Book Review: Conversions

Craig Harline, Conversions.

Julie M. Smith: “R U there?”

Craig Harline: “Yes. Although I am still getting used to this ‘chat’ feature.”

J: “Can I ask you a teeny favor?”

C: “Sure. What do you need?”

J: “I need a book for my book group. And I know you are a super historian, so . . .”

C: “You want me to recommend a book?”

J: “No, silly. I want you to write one for me.”

C: “You want me to write a book for your book group!?!”

J: “Yes! Thanks! I have something very specific in mind.”

C: “You do?”

J: “Yeah. You know how you discovered that amazing daybook from the early 1600s and then wrote A Bishop’s Tale?”

C: “Yes . . .”

J: “Well, I know how you are always hanging out in archives, so I want you to find something new! Another undiscovered, once-in-a-lifetime find that is so rare other historians will scowl at your back when you stand in front of them in line for lunch at academic conferences. That’s what we need!’

C: “I can’t just . . .”

J: “OK, one thing, though. No offense, friend, but A Bishop’s Tale was a little uneven to me. Maybe that was your co-author’s fault, I dunno, but I didn’t love that book. This book, I want the writing to completely knock my socks off. I mean, really awesomely amazing out-of-this-world prose, like, more engaging than a paperback you pick up in the airport!! Knock it out of the park, man! No dry academic stuff here!”

C: “Julie, that’s . . .”

J: “What would be really awesome is if this 400-year-old lost book that you discover was written in code! And you cracked the code! And really dramatic stuff in it, like maybe about how this young guy sneaks away from home in the middle of the night . . . and his dad is a Reformed preacher . . . and, he’s running away to become Catholic! So his dad chases him down! And I know people in the 1600s didn’t normally do this, but what if he wrote all of his personal stuff down so we can really get a feel for what he was thinking and what he was going through . . . how about that?”

C: “Look, you can’t just . . .”

J: “And you know what else you need to do? We’re going to need a lot of background information because I don’t know beans about Reformation Europe, so you’ll need to put all that in, but don’t let it detract from the pace of the book. Work it in seamlessly, make it fascinating, but give me all of the background I need to put this dude in his context.”

C: “Julie, this is getting . . .”

J: “OOO! I just thought of something! You know what would make it even more awesome? Every other chapter should be about someone else’s conversion story! A Mormon! From modern America! And first he’s Evangelical, but then he joins the Church! And then–go for broke, my friend–then he discovers that he’s gay and leaves the church!”


J: “Here’s the thing, though–I don’t want to be hit over the head with parallels between my historical guy and my modern guy. I want them really subtle–that will give us a TON to talk about at book group. And sometimes, not so parallel, so we can think about what things change over history and what stays the same. The kind of thing where I think about the book CONSTANTLY, teasing out the similarities and differences between the two conversion stories.”

C: “I . . .”

J: “And you know what would be the icing on the cake? End with a riff on biblical interpretation, the history and theology of homosexuality, issues of tolerance, and the purpose and uses of history that is simultaneously provocative and faithful!”

C: “Wha . . .”

J: “OK, one final thing. I’d like a story from your own family history–and not some dusty boring archive story, but an Ensign-worthy-tear-jerker, pretty much a miracle, right up front to link everything in the book together.”

C: “Anything else?”

J: “Well, you’ll need to get it published by a major academic press, that’ll make me look good for choosing it for book group. Yale, maybe?”

C: “I’ll see what I can do.”

J: “THX!”

Note: While I have had the pleasure of meeting Craig, this conversation did not technically happen. But the result is the same.

Another note: Although Amazon has it in stock now, the actual publication date is September 15th, so don’t despair if you have a hard time finding a copy or want to read it on Kindle.

Another note: The publisher provided me with a review copy of this book.

7 comments for “Book Review: Conversions

  1. Awesome. I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time–ever since I took Dr. Harline’s senior seminar on conversions, in fact.

    (Excellent idea for a review, btw.)

  2. Thanks, Julie. Quite an original approach and you said it all. My wife and I were privileged to be readers of the manuscript and we knew from the first pages this was going to be huge. As converts ourselves, we discovered many recognizable experiences, while at the same time the book helped us see the larger historical perspective of conversions. I believe the modern-day conversion part in the book (masterfully intertwined with the 17th-century data) is the most poignant because of its present dimension in the gay-discussions and developments. A must-read. Congratulations again, Craig.

  3. FWIW, I thought A Bishop’s Tale was one of the best books I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading Conversions.

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