Changing and disseminating one’s religion have become even more controversial and problematic than they were when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took form in 1948. Many see proselytism as an aggressive act of political domination and cultural coercion in a multicultural world seeking to promote the values of civility, pluralism and tolerance. For others, the act of proselytizing is viewed more positively as emancipatory social process or healthy diversification of religious options or stimulation of cultural exchange in a globalizing free market.
In effect, proselytization has come to epitomize the tensions between the universalizing and particularizing impulses of the human rights concept, as well as between individual and group identities. It also accentuates the differences between religious communities, and the changing nature of relations between religions and the state. Moreover, proselytization—as a concept and as a form of action—is located at the intersection of public and academic debates about the (proper) relationship among rights, culture and development.
The rise of the transnational network society clearly privileges those religious groups predicated on conversion, such as Christian evangelicals and Muslim socio-political movements. But increasingly, groups originating from other religious traditions as well are seeking to promote their beliefs outside of their traditional geographical areas. Such phenomena are not completely new and have their roots with colonial and missionary encounters in the 19th century.
Conflicts of proselytism are not unknown in the West as well: reactions toward “cults” as well as some behaviours toward “exotic” religions in the Western world also sometimes reflect an unease with proselytism.
New mass-mediated technologies of communication and representation facilitate this expansionism, eroding privacy and transcending borders. Concomitantly, political transitions foster the resurgence of cultural identities. New religious publics subvert traditional power relations and territorialities, generating heightened competition for the resources of the public sphere. Vaunting their support for religious freedom (i.e. belief, thought and conscience), states invoke national identity, public order and security (and now, the new trope of terrorism) to regulate practice. Religious groups (frequently minorities), empowered by the new talk about rights, challenge restrictions on their freedoms of association and expression. Non-state actors may weigh in to compound the tensions, which at times result in violent conflict.
This website would like to contribute to research on these topics in an informative, scholarly, non-partisan spirit. It intends to pay attention to voices supportive of various missionary efforts, as well as to those opposing them. This means that it will also publish controversial material or provide links to militant websites—for documentary purposes.
Except for news items, however, authors invited to contribute will only be academic researchers; indeed, scholars form the primary audience of Proselytism.info. This website is not a discussion forum for them, however, but a repository for useful information. Moreover, it is hoped that the content will be of interest to a wider readership.
The editor of this website is Jean-François Mayer, Director of Religioscope Institute, Fribourg, Switzerland. Proselytism.info is made available as a free service to its readers by Religioscope at http://www.religion.info, a website devoted to news and analyses on religion in the contemporary world.
The editor would like to thank Prof. Rosalind Hackett for her contribution to this statement.
This website was launched in 2004 and became more or less inactive after some time. In May 2017, its content was moved from an outdated CMS to WordPress, with a new and modern layout. Our hope is to update it again from time to time.
13 May 2017