• Severin Odgaard
4. term, Learning and Innovative Change, Master (Master Programme)
Both religious conversion and the transformative potential within it are widely researched phenomena. However, it seems from literature searching that research quite rarely have been using learning theory as a way of theorizing and examining conversion. Therefore, in this master’s thesis I examine conversion as an example of transformative learning, and in that way this paper functions in the cross field of conversion research and transformative learning research. Specifically, I examine conversion to Christianity in Denmark in the pentecostal church, The Apostolic Church of Denmark.
On the basis of the above I formulate the following problem statement: What characterizes the learning and transformation that happens in relation to conversion to Christianity?

To describe how conversion can be seen as a process of learning I draw upon the fundamental understanding of learning from Piaget (2012), which I combine with the concept of transformative learning as described by Mezirow (2005, 2012) and Illeris (2012, 2015). Furthermore I use 3 different conversion theory frameworks to define and operationalize the phenomenon of conversion. First, Lofland and Skonovd (1981) and their 6 different motif experiences that each make the conversion seem genuine for the convert.
Second, Paloutzian (2005) and his concept of conversion as meaning system change.
And third, Rambo (1993) with his systemic stage model and it’s 7 stages of conversion.
To answer my problem statement I execute a qualitative interview examination with three informants who all have converted to Christianity during their adulthood and who are all members of The Apostolic Church of Denmark today. I myself is a member of the same church, and because of that one could argue that I have a higher degree of accesibility and trust among the informants, just as there are multiple ways in which I need to adress my bias and prevent it from influencing this examination in an unscientific way, which I discuss in length in the paper. The three interviews conducted have been subject to a thematic analysis, resulting in the finding of 5 themes.

The first theme is “preceding belief”. It seems that the preceding faith and background of each convert to a large degree influence both the convert itself, the experience of conversion and the new, transformed life. Rambo’s idea of context expresses something similar to this, just as the schema idea of Piaget.
The second theme is “defining experience”. This identifies that conversion is a personal learning process based on some sort of undeniable experience that defines the rest of the process. This matches the understanding of Lofland and Skonovd, and Piaget’s principle of a stimulus provoking learning.
The third theme is “companions of the conversion”. The analysis suggests that companions are important to converts, especially companions who the convert can identify with. Furthermore, it seems that an already established trust from the convert towards the companion can be vital. This theme is supported by the concept of an advocate, presented by Rambo, just as it affirms the general social and interactive nature of learning.
The fourth theme is “answer to different questions”. This suggests that conversion has the ability to solve very different problems for different converts. To use Rambo’s words, one could say that the same faith has the potential to be a solution to different kinds of crises and searches. From a learning theory point of view this theme is not surprising. Transformative learning is indeed characterised by affecting the whole being and not just a few areas.
The fifth theme is “the effects of conversion”. As Rambo states, there are consequences for the convert, and the analysis suggests 6 effects of conversion, whereof the former 3 are primarily psychological and interior and the latter are more relational and exterior. The first effect is a rising sense of emotional well being, the second is a sense of responsibility toward what is perceived as being the will of God, and the third is a sense of a firm and steady foundation in life. The fourth effect is an increased forgiving attitude toward other people, the fifth is a bigger urge and motivation to engage in relationships and to make a difference, and the sixth is an incorporation of the convert’s faith into ones education and career.

In conclusion, the finding of this master’s thesis is that conversion to Christianity seems to be characterized by 5 themes, which can be summarized as this: Conversion is influenced by the convert’s preceding faith, is defined by a personal, landmark experience with the new faith, is facilitated in community by companions of the conversion, has the ability to answer a diversity of questions with each convert, and has a series of continuous and prolonged effects, including both interior and exterior ones. On the basis of this conclusion, it seems that conversion can indeed be an example of transformative learning.
Publication dateJun 2020
Number of pages80
ID: 333220691