Book Review - Conversions--A Philosophic Memoir
This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1996, Volume 13, Number 1, pages 121. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.
Book Review - Conversions: A Philosophic Memoir
A.L. Rosenthal. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1994, 278 pages.
This sparsely referenced, unindexed volume of 18 chapters in three parts is, as its title specifies, the subjective account of the author's search for truth and meaning. Part 1 describes the "collision of values" the author experienced while a Fulbright scholar in Paris. Part 2 explores her "ethnic cultural search" in the "Jewish historical vocation of seeking justice and mercy immanently in the cultural and historical contexts of our real lives" (p. 263). This includes gender, role issues, and romantic love. Part 3 is an account of her cultlike involvement with an African-American woman "who wanted to see culture and history treated as unreal" (p. 264).
With respect to cults and cultlike involvement there is nothing in the book that has not been said before and in greater detail, with references and more than one case. This book is one person's search for identity and meaning and that is its major contribution. The author traces Freud's theory of the unconscious to Schopenhauer, Darwin, Nietzsche, and von Hartmann. The central theme of the book is philosophical search. "One has to live," she observes, where "two realms, empirical reality and transcendental ideality coincide." The "real question," she writes, "is, can one accept one's historical existence? Jews must do so. There is no other interesting thing for them to do or to be" (p. 264).
Chapters 12 through 18 (which make up Part 3) are most relevant to the psychological and emotional changes involved in cult participation. These chapters describe her involvement with a woman in an extremist Christian cult. Her account lacks detail and focuses mostly on her own thoughts and feelings. No cult member other than the leader is described. There are many other books with more detail on the cult process and restorative therapy.
In the epilogue the author asks the rhetorical question: "Did I find God?" Her answer: "Well, yes. So far, yes. I have found the struggle and the finding to be one and the same. So, yes." This book is of value for its account of one person's search for truth and meaning. That search is in a philosophical and not a psychological context. As such, it is of limited use to those interested in studying cult and cultlike behavior in great depth.
Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Dept. of Behavioral Medicine
University of Virginia
Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1996