Certain religions like Christianity and Islam evangelize frequently, while Judaism is notoriously disinclined to conversions. How do different religions compare on the topic of converting new followers?Just as different religions differ about the nature of God, spirituality, faith, and religious behaviour, they also differ greatly on the topic of conversion, with some religions believing it is unethical or unnecessary to evangelise, while others see evangelism as a religious duty.
For Roger W. Stump, the core teachings and identity of some religions is key to their stance on conversion. He suggests that “the conversion of new followers typically represents a central concern in proselytic religions” such as Christianity and Islam (Stump, p. 77). In other words, in religions whose identities and teachings spring from a reaction against other faiths and beliefs, the conversion of others to the new belief is central to the religious message. In Christianity, for example, the idea that Christ’s teachings represent a correction of the previous sins of humanity (supposedly found in Judaism and other religions) makes conversion as a central concern logically necessary.
It could also be argued that, from a sociological point of view, differences concerning attitudes towards conversion of new followers can be traced to historical factors and particularly the historical origins of a particular religion (Bulliet et al, p. 282). This argument suggests that where mass conversions occurred because of social, economic, or political pressures, conversion may have entered the dogma and belief of a particular religion as a key element of faith (Bulliet et al, p. 282). For example, the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity placed the economic and political might of the Roman Empire at the disposal of the Christian religion, resulting in mass conversions throughout the Empire and making Christianity not only a dominant religion, but a dominant world power. Such an occurrence might explain the emphasis placed within the religion on evangelism, as a proven historical source of success and – supposedly – salvation.
The many internally accepted justifications for evangelism are complex and vary widely from religion to religion: however, the historical and dogmatic factors seem likely factors contributing to the emphasis placed in some religions on conversion and not in others.
- Bulliet, Richard, Pamela Crossley, Daniel Headrick, Steven Hirsch, and Lyman Johnson. The Earth and Its Peoples, Brief Edition, Volume 1. Cengage Learning, 2010.
- Stump, Roger W. The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place, and Space. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2008.