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Department of Theology, Fordham University
Abstract: The dissertation proposes a conversion theory grounded in the work of nine contemporary theologians, and then applies that hypothesis to a study of the various conversions of John Henry Newman. The theory contends that there are five major elements of conversion experience: the affective, aesthetic, moral, intellectual, and the unconditional. It suggests further that affectivity is the ground of all conversion, which is promoted through imaginative or aesthetic perception of one's interpersonal relationship with God. It is also asserted that the initial four elements are reciprocally influential, each affecting the other. Also, at any given time one or more elements may dominate an experience, subordinating the remaining elements. This effect gives each conversion experience or stage its name. All four elements tend toward a state of harmony achieved by attaining the level termed the unconditional, requiring development and synthesis of the four elements, and is the objective of all conversion experience--total submission to the will of God.
The hypothesis is developed from two perspectives: the work of Bernard Lonergan and his major interpreters, Walter Conn, Robert M. Doran, Donald Gelpi, Bernard Tyrrell, and Edward K. Braxton. Their work is synthesized with that of Bernard Haring, James Fowler, and Hans Urs von Balthasar to develop a definition of conversion as the ever-deepening realization that one is loved by God, a love mediated through the fact, revelation, and image of Jesus, which defines the fundamental condition of one's existence and meaning.
This realization implicitly requires a loving of God in return by mediating this truth of love to all creation, especially others. This definition contains the first four elements of the hypothesis and implies the existence, or objective, of a fifth: the level of unconditional conversion attained by loving submission to One Who does already love us. The hypothesis is then applied to a study of John Henry Newman, concluding that his conversion experiences validate the hypothesis: ongoing conversions grounded in the affections, promoted by the aesthetic imagination, directed by intellectual reflection toward the moral challenge of submission to God's will, or, in short, to love as we are, and have been, loved.