We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Trouble with Sauling Around

Conversion in Ethnic American Autobiography, 1965–2002

Madeline Ruth Walker

Publication Year: 2011

In The Trouble with Sauling Around, Madeline Walker probes the complex and troubled relationship between ethnicity, society, and religious conversion in late twentieth-century African American and Mexican American autobiography. Religious conversion—the turning away from an old, sinful life toward a new life of salvation—manifests as an intensely personal experience, yet it calls into play a wide variety of social, cultural, economic, racial, political, and psychological forces. Thus, constant change and the negotiation of resistance to and assimilation within the dominant culture have been seminal topics for ethnic Americans, just as the conversion narrative is often a central genre in ethnic writing, particularly autobiographical writing.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (48.3 KB)
pp. xi-xii

This study was first conceived while I was a doctoral student, and it was the combination of encouragement from my mentor, Christopher Douglas, my commitment to my own ideas and voice, and the validation of editors and readers at the University of Iowa Press that transformed it into a book. My gratitude to Chris Douglas is enormous and ...

read more

Introduction: The Trouble with Conversion

pdf iconDownload PDF (144.2 KB)
pp. 1-26

In his 1995 autobiography Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama, at one time a confirmed agnostic, relates his turn to Christianity. I want to describe that scene because, in many ways, Obama’s narrated conversion encapsulates the story of this book: the story of how religious conversion in ethnic American autobiography routinely enlists social, ...

read more

1. Conversion and the Intractable Saul: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

pdf iconDownload PDF (174.6 KB)
pp. 27-58

In his epilogue to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley gives us an endearing, bittersweet glimpse into the lindy-hopping Malcolm X of preconversion days, allowing the reader a glimpse of what might be called the intractable Saul:...

read more

2. Conversion, Deconversion, and Reversion: Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Autofictions

pdf iconDownload PDF (178.2 KB)
pp. 59-91

Being alert to “Sauling around” means being attentive to the complex and subversive aspects of conversion, particularly to indications of ambivalence in conversion experiences. For Malcolm X, “Sauling around” is manifested in his lingering nostalgia for preconversion activities as a sober NOI narrator; for Oscar Zeta Acosta, it is exemplified ...

read more

3. Serial Conversion and Pauling Around: Amiri Baraka’s The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones

pdf iconDownload PDF (190.0 KB)
pp. 92-127

If Alexis de Tocqueville, Sacvan Bercovitch, and Max Weber are correct, Puritanism is at the very fiber of American culture, although it is now a historical rather than a living religion. Tocqueville famously prophesied that “the whole destiny of America [is] contained in the first Puritan who landed on these shores” (quoted in Bercovitch 19). ...

read more

4. Converting the Church: Richard Rodriguez and the Browning of Catholicism

pdf iconDownload PDF (164.7 KB)
pp. 128-157

The experiences narrated by Malcolm X, Acosta, and Baraka demonstrate how social and cultural forces propel religious conversion and deconversion. The flip side to those experiences is the phenomena of tenacious cradle religions that make it difficult for believers to convert to other faiths. Richard ...

read more

Conclusion: Unlinking Religious Belief and Identity

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.2 KB)
pp. 158-166

“Sauling around” and “Pauling around” are often the result of socially determined religious conversion. Although Rodriguez gives a glimpse of the possibility for men and women to push back against religion by converting institutions over time, the other autobiographers in this book suffer the effects of religious conversion by denying parts ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (100.3 KB)
pp. 167-180

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (100.4 KB)
pp. 181-196


pdf iconDownload PDF (251.7 KB)
pp. 197-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781609380649
E-ISBN-10: 1609380649
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609380632
Print-ISBN-10: 1609380630

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: first