly human.”—Ray Olson, Booklist
(Ray Olson Booklist)

“A beautiful and moving book. Harline is a master at narrative and at making the most painstaking research look effortless. These two unconnected stories required very different approaches, yet Harline's writing binds them together with an odd, yet arresting symmetry, overflowing with integrity and insight.”—Carlos Eire, Yale University
(Carlos Eire)

“Eloquent . . . fascinating and relevant . . . The narrative is fluid and readable, and I had trouble putting the text down.”—Ben Park, Juvenile Instructor
(Ben Park Juvenile Instructor)

“Highly readable and in many ways fascinating.”—Catholic Sentinel
(Catholic Sentinel)

"This creative, engaging work shows why history matters and invites readers to learn from the past. It deserves a wide readership."—A.W. Klink, Choice
(A.W. Klink Choice)

Finalist for the 2012 Mark Lynton History Prize sponsored by the Lukas Prize Project at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The Lynton History Prize is awarded to a book length work of history on any topic that best combines intellectual distinction with felicity of expression.
(The Mark Lynton History Prize Columbia Journalism School/Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism 2012-03-13)

“In its most gripping passages Conversions is as captivating as a well-written novel. . . insightful and eloquent."—Christopher D. Cantwell, Journal of Religion
(Christopher D. Cantwell Journal of Religion)

Book Description

This powerful work explores the parallel disruption of two families—one in seventeenth-century Holland, the other in America today—when a beloved family member converts to another religion.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions in Narrative History
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (September 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300167016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300167016
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,745,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To write about history in an engaging and informative way is one thing but to then mine that history for meaning that has profound personal implications and addresses modern themes is yet another. Both are deftly accomplished by Craig Harline in his superbly written Conversions, Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America. Harline tells two compelling stories about the struggles of an individual to sacrifice familial harmony in order to embrace religious convictions that run counter to their upbringing. One is the tale of a young Dutchman in the seventeenth century who seeks to return to the Catholicism that his Protestant parents and other progenitors rejected. The other recounts the journey of a young man in recent history who jeopardizes his relationship with his parents in order to convert to Mormonism. This latter individual, upon coming to terms with his sexual orientation, ultimately chooses to leave his new-found religion and yet again risk rejection from his family in order to live a fulfilling life as a gay man.

Most impressive is the ability with which Harline sheds the comfortable realm of the academic authorial voice to write the latter portion of the book in the first person with honesty and forthrightness. A personal friend of the contemporary individual, he lays bare his own struggles to reconcile his Mormon faith with what he had learned about his friend. This book will add significantly to the dialogue surrounding this issue and all others that involve the chasm between gay men and women and their search to embrace their sexual orientation while being observant in their various religious faiths.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've ever experienced the pain of watching a loved one depart from your faith, you're certainly not alone. Conversion can hurt as well as heal. Craig Harline's new book can provide some perspective and catharsis for this touchy subject. The book is history written as "creative nonfiction," which includes "significant scholarly contributions while also embracing stylistic innovation [through the] classic techniques of storytelling" (ii).

Harline employs storytelling techniques to draw you in and to bridge the past and present. Jacob Rolandus's daring night escape from his Reformed home to Catholicism in 1654 is narrated in the present tense: "And now the field at last! But here more disappointment: the horse still hasn't arrived, and the friend waiting with the bag says that he can't make the journey either, because he has a bad foot" (5). In contrast, Michael Sunbloom's family reacted to his conversion to Mormonism in the past tense: "When the cousin started asking about Mormonism, and what in the world had moved Michael to convert, Michael hesitated, stepped as far into the hallway as he could [to avoid letting his parents overhear], and took the risk of answering. Big mistake" (76-77). These two stories are told alternately, one chapter relating Jacob's tale, the next, Michael's. This back-and-forth, "too be continued" construction naturally pulls readers to the next episode.

Unlike most history books, Harline puts himself directly into the story. By alternately centering Jacob, Michael, and himself as the main protagonist, Harline's book inhabits a borderland between academic excellence and dangerous self-disclosure/didacticism.
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Format: Hardcover
It is rare in 2011 that a historian can find a never-before-used primary historical source, especially one from the mid-seventeenth century, and spin it into a gripping story. But that is exactly what Harline has done with the tale of Jacob Rolandus, the son of a Dutch reformed preacher, who left his family and community to pursue the Catholic faith. Alongside the story of Jacob is that of Michael Sunbloom, an American youth of the 1970s that converted to Mormonism only to later leave the Mormon church and come out of the closet. Harline's narrative (he took more liberty with Jacob's story in filling in the unknown details than many historians, I felt) focuses on how each family reacted and subsequently treated the son that had converted to the "other" and how each family's decisions affected the one who followed their own heart and desires. Beyond this, the two stories have little in common, but each indicate that a family's decision to accept or reject can have profound consequences, both today and centuries ago.

As a side note, I found it amazing that BYU allowed one of its professors to publish a book that appears to defend the changing views of homosexuality and how the commonly-held Biblical perspectives may, from a historical perspective, be in fact misguided.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really liked the book, but about 2/3 the way through it is was so intrigued by each story that I had to leave the side by side comparisons of the two stories and follow each one separately to the end. In today's world we need more stories like this that help us see people not as others but like ourselves. I would especially recommend it to Mormon readers who struggle to understand gays.
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