crowd-sourcing :: women’s conversion narratives

For the introductory theology course I’m teaching this fall, I’m not using any single text for the day-to-day readings because no text could be quite so impossibly broad as the range of issues I’m hoping to get into (from historical-criticism to liberation theology), and because I’d rather have the students read the nitty-gritty “real thing” on these issues  than some 30,000 foot overview. But, I think that it’s important to work through a whole book as well. So one of the assignments will have the students read a literary or biographical conversion narrative (somewhat broadly conceived) and write a fairly lengthy review essay on the questions raised.

The students will have the opportunity to choose between a range of texts, and I want there to be a pretty broad representation. At this point, here are the texts I have listed for them to choose from:

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions [books 1-10]

David James Duncan, The River Why

Shusako Endo, Silence

Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha,

Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

I would like to add another text (and perhaps replace Duncan, though it’s a phenomenal book), one authored by a woman, because the list is a little dude-heavy at the moment. Being thoroughly embedded in an androcentric/patriarchal atmosphere, I have not been able to think of another good woman’s conversion narrative (preferably penned by a woman) that I’d like to include, and so I’m asking for help. Do you have any that come to mind?

13 Replies to “crowd-sourcing :: women’s conversion narratives”

  1. Off the top of my head:

    Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
    Take This Bread by Sarah Miles
    Simone Weil (I forget the exact title of that essay but she is just so fascinating)
    Margery Kempe

    I heard good things about this book in my history of evangelicalism book – , and Jarena Lee in particular.

    And lest you think I am completely selfless in this matter: Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing up Female and Evangelical

    I assume, also, you’re looking for spiritual autobiography rather than historical treatments of the topic?

    Here are a couple of other resources –

    and on the general subject of conversion narratives/testimonies:
    Here and here

    Oh and you can hear me talk about this topic here.

    Do you need more suggestions?

    {Eric intervening: Hannah, I took the liberty of editing your comment to embed the addresses as links (a touch easier on the eyes)—hope you don’t mind. Because of the wonderful extent of your research, I had to rescue your comment from the Spam bin!]

    1. Hannah,

      Thanks for great suggestions!

      You’re right that I’m looking for first-hand narrative (or fiction), rather than historical treatments, but I’m glad you pointed to Hindmarsh’s book—I studied with him at Regent, and he’s a wonderful fellow.

      Jarena Lee has come up twice now, she’ll be close to the top of my list.

      My trouble now is going to be narrowing down!

  2. For a good start (if you want to do some preliminary reading of your own), _In Her Words_ (edited by Amy Oden) has excerpts from women’s writing (or writings about women) from throughout Christian history.

    The ones that jumped out at me were Julian of Norwich, Pandita Ramabai’s _A Testimony_ (story of a Hindu woman’s conversion to Christianity), and Amanda Berry Smith’s _An Autobiography_.

  3. Thanks!

    Sarah: I’ll check out Oden, Ramabai and Berry Smith’s texts! I’d thought about Julian (and would love to put a medieval text on the list, but I’m not sure there’s quite enough “conversion” in her (wonderful) narrative to fit the assignment I’m thinking about.

    Robert: Do you have a text in mind? The book of Weil’s that I’ve read that could fit justifiably fit the bill would be Letter to a Priest, but it would be criminal to assign some students the 500 page autobiography of Malcolm X and others a 50 page (if that) letter. I haven’t read Waiting for God, is there more there?

  4. Let me put another plug in for Margery Kempe in the mediaeval department. How can you resist the first autobiography in the English language? Plus she’s craaazy.

    If you’re interested in people converting away from Christianity, “Fleeing Fundamentalism” by Carlene Cross is pretty good.

  5. Eric,
    not sure if this counts as a conversion narrative, though it certainly is a compelling read, and she is at times fairly explicit about issues with Christianity that she had to work through as a woman.

    Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life by Roberta Bondi.

    Good to see you posting again. I assume the dust has settled on your late spring activities?

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