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.
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.
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.