What is Proselytization?

Or rather, what counts as proselytization? Do holy books count? When someone reads a holy text, are the words proselytizing to them? Or is something more required before it can be considered proselytizing?

9 responses to “What is Proselytization?

  • The False Prophet

    That is a nice question. I think, for what that’s worth, it is an act of and can only be done by people rather than inanimate objects. Keep on blogging and asking questions in a free world.
    Have a prophet-able day.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Ros

    Interesting responses. I definitely agree that proselytising (whether written or spoken) has intent, but as to whether that intent is necessarily defined as coercive or manipulative seems to me to be a much more recent question. I would not, for example, have drawn the same distinctions as paidiske between evangelism and proselytism, because I would see evangelism as a distinctly Christian term whereas I don’t see proselytism as being confined to Christianity.

    I think the more coercive definition has been gaining ground in recent years, but it’s not something that I particularly remember from my youth. In those days, the word proselytism seemed to be applied to the activities of any party – political, religious or otherwise – whose intent was to promote their own particular viewpoint in the hope of encouraging others to join them. Such promotion could be benign or aggressive and still be called proselytism.

    The question of sacred texts is an interesting one since parts of the Bible were clearly written to promote a particular philosophy of life – the Torah and Gospels being obvious candidates. The fact that the words may not feel proselytising in our time probably has more to do with the vast cultural changes that have taken place since than the intent of the authors. Our collective world view has changed enormously, so the words don’t engage us in the same way. Many of the references are lost on us. As a result, asking what people think of the Bible nowadays often yields the response ‘boring’. Yet that was hardly the intent of those who wrote it.

    Another interesting question, particularly in the light of your previous blog entry, would be: Are the activities you engage in to promote your clubs at the university proselytising? Is this blog in any way proselytising? Why or why not?


  • paidiske

    One of the things I was taught at college was to draw a distinction between proselytisation and evangelisation. “Proselytise” comes from the Greek for “to come toward,” and to proselytise someone is to seek to motivate them to “come toward” your position. “Evangelise” comes from the Greek for “to bring good news,” and to evangelise is to seek to share good news.

    These two verbs have a subtle difference; if I evangelise, the focus is on who I am; how I behave and what I say, and whether that has integrity with the content of the position I’m putting forward as “good news.” In contrast, if I proselytise, the focus is on you, the other, and my attempt to change or move you. Proselytism is often inherently manipulative and involves reducing the other person to a stereotype or an object.

    So, to me, if I am going about my life, and acting, writing and speaking in a way which sets forward “good news” (from my perspective, anyway), but in a way which respects others, their integrity and their boundaries, that’s evangelisation and it’s an ethical way to be. If, on the other hand, I am attempting to manipulate or control others into adopting my position, that’s proselytism and it’s generally unethical.


  • The Bad Catholic

    I think if you chose to pick up the book and read it and can choose to put it down, it’s not proselytization to read a text considered sacred. Proselytization, to me, is forced exposure. In the case of someone preaching on a street corner or on TV or the radio, I didn’t choose to be exposed to it, even if I can choose to walk away or change the channel. I think there’s also an aspect of hostility in proselytization– believe what I tell you OR ELSE [fill-in-the-blank].

    Liked by 1 person

  • Arkenaten

    To me, proselytizing is when those frakking half-wits, the Jovial Witless-es knock on my door and ask have I found Jesus, and I tell them I was just about to pop up the garden to look as the dogs were going ape.


  • Kit

    Books aren’t devoid of intent and can certainly contain proselytizing – the Bible contains passages whose authorial intent is absolutely to convert the reader to the author’s way of thinking. In this respect there is nothing about the medium of spoken word that is fundamentally different from the medium of written words. Both are acts of communication that have an intent.

    It’s not limited to religion. I’ve seen proselytizing about cell phones, diet soda, self-help programs, diet fads, and computer operating systems.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Tree Hugging Humanist

    Merriam-Webster includes in the definition: 1. to induce someone to convert to one’s faith or 2. to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause.

    I agree with James that true proselytization requires intent. Books in and of themselves do nothing to try to convert you. They simply contain words that others may use in an attempt to get you to convert.

    Liked by 2 people

  • spectorcrow

    There has to be at least 2 parties to proselytize, a giver and receiver (or target person) and there has to be intent. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  • James B. Shannon

    Dear Hessian:
    Your question may have been purely hypothetical. However, it intrigued me nonetheless. I would argue that proselytization requires intent. If I were to give you a book in the hope that you would be swayed by its message, then that seems to me like proselytization. If however, my motive is something else – helping you to practice reading English or Latin or Arabic for instance – that doesn’t seem to meet the “intents” test. Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

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