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The Nature of Conversion, by Albert I. Gordon

- Abstract

Among psychologists of religion, it is a well-known precept that conversion (inner) is an adolescent phenomenon. But what emerges from this new study of interfaith conversion—as well as from others—is that conversion (ecclesiastical) is a nuptial phenomenon. Indeed, according to the educated guesses of various denominational bureaucracies, no less than 90 per cent of all conversions are a prelude to, or product of, interfaith marriages.

In this respect, Gordon’s sample of forty-five converts might be considered unrepresentative, for it produced a somewhat lower proportion of marriage-related changes of religion: only 75 per cent of the “cases” he studied converted prior to marriage, with a few others doing so some years later. But this discrepancy may be accidental. Gordon studied converts who were referred to him by ministers, priests, and rabbis; and this may have led to a bias in the direction of more “successful” conversions—presumably those effected for reasons other than marriage. Gordon’s sample is also unrepresentative in another respect: fully thirty of his forty-five subjects converted to Judaism, and six converted away from it. Gordon justifies his selection on several grounds. Conversion to and from Judaism, he maintains, represents the most radical change of religion in American society; secondly, as a rabbi, he had greater access to the histories of converts to Judaism; and, finally, interfaith conversion is in any event “a process that varies only in minor details, whether the convert be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or of any other religion.”

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