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Conversion to Early Christianity: In-Sights from Cognitive Psychology

Several problems face the scholar who wishes to study the experience of early Christian conversion with cognitive sciences as a heuristic lens. First, conversion is so diverse a phenomenon that no comprehensive model of conversion has been formulated from within a decidedly cognitive or neurocognitive paradigm. Second, to the extent that emotions are important to our understanding of conversion, we have overcome the problem that our contemporary understanding of emotions differs from ancient discourse on emotions. Third, memory research indicates that biographic narratives are notoriously unreliable. Therefore, the typical before-after story of conversion that meets us in many early Christian texts must to some extent be viewed more as a way to formulate the present identity than accurate reiterations of actual events in the past. Therefore, one important contribution of the cognitive sciences is to caution against too confident psychological interpretations of historical text. 

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