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Abstract

A paradox is noted in the presentation of conversion in TV evangelism; this is that although the necessity of being converted is a common theme it is clear that the evangelists are aware that their audience is already converted. An attempt is made to resolve the paradox by showing how TV evangelists use conversion language as rhetoric to legitimate their role and the rationality of the organisation which they represent. It is further shown how this legitimation is itself made possible through another use of conversion language which creates a sense of moral community embracing evangelists, organisation and audience as copartners in the shared project of conversion. Finally, it is shown how the presentation of TV evangelism as the central ritual of a moral community generates a further conversion rhetoric which depicts the community as both exclusive of and yet open to non-members; a contradiction which is resolved through the establishment of distinctive roles within the community related to the activity of winning converts.