Conversion as Periodization Workshop

Turns and Returns of the Past in the Worlds of Pre-Revolutionary Europe

One-day workshop at the 2017 Early Modern Conversions Team Meeting, McGill University
Thomson House ballroom, 3650 McTavish
Thursday, August 24
Convenors: Sarah Beckwith, Mark Vessey Invited interlocutors: Mark Phillips (History, Carleton University) James Wetzel (Philosophy, Villanova University)


Periodization Workshop Schedule



Augustine, of Hippo Saint. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Book 8. Trans. Sarah Ruden. New York, N.Y.: The Modern Library, 2017. 203-237.

Hartog, François. “Time’s Authority.” In The Western Time of Ancient History: Historiographical Encounters with the Greek and Roman Pasts. Ed. Alexandra Lianeri. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 33-47.

Hayot, Eric. “Against Periodization; or, on Institutional Time.” New Literary History 42.4 (2011): 739-56.

Koselleck, Reinhart. “History, Histories and Formal Time Structures.” In his Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Trans. Keith Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 93-104.

Phillips, Mark Salber. Preface and Introduction to his On Historical Distance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.



Goldhill, Simon. “Conversion, Time, Narrative.”

What is the effect of the narration of conversion on time and its expression in narrative form? Contemporary historiography loves emergence, development, and metamorphosis as its dominant models, expressed in narratives of entanglement, multiple time-scales, and polyform perspectivism—even when it toys with Foucauldian ruptures. Can conversion produce narrative that does not create a rejected time before and unchanging time afterwards?

Kirby, Torrance. “The ambiguity of ‘modernity’ in late-medieval and Renaissance intellectual culture.”

Whereas the via moderna in the late medieval schools was  a turning away (conversio) from the traditional thought and practices of the scholastics (via antiqua), the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century presented their “way” as a turning away (conversio) from scholasticism and return (epistrophē) to the ancients, especially the wisdom of the Greeks. “Modernity” in its early usage thus presents significant ambiguity in the relation of intellectual culture to the tradition.

Marshall, Peter. “‘Religious Conversion’ in Reformation England.”

The semantic journey of the word “religion” over the course of the sixteenth century in England, from meaning something like a generalized outlook of piety to evoking the essentiality of a public identity, suggests a major early modern reconfiguration of the meanings of “religious” conversion, effected in conditions of unprecedented public debate and intensifying confessional conflict. Or does it?

Soranzo, Matteo. “Periodizing Conversion with, and after, A.D. Nock.”

A. D. Nock’s Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo(1933) is the most frequently quoted study of conversion, its definition and its history. After a reconstruction of Nock’s argument, its intellectual context and polemical targets, this presentation will show how it still influences contemporary accounts of conversion and indicate the emergence of a new scholarly trend that is moving beyond this scholar’s legacy.

Vessey, Mark. “Revolving Augustine’s Confessions over the longue durée.”

The Tolle, lege scene in Conf. 8 frames a career-ending event, period. May it also be seen to project the demise of one cognitive regime (the Roman Empire) and portend the rise of another (Latin, Western or European Christianity), which would only begin to fail in its turn when at length fully historicized—to the lasting advantage of Literature, among other cognitive sub-formations—in the nineteenth century?

Wilson, Bronwen. “Conversion’s Horizons.”

Yachnin, Paul. “Periodization, Conversion, Shakespeare.”

The second Henriad (Richard II, 1+2 Henry IV and Henry V) is, among other things, a critical thinking through of historical periodization. Periodization is itself a projection of religious conversion onto the screen of historical time. Shakespeare’s theatre, coming into existence and thriving in a time of conversional crisis, made conversion, including the conversions of time, into its central matter of concern.