Thursday, July 29, 2010

Proselytism and religious identity theft: a key topic for interreligious dialogue

Is sharing your religious faith with another in an attempt to persuade a form of identity theft? Some certainly think so. If this is not the specific objection, some in various religious or spiritual traditions certainly see proselytism as an unethical and disrespectful of the other (as my Pagan contacts have shared with me).

This important issue that needs to be part of interreligious dialogue is taken up in an article by Thomas Farr titled "Proselytism and religious identity theft" that appeared in The Washington Post. The biographical material for Farr that accompanies this article describes him as follows:

Thomas F. Farr, a former American diplomat, is Visiting Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is also Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where he directs the Religion and US Foreign Policy Program.

As the article begins, Farr frames the issues and lists a number of significant questions related to the topic. He then writes:
The way these and related questions are addressed and answered will have enormous implications for American interests, justice, and world peace in the 21st century.
Farr then discusses how proselytism has gone back and forth between Christianity and Islam and eventually comes to the following conclusion:
On balance, it seems reasonable to conclude that both religion and democracy can benefit if the activity of sharing one's faith is both permitted and conducted with respect. But there is much work to do before such a conclusion is broadly accepted.
You can watch Farr discuss this topic at YouTube at this link.

I think this is a very important topic that must be addressed by adherents of various religious traditions as they come together in dialogue and consider the place that proclamation and persuasion plays in the overall dialogue process, and especially how this relates to perceptions of religious traditions of proselytism in connection with identity.


Steve Hayes said...

I don't know about other religions, but I think it is importand for Christians to learn the difference between Evangelism and proselytism.

John W. Morehead said...

Thanks, Steve. Yes, there is a difference. But I think the individual referenced in this post is using proselytism with the meaning of evangelism.

Steve Hayes said...

I'm not sure about that. He speaks of sharing one's faith "being conducted with respect", and that is evangelism. Proselytism shows no respect.

John W. Morehead said...

I think there's a terminology confusion here, Steve, with the equation of proselytism with evangelism.