Religious experience is a narrative reality, while it certainly relates to doctrines and rituals, it is embodied by the stories people tell which express the meaning of conversion as understood by the converts themselves. In order to enter this narrative world we must engage the actual stories told by converts, making space for their narratives as they make meaning of their experiences and thus open windows on the emic perspective. Sometimes this happens through stories that are largely thematic—expressing conversion in mainly one metaphor. Other times, narratives may touch on many different ideas, allowing us to discern various internal structures, such as some of the factors leading to conversion.
Nevertheless, as important as these narratives are, they are only part of the picture because religious conversion always takes place in context. Therefore, if we are to properly understand the deeply personal experience we call conversion, we must frame it within the social, cultural and historical currents swirling around that experience. The conversions in this study are rooted in the religious history of Central Asia, particularly the seventy-odd years of Soviet rule. By the end of that era, it is probably more appropriate to think in terms of localized islam, rather than a universal religion based on the text of the Quran. Not only so, but the once proudly distinct Muslim peoples, now living under Russian rule, had become enculturated into Russian patterns of life, thought, and worldview, a process referred to as Russification, something which had profound effects on the way some of them have experienced conversion away from their natal religion.
This study examines both of these aspects, first the contextual and then the personal, through the stories of thirty-six Muslims who converted to faith in Christ in post-Soviet Central Asia. By exploring the deeply personal and the broadly contextual together, this study offers a clear view of the meaning of religious conversion, in a historical, social, and religious context.