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Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion

Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a

  • Title: Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
  • Author: Susan Jacoby
  • ISBN: 9780375423758
  • Page: 364
  • Format: Hardcover
  • In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty first century religious marketplace In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty first century religious marketplace in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one s choice or to reject belief in God altogether Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each claiming possession of absolute truth Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion unto torture and death and the friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage Moving through time, continents, and cultures the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters religion the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane The cast includes Augustine of Hippo John Donne the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz boxing champion Muhammad Ali and former President George W Bush The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages With 8 pages of black and white illustrations.

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      Published :2019-01-27T10:14:41+00:00

    1 thought on “Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion

    1. ERUDITE, RECONDITE, INTERESTING AND INFORMATIVE.“Religious conversion is an irresistible subject for a secularist or an atheist precisely because so much human energy, throughout recorded history, has been expended on persuading or forcing large numbers of people to replace belief in one supernatural mystery with another.” (Kindle Locations 410-412).Susan Jacoby is one of my favorite contemporary freethinkers. Her books always illuminate, always elucidate, and always make me wish I’d studi [...]

    2. Fairly good history, but what a condescending tone. She doesn't really respect the emotional nuance of religious experience. This tightness makes her approach brittle. The book could have been much more dynamic if she had railed less and took more time to seek to understand.

    3. Full review with hyperlinks & formatting here: muslimmediareviewIf you, like me, grew up receiving religious education, you likely encountered conversion stories. For Muslims, an important topic of our weekend school education in the United States is the siirah (biography, "gospel") of the Messenger Muhammad ﷺ. It is replete with stories of how courageous and noble individuals, beginning with his wife Khadija and cousin `Ali, recognized him as God's Messenger. Implicitly and explicitly, th [...]

    4. Susan Jacoby's "Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion", is a bit of a mish-mash. Now, that's not said in a bad way; Jacoby tries to cover the topic from Augustine to Mohammed Ali and his daughter, with stops in England, France, Spain, and Egypt, in between. What Jacoby is trying to say, I think, is that as long as there have been religious belief, there have been conversions both to and away from those beliefs. And if she's not right, then I don't know what would be the point of the book [...]

    5. There was a lot of powerful information and useful perspectives on conversion and social and economic reasons for conversion, rather than just the spiritual. I particularly liked the chapter on Muhammad Ali. Nonetheless, some of the language and rhetoric tended toward the bombastic, which I didn't need to appreciate that religion has done a lot of damage, and some of the parallels seemed overextended. I also wondered if the author should apply that same reasoning - economic and social and enviro [...]

    6. In each chapter, I searched for the point she was trying to make. A simple introductory paragraph would have helped. Apparently her target was the simple traditional view of a specific person's conversion. Her goal was to show many other factors driving that event. She presented a mountain of scholarly evidence to support her thesis, but it was difficult for me to find the specific thesis in each chapter. Her overview of history in a specific time and place was very interesting. The three big he [...]

    7. This book had a lot of potential and in other hands could have been great. This is partially a memoir. Rather than putting forth an objective history of conversion Jacoby writes a limited history of Jewish conversion to Christianity. The bigger problem though is that Jacoby is a proud athiest and biases her writing accordingly. She deems all religious people to be stupid and gullible. When laying out historical events, rather than laying out facts she repeatedly inserts her very anti-Christian a [...]

    8. Interesting book which goes from the early days of Christianity up to the near present and looks at the reasons people converted. A history of religious tolerance is inextripically tied up with that, so that is covered, too. Her last chapter points out interesting differences between the U.S. and other developed, developing and devolving countries.

    9. Ok, I didn't read it. I just am checking it off my list. I tried the first couple chapters since the subject matter is interesting to me, but it's too darn academic to wade through. Maybe I'll try again later

    10. Jacoby aims above my head with this work. I feel like I should understand it but I don't. It's well-written, from what I can tell, but I couldn't make heads or tails of her argument.

    11. Read the full review at mindfunda/conversion/This book is not about the cruel middle ages. It is still very relevant to make yourself aware of the power entangled with religion. The liberty to choose any religion as well as no religion at all is a sign of civilization and liberty.

    12. This is a very advanced book that I do not recommend for most people. It was a struggle to complete it.

    13. Strange Gods is a deeply interesting historical work, and Susan Jacoby should be commended for producing it. Unlike most looks at conversion, which treat the subject as one of personal choice or external enlightenment, this books looks at the social dynamics at play. Essential to this is that this is a secular history, which disregards the underlying truth claims of the faiths in question, to bring in the myriad reasons why conversions happen beyond a 'change in belief'. From the shift of Pagans [...]

