Meaning of CONVERSION:

This denotes a radical change of beliefs, usually accompanied by a corresponding change in attitudes, action and personality. Explaining conversion is a major concern of students of religion. Competing explanations can be grouped according to the cause of change. In the early 1960s it was common to suppose that people who abruptly changed beliefs had been ‘brainwashed’; skilled manipulation could, by depriving people of sleep and food, scaring them literally witless and seducing them with the prospect of approval and reward, reduce people to a state of credulity and persuade them to accept ideas they would normally find implausible. This was thought to have been done effectively by Chinese prison guards to Americans captured during the Korean war. A careful reading of Robert Lifton’s (1961) Thought Reform and the Psychology of Tatalism or Edward Schein’s (1961) Coercive Persuasion reveals that no such claims are made for brainwashing but the idea became popular in the 1970s when large numbers of middle-class young people (whom, it is implied, should have known better) briefly joined exotic new religious movements. The clearest evidence that movements such as the Moonies did not have the power to brainwash is that the vast majority of people whom the Moonies tried to recruit did not convert and almost all members left within a few months.