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Conversion and Autobiography: Telling Tales before the Roman Inquisition

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AbstractThe goal of this article is to analyze the mechanisms used by Catholic Church authorities during the early modern period to control and repress heresies, as well as the ways in which foreign heretics were converted and eventually assimilated into local society when they came to Rome. Generally speaking, papal policies encouraged foreigners to hide their religious identity, with the aim of giving a superficial appearance of assimilation, in order to avoid any scandal. Although the guidelines established in papal bulls did allow for some exceptions, the high risk of being expelled or persecuted encouraged foreigners to present themselves before the Holy Office and disavow their religious beliefs. Their confessions before the tribunal were filed by the officials of the Inquisition according to stereotypes that filtered the memories of foreigners. How “genuine” were these stories? Do they simply respond to the expectations and manipulative tactics of the judges? The fragile boundary between true and false, between biography and autobiography, poses a question, one that always underlies any study on religious conversion: to what extent can we analyze the “real” motivations underlying any religious conversion?

Affiliations: 1: Università di Chieti


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