Who is a convert? New members of the Orthodox Church in Norway
AbstractDue to its recent major revival in the post-Soviet period, the Orthodox Church can today be described as a church of new believers. While this seems to be acknowledged at a general level, there is a strong tendency to avoid speaking of new members with an Eastern European background as ‘converts’. Although they have often gone through much greater transformations – from atheism to Orthodoxy – than those with a Western background, who generally seem to have a Christian past, the term convert is generally reserved for the Westerners. ‘It is not our custom to call them converts’, one of the priests in Norway commented. Conversion stories which gain international publicity are generally about Westerners, and even the few academic studies on converts to Orthodoxy have focused solely on those with a Western background.
Based on fieldwork among the Orthodox in Norway, I will compare newcomers with a Western background with those with an Eastern European background, and I will argue that convert as an analytical concept may be equally useful in relation to members of both groups. This concept covers, however, a wide range of transformations, and it is thus important to identify precisely what kinds of converts there are among the many new Orthodox believers.
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