The Present, Past, and Pre-History of Conversion

Longing to leave liberalism behind, everyone from Catholics to Communists is experimenting with self-transformation. What’s fueling that desire, and is it strong enough to make the break?

May 3, 2021 | Nathan Shields
About the author: Nathan Shields, a composer whose works have been performed by various orchestras and chamber ensembles, is associate faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. He earned his doctorate at the Juilliard School in New York, and has received fellowships from Tanglewood and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A protester on March 20, 2021 in London. Hollie Adams/Getty Images.

It is an image both grand and subtly comical: the man lies stunned on the ground onto which he has just been flung, head and torso thrust toward the viewer, arms thrown out in an ambiguous gesture as if he were trying either to embrace something or to ward it off. His face and body are starkly illuminated, his eyes shut vainly against the light. Above him stand a horse and an older man, who tends to the animal, seemingly oblivious to his fallen companion. The horse, its leg half-raised, glances toward the ground with an expression that might be annoyance.

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