Volume: Conversion

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), religious conversion is a fundamental human right: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”(Article 18) Not all religious persons, groups or traditions accept this. Some allow conversion only to their religion but deny it to their own members. Some distinguish between independent conversion, which they accept, and organized proselytism, to which they object. Some accept it as a fact which they regret, and others threaten converts with the death penalty for leaving the religion into which they were born.

Moreover, conversion is not always understood in the same way. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam differ not only in their attitudes towards conversion but understand different things by it. There are many kinds of conversion, including a variety of religious versions. Often they involve more than a simple change in one’s religious identity. For some, conversion always means adopting a (new) religious belief, while others include the rejection of religion for a secular world-view.

This conference seeks to explore the topic of conversion in philosophical and theological perspectives. Is there any one thing that is usually meant by conversion? What are the conceptual issues involved in arguing for or against conversion, in a particular case or in general? Is conversion primarily to be understood in terms of what a convert does, or rather as something he or she suffers? How do Jews, Christians or Muslims understand conversion, and what is their attitude towards it? What are the individual, communal, social, cultural, legal issues involved in conversion, and how are they related to the theological and philosophical issues? Are there criteria for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable, serious and questionable, legitimate and illegitimate conversions? Are there ends and means of conversion, which are acceptable, and others that are not? Is to encourage, entice or accept conversion compatible with the respect for other religions and traditions? Where is the line to be drawn between legitimate witnessing to one’s religious convictions and the improper intrusion into other peoples’ lives? How can the right of persons to express their views be proportioned to the rights of others not to be exposed to views which they do not wish to hear?

Papers to be presented include the following:

  • John Cottingham (Reading, UK): Conversion, Self-Discovery, and Moral Change
  • William Abraham (SMU Perkins, Dallas): Divine and Human Action in Conversion
  • Joseph Prabhu (Cal State University, Los Angeles): Inter/Intra-Faith Dialogue and Conversion
  • Anselm Min (CGU): Conversion as Dialectic of Perspective and Reality
  • Heiko Schulz (Frankfurt/M.): Conversion and Truth
  • Eleonore Stump (St. Louis): Conversion, Atonement, and Love
  • Gary Gilbert (McKenna College, Claremont): Why Conversion? The Blurring and Building of Boundaries in Ancient Judaism
  • Yaron Catane (Hebrew University, Israel): The Uniqueness of Jewish Conversion in the State of Israel
  • Ayse Kadayifci (American University, Washington D.C.): Dawn and Freedom of Conscience: Islamic Perspectives on Conversion