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12 - Proselytism and human rights

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Silvio Ferrari
Affiliation:
University of Milan
John Witte, Jr
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
Frank S. Alexander
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
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Summary

The term “proselytism” as used in this article means the activity of communicating a religion or worldview through verbal communication or through various related activities as an invitation to others to adopt the religion or worldview. This “neutral” definition of proselytism is not the one most frequently in use today. Proselytism is now a term that has acquired a negative connotation in many religions: in Christian theological and legal terminology, it frequently indicates a corruption of the Christian witness, and it is often set against evangelization, meaning the announcement of the good news, that is the redeeming message of Christ.

The use of the term “proselytism” in a negative sense does, however, cause some confusion. Indeed leaders of the Christian churches often speak of “aggressive” proselytism, and in its rulings the European Court of Human Rights writes of “improper” proselytism. Such terminology implies that there is a “bad” (aggressive or improper) kind of proselytism and a “good,” or at least legitimate, kind. To avoid this confusion, I shall use the term “proselytism” in the neutral sense indicated at the beginning of this chapter.

The different uses of the term “proselytism” reflect deeper concerns about the concept. First, there is the difficulty of distinguishing between proselytism and evangelization. All Christian religious denominations agree about excluding forms of coercion and many improper means of inducing or persuading converts to the faith. But that said, “one group's evangelization is another group's proselytism.

Type
Chapter
Information
Christianity and Human Rights
An Introduction
, pp. 253 - 266
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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