Tacit Conversion: A Linguistic Analysis of a Vipassana Meditator’s Narrative of Self-Transformation

Masoumeh Rahmani

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    Once exclusively practiced by ordained Theravada monks, Vipassana meditation has journeyed far beyond the gates of monasteries and into various secular spheres, including prison cells. With over 160 official centres worldwide, S. N. Goenka’s Vipassana movement is one of the most successful organizations that offer Buddhist meditation as a self-development tool to the public, and a “rehabilitating tool” to prison inmates. The question of rehabilitative efficacy of Vipassana meditation has attracted much scholarly attention in recent years, particularly from the field of clinical psychology (Bowen et al., 2015; Perelman et al., 2014; Samuelson et al., 2007; Simpson et al., 2007). Less qualitative research, however, has explored the effects of Vipassana meditation on practitioners’ religiosity.

    Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with long-term meditators, who reside at the Vipassana centre in New Zealand and report addiction recovery, this chapter introduces a pattern of conversion that has been widely neglected in previous studies. ‘Tacit conversion’ which results from a disconnection between language and lived experience, occurs in movements that constantly reject association with religion. Goenka’s Vipassana organization is a case in point where instead of teaching Buddhist meditation, they claim to teach a “scientific,” “non-sectarian” and “universal” technique that does not require religious conversion. As a result, Vipassana practitioners reject the notion of conversion, maintaining that their approach to the technique is purely non-religious. Yet the analysis of these narratives suggests other wise.

    Inspired by Peter Stromberg’s (1993) linguistic approach to conversion, the first section of this chapter illustrates the extent to which the structure and content of these self-transformation narratives resembles those which in other traditions have been categorised as “conversion narratives” (Harding, 1987; Popp-Baier, 2001; 2002; Stromberg, 1993). The later section of this chapter explores the influence of the movement’s discourse on the practitioners’ language and reasoning and demonstrates how the movement’s rhetorical patterns work as a mechanism to conceal conversion and hence facilitate what I refer to as tacit conversion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLived Religion, Conversion and Recovery
    Subtitle of host publicationNegotiating of Self, the Social, and the Sacred
    EditorsSrdjan Sremac, Ines Jindra
    Number of pages26
    ISBN (Print)978-3-030-40682-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Publication series

    NamePalgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges


    • Religious Conversion
    • Narrative analysis
    • Vipassana Meditation


    Dive into the research topics of 'Tacit Conversion: A Linguistic Analysis of a Vipassana Meditator’s Narrative of Self-Transformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this