Becoming religious: the conditions of conversion

Is it possible to truly convert to another religion? Religious identity, like racial identity, is fundamentally physical — the religious subject is a physical body, first and foremost — revelatory scripture is intimate with biology.

There are implications. For example. Religious discrimination is a kind of racism, a discrimination against bodies. It’s no coincidence that forms of Islamophobia tend to focus on the body (beards, clothing, diet): not because these are secondary aspects of an objectionable medieval belief system but, rather, these are components of a physical embodied subjectivity — the Muslim body — that antagonists object to. Islamophobia is not about beliefs — it is about bodies. Quite correctly, too: because Islam is not a belief, it is a genetics, group of bodies, embodied practices.

Religion isn’t solely racial — it possesses scripture, text, symbolic capital. Scripture is intimate with the religious body from the moment it passes through the lips of the reciter: the religious body is a bio-symbolic complex, not hardware and software as Cartesian yin/yang, but, rather, functions or machines, occupying the same ontological status , the symbolic production machine employed to embed itself within the workings of the biological engine, to titillate and excite, condition and constrain the physical body.

This complicates the possibility of conversion.

Speaking for myself, I never converted to a religion — because I failed to meet the racial criteria. Islamophobia is racism — which means that conversion to Islam is conversion to a race, not just to a belief system. Is it possible to “become” Greek, if you do not possess Greek DNA? Is it possible to truly become a woman by means of transgender operation? I reserve judgement. While I failed at becoming Muslim physically, we see other cases, where the epitome of a particular race is often migrant stock (e.g., Stephen Fry or Helen Mirren as the epitome of Englishness) — somehow a full becoming, an entry into an indigenous tribal habitus has been effective, authentic, convincing — rather than mere simulacra in imitation.

Perhaps one condition for effective (or ideal) racial transformation must be solving your own physical hang ups — so your entry into taking on a new religious body (a sexual entry) is not “complicated” by fetishization nor by the fetishization of your own body, reflected/known by taking on the Other. On the one hand, you cannot become effectively if you overthink matters — if the symbolic/revelatory machine itself becomes fetishized over the body that it interlocks with. On the other hand, a lot can go on unconsciously — if you identify your (current) body with a religious body (mirroring) — you can fetishize that identification, this fetish itself becoming the means to excite and arouse you, in your current racial condition — ultimately meaning a full racial transformation (conversion) is never even attempted. I’d say I’m guilty of on both counts here (my current condition being displacement, my fetishizing the Other appears as a becoming Other but is, rather, an erotic identification of myself in the Other — there’s no change to my body, only forms of desire that are momentarily satiated by viewing the religious Other in particular ways, dress-up routines).


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