In the seminal collection of essays  The God that Failed, Louis Fisher recounts the story of anarchist Alexander Berkman, who recalls the specific moment when he became an avowed enemy of the Bolsheviks – the bloody rebellion on the island of Kronstadt. For Berkman, this specific event defined the crisis point of his ideological faith; it was the moment of disenchantment, of a kind of “de-conversion”. Fisher appropriates this term to define his own moment of realization noting that  “I had no 'Kronstadt' for many years.”

    Such moments of “de-conversion”, or disenchantment, juxtapose a recurring trope in Western thought―that of conversion itself. Traditionally, these are moments of religious revelation and/or transformation, as with Paul on the road to Damascus, but there are moments of scientific transformation, as well. In the well-known myth of Archimedes in his bath, the Eureka moment of inspiration could be said to be the source of a 'universal conversion' of thought, or a complete paradigm shift. The perpetuation of such myths over the centuries has defined our understanding of what conversion and disillusionment, are, how they function, and what mystery or power such experiences hold.

    This persistence begs the questions of whether the allegory of conversion itself prepares certain individuals for this experience? And, on the contrary, for its reversal? Are we, in the Western world, socially predisposed to codify an experience in an allegorical manner?

    In the past century, how has conversion/disenchantment made itself manifest through secular movements? Through contemporary religious groups?

    This conference will seek to address the topic of conversion and disenchantment from a variety of academic disciplines.



The Kronstadt Moment


The Road to Damascus

An interdisciplinary conference on conversion and disenchantment

April 26th and 27th, The New School for Social Research, NY.