“Missionaries are missionaries!” Such was the instant reaction of an Indian police official, speaking of missionary activities in his area, and whom I had asked to tell more precisely which missionaries he had in mind. Similar reactions can be observed in many places around the world. Whether it be Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, or secularists, there are people of all persuasions who harbour suspicions about missionaries.
Conflicts over proselytism are not just an issue for non-Western countries. They are, in effect, a widespread phenomenon, the only difference being that people react in the name of their various ideologies or beliefs. Proselytism is problematic in the eyes of secularists, as well as believers, who feel threatened by missions.
Whatever our personal beliefs, as scholars we are faced with this challenge: we need to understand and analyze in a dispassionate way the issue of proselytism. We must produce case studies and reconstruct carefully the details of specific situations and encounters. But we also need to attempt to see if common—or at least frequent—patterns emerge when we look at cases in range of places, religious environments, and political contexts.
The following text is a scanned copy of a chapter of a book edited by Rosalind Hackett and published in 2008, Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars (Equinox). It was an attempt to assess debates over proselytism in a comparative perspective. While this article was written ten years ago, I hope that it may still offer useful observations about the dynamics of those controversies.
If you would like to download the document (PDF, 723 Ko), please, click here.2008_MAYER_Conflicts_over_Proselytism