    14. Jacoby writes well, and I found her personal comments insightful, funny, and intriguing. She reviews the history of conversion by looking at the famous conversions in history, beginning with Augustine, continuing on through the Spanish converses and morons, etc. The last few chapters concern "conversions" in the contemporary US, e.g. conversion because of intermarriage, conversion to atheism, Islamist religion, "religious but unaffiliated." She does not discuss in depth conversion in contemporar [...]

    15. Part history, part memoir, in that Jacoby was inspired to write this book because of an incident of secret conversion in her family's background. The book covers not only conversions such as Saul's to Paul, but mass conversions, forced conversions (the Conversos in Spain), and religious revivals intended to draw in converts. She also discusses at length the peculiarly American trait of converting more than once - attributing to our freedom of religion the instances of interfaith marriage where o [...]

    16. I read this book because I enjoyed reading SJ's previous books. I was baptized Catholic.My dad told me early in my youth, if I didn't want to go to church, he want going to force me. He went through Catholic School until the 8th grade. My mom wasn't baptized Catholic until she turned 18 in 1949. She grew up not being baptized. I always found her reason for wanting to be baptized peculiar. She would always say , all her friends were baptized. Then I read a book about how religiously the USA was i [...]

    17. A very interesting book that deals with the history of forced conversions worldwide as well as personal conversions - famous and not. The author has been an atheist since the age of 16 and while most to the book is filled with fact-based stories involving conversions she seems not to able to control at bit of superiority as she outlines some of the religious beliefs she finds hard to imagine anyone believing. On the whole though she shows respect for those who have made such life changes though [...]

    18. I enjoyed this review of the history of religious conversion in the Western world since the time of Jesus, and I learned a lot about a wide span of history from Jacoby. Included in that were several interesting tidbits (that Bertrand Russel and Mohammed Ali became friends over their shared anti-war experiences (WWI and Vietnam respectively) and the Flushing Remonstrance).She ends with a strong condemnation of forced conversions, comparing the behavior of ISIS today to the anti-Semitic acts of th [...]

    19. By history of conversion, Jacoby here means a history of the reasons why persons throughout history converted. For the most part, Jacoby is skeptical of the process of conversion, and often attributes it to outside forces: a need for personal improvement, survival during periods of political repression, marriage, an affirmation of identity, forcing ideological conformity, etc. The book is thick with historical anecdotes and some insights, wide but not deep, and is pockmarked by bizarre and contr [...]

    20. Susan Jacoby is one of my favorite contemporary secular/freethinking authors; and 'Strange Gods' is her best, a must-read for folks interested in the secular history of conversion. Neither a New Atheist (thank goodness) treatise nor a boring academic history, 'Strange Gods' addresses detailed histories of conversions within social, political and economic frameworks - from Augustine of Hippo to Muhammad Ali. It's illuminating and relevant; and her writing is, as always, brilliant sans pretension. [...]

    21. With changing times, comes changing of religious preference. Some people change for marriage, some because politically it is better to be one religion than another and other are forced into conversion because they fear for their lives and finally, some do convert because they felt they that they needed to change religions.Jacoby takes a non-religious view on the history of conversion and notes that mass conversion of people is usually against some political change or event that changes the world [...]

    22. I would actually give this one a 3.5 if I could. I love Susan Jacoby but this one was not my favorite. The first half seemed to drag a bit but the second half was much better. So really, it's a 3 for the first half and a 4 for the second half. Of course, it could also be me. I seem to be a bit worn out on religion lately. I probably should have waited to read it. It's hard to wait when it's a favorite author, though.

    23. The erudite Ms. Jacoby presents a comprehensive history of religious conversion from a secular viewpoint, which basically means that it's unbiased. Some notable conversions are covered, such as St. Augustine, John Donne and Muhammad Ali. She also gives a thorough look at the persecution of Jews through history, and covers why slave owners decided to convert their slaves. Strange Gods is fascinating and witty. I guarantee that you will walk away smarter than when you started the book.

    24. No recent book on religious history tells the truth about religious conversion more powerfully than this book. It was a bracing and illuminating read. I can't recommend it highly enough. I hope it sets a much needed trend in popular histories, as it exemplifies a standard of excellence in scholarship which refreshingly avoids academic post-Foucault hand-ringing and smashes through the now monolithic right-wing rewrite of history dominating our education system in America.

    25. if you are looking for a detailed survey on the subject or take pleasure in densely packed historicalrecounting of why and how of religion, then this is for you. Couldn't get too far into it, hence the rating of 3.

    26. "I remember a sense of pride at having entered into a more grown-up world (although I certainly understood that the same grown-ups who had been willing to admit, 'Yes Susan, there is no Santa Claus,' would not have been delighted to agree with me that there was no God)."

    27. The author contributes a solid narrative on one of the pillars of any civilization. Her thoughts on Augustine were enlightening.

    28. Very detailed account of why people have chosen to change religions over the centuries, as well as an admonition of different major religions for the sins of their past.

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