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Describe and compare two conversion experiences

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Describe and compare two conversion experiences A religious conversion is a process of change where religious beliefs previously ignored or unappreciated become significant due to a specific experience or a change in view over time. They are either long term, dramatic or involving a deepening of faith that may lead to the adoption of new beliefs or the prioritising of an individual's faith. Conversions are not exclusive and occur in most religions. The conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus is the most influential conversion experience in the Christian tradition. St Paul was a major persecutor of Christians and following a conversion became an apostle and the author of one third of the New Testament. Similarly in the Buddhist tradition, the conversion of Siddhartha Gotama ('the enlightened one') formed the core of the Sangha, the heart of Buddhist life. Although both conversion experiences were dramatic and utterly transformed the believers' life, St Paul's conversion was from one religion to another (from Judaism to Christianity) whereas Gotama's was from nominal religious affiliation to complete religious commitment; his faith was valued more and strengthened. Saul was stated to have been 'breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9) ...read more.


After the experience, Gotama emulates the lifestyle that James describes and becomes enormously occupied with his religion to the extent that he leaves his family and opulent way of life. Lewis Rambo and Charles Farhadian identified seven causal factors of conversion. Paul's and Gotama's conversions are perceived as being a consequence of several of these. It is clear encounter was a principal factor in the conversions as the vision of 'the light from heaven that flashed about him' in Paul's conversion made him blind and forced him into a predicament beyond his control. Subsequently, Paul was placed in a crisis (another causal factor) and the sheer relief of regaining his sight lead him to convert. Another encounter was the miracle (a type of religious experience) where Tabitha rose from the dead, which reinforced Paul's Christian faith. Encounter was also a causal factor in Gotama's conversion since the mystical quality of meditating under a bodhi tree, recollecting the tranquillity of life allowed him to experience what Rudolph Otto may call the 'numinous' (something that is beyond the empirical or outside normal convention) and truth. The experience can be labelled as a mystical experience as Gotama sensed the underlying unity of everything between the individual person and the external world, but the unity was perceived in a negative way; he saw human existence as a perpetual struggle against earthly desire. ...read more.


Paul's and Gotama's conversion are describable experiences; Paul has a version of his conversion recorded in Acts 22.1-21, 'I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me', and Gotama, after his conversion, sought to spread the enlightenment he had received (people now strive for nirvana). A final similarity is that Paul and Gotama had interacted (interaction is a causal factor) with the religion they were converting into. It was easier for Gotama to interact with the religion as he was well-educated and studied philosophy; however, it was not the same religion that Gotama converted into. Buddhism was created due to Gotama's conversion experience so any interaction with Buddhism before the conversion is perhaps impossible, yet it can also be argued that Gotama was interacting with what were the beginnings of the Buddhist tradition. Paul had interacted with Christianity through observing their lifestyle, through his persecution of them, through baptism, miracles and his communication with Anani'as. Paul and Gotama therefore learnt how to behave in their converted role. Perhaps the most important difference between the conversions of Paul and Gotama is that they based on different traditions. However, both exemplify the effects of conversion in inspiring people to promote their newly founded beliefs. Sarneet Singh L6P 09/05/07 ...read more.

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