Elizabeth Elbourne March 17th 2014

“Emotion and the conversion narrative: Conversion and the invention of the self in the early Protestant missionary movement, 1770-1830.”

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Protestants told each other stories about their conversion experiences. Such conversion narratives were key ways of thinking about the self and the possibility of coming to true self-knowledge. They often followed a series of genre conventions and demanded a particular set of emotional experiences. The weight of the conversion story changed again in the context of missions to Indigenous peoples on violent colonial frontiers. This paper explores the meaning of conversion stories among the evangelical missionaries of the London Missionary Society and Christians and potential converts in South Africa and in northeastern North America, as well as looking at opposition to conversion narratives and different ways of thinking about the self. Conversion stories were dangerously ambivalent, as both techniques of self-discipline with important implications in charged colonial contexts, and routes to resistance.

See the video recording of Professor Elbourne’s presentation below. Parts follow one through three, with discussion questions in part three.


Dr. Elizabeth Elbourne is Associate Professor and Departmental Chair of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. Dr. Elbourne is co-editor (with Gwyn Campbell) of Sex, Power and Slavery: The Dynamics of Carnal Relations under Enslavement (forthcoming August 2014) and author of Blood Ground: Colonialism, Missions and the Contest for Christianity in the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799-1853. Her current research investigates indigenous-settler relations, with a focus on religion and cultural colonialism and the ambiguities of gender and colonialism.

Professor Elbourne’s profile on the McGill website can be viewed by clicking this link.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014
4:00pm | Chancellor Day Hall, Rm. 016