What is a Damascus Road Conversion?

S. Mithra

Derived from the Biblical story of Paul, the term "Damascus road conversion" is commonly used to refer to an abrupt about-face on a serious issue of religion, politics or philosophy. In this type of change, a single, dramatic event causes a person to become aligned with something he or she previously was against or support a position that he or she previously opposed. For example, a person might experience a Damascus road conversion if he or she was protesting against an effort to convert a parking lot to a neighborhood park but, after listening to a city council meeting at which the plan was discussed, he or she became a spokesperson for the park project.

Saul supposedly heard the voice of Jesus while on the road to Damascus.
Saul supposedly heard the voice of Jesus while on the road to Damascus.

Paul's Story

The term "Damascus road conversion" comes from the story of Paul, who was known as Saul when he was a Jewish Pharisee. He was intent upon vigorously persecuting early Christians but later became one of Christianity's most important apostles. Saul had persecuted Jesus' followers in Jerusalem and made it difficult for them to worship there.

A Christian who has had a "Damascus road conversion" has had a sudden and significant experience that prompted religious conversion.
A Christian who has had a "Damascus road conversion" has had a sudden and significant experience that prompted religious conversion.

According to the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles, Saul was traveling on the road to the city of Damascus, where he intended to imprison more Christians. He then saw a shining light and heard Jesus' voice. Jesus brought Saul's attention to the persecution he caused and told Saul that he would later be told what Jesus wanted him to do, and Saul became blind. Saul continued to Damascus, where he regained his vision and began preaching about Christ. He also took on a new name, Paul, to indicate his transformation.

A Sudden Change

Common language has adopted this story to allude to a person's fundamental outlook on life being changed in a single moment. Many significant changes in beliefs or opinions occur gradually. For example, a person might vehemently support a political party before becoming unsatisfied by certain positions taken by that party. If the person's dissatisfaction grows or extends to other positions taken by the party, he or she might stop supporting that party and might even switch to another political party. There could be a single moment or event, however, that would cause a person to immediately switch his or her allegiance without any prior dissatisfaction, and that type of change might be referred to as a Damascus road conversion.

Not a Trivial Change

This term is sometimes misused as a reference to an insignificant change. For example, it would not be considered an appropriate use of the term to refer to a change in a person's opinion about the musical talents of a popular artist as a Damascus road conversion. This type of change generally should be dramatic, deep and long lasting, although not necessarily religious. A major career change, seeking another country's citizenship or switching positions on political issues would be considered better examples.

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Discussion Comments


I would strongly suggest people stop trying to find ways to remove or hide their "faith"(and yes, substituting an x for Christ's name is the same as hiding Him). As it was put so plainly in the Bible, "if you deny Me before man, I will deny you to My father in Heaven." He is coming back and it will be soon.


Read the story for yourself in the book of Acts 9:3-11.


Pauline conversion, I think, is the word you are looking for, anon4702.


- anon4702: I believe the "xxxxian" simply refers to the original event being a Christian conversion. Some Christians replace "Christ" in words with X (think "Xmas").

These Christians aren't being squeamish. It's simply that in this case, 'X' is a substitute for the Greek letter X (Chi, pronounced, 'Kai' with a long "i"), the first letter of the Greek name for Christ, Χριστός.

One 'X' is suitable, but some people add more. Perhaps they feel it looks better. As an aside, I'll note that the X/Christ substitution has nothing to do with the American movie rating system which uses the letter X to denote an adults-only film! :D

Per the article, this is not an exclusively Christian phenomenon, so it might be better to avoid the phrase "xtian conversion" in secular usage, using instead "Damascus conversion". This is a term in common enough usage that it is understood by non-Christian English speakers as well.

Hope that helps you or another visitor.


This is not a very good summary of what is recorded in several resources. WiseGeeks can do better.


I just heard Harvard theologian Harvey Cox on National Public Radio discussing the Damascus Road Conversion. He made an interesting point, and it was that it really wasn't a religious conversion, but rather a realization that Jesus' teachings could reach a huge audience.


He was not walking, he (Saul) was riding a horse. He was not a prophhet, he (Paul)was an apostle.


I have heard a term synonymous Road to Damascus conversion i.e. "a xxxxxxxxxxxian conversion". does anyone know this term?

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