The motives behind an individual's conversion to another religion are complex and frequently contested. The moment of conversion for the convert symbolizes the beginning of a new life and new opportunities; yet for the community he or she leaves, it is often interpreted as an act of religious and political betrayal, therefore prompting different, and often opposing, narratives of conversion. A number of tropes predominant in early modern English narratives dealing with conversion to Islam are of interest in this regard: the immoral deviant “renegade” motivated by excessive lust or greed who is worse than the “natural Turks,” and the practice of violent, involuntary, forced conversion. These tropes, through their rhetorical construction of the renegade, attempt to fashion both individual and communal selves that act to relieve the psychological threat to the collective identity of the English community presented by the renegade's translocation of political, cultural and religious loyalties. It is therefore problematic to uncritically read these narratives as accurate depictions of the reality of conversion in North Africa as some previous studies have done: other contextual evidence and the use of alternative narrative frames portray converts and conversion from a significantly different perspective. In this article, primarily through the study of captivity narratives, I explore how and why these tropes of conversion were employed, the functions they fulfilled, and the contexts in which they were produced and consumed.

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