As James continues his great Varieties, we learn that, not surprisingly given the previous two chapters, the process of conversion is the process of uniting two disparate selves into one. This is not switching one set of theological beliefs for another, but of moving from sinfulness to a conviction of sin. Rather than living divided between one set of ideas, and another set of ideas that understands the first to be harmful, conversion insists on one set of ideas about what is and is not harmful.
Marvelously, James names these sets of ideas "habitual centers of personal energy." And they are often moved, though never easily. In conversion, the center of energy that had been dividing us from its position on the periphery, moves dramatically into our core. This happens primarily through "eruptive emotions," like those commonly found in adolescents:
"Emotional occasions, especially violent ones, are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements. ... Hope, happiness, security, resolve, emotions characteristic of conversion can be ... explosive. And emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them."
Those incapable of these volcanic passions, are, in James' estimation not hysteric, but lacking. What religion does, increasingly, is shape these feelings toward self-surrender. The religious conversion is toward helplessness:
"From Catholicism to...quakers by the way, we can trace the stages of progress towards the idea of an immediate spiritual help, experienced by the individual in his forlornness and standing in no essential need of doctrinal apparatus or propitiatory apparatus."
This progress can be gradual, as in adolescence, but can be instantaneous, as in many Methodists. These instants of profound conversion can be traced to the psychic size of the area of subconscious activity of an individual. The more that goes on behind the scenes, James asserts, the more sudden the eruption of the whole act upon the stage. Not for the Methodist is the placing of one religious thought here and another there: they seem to emerge into the scene wholly formed.
James understands this largely Protestant conversional phenomenon to be wholly superior to any the Catholic tradition offers. This is so not because of the particular doctrines associated with it (which are very few or none) but because of the fruits this momentous psychic conversion produces. These are four-fold:
the loss of all worry and the perception that all is well with one's self
the sense of perceiving truths not known before
a sense of interior and exterior beauty
the ecstasy of joy produced
After this delineation and defense of sudden conversion experiences, James concludes by noting that the value of these experiences depends on neither their origin (either psychological or theological) or their duration, but only in their significance in the life of the individual.