Digest of terms


the changing of one set of beliefs for another, usually religious but also applicable to shifts in clearly articulated philosophical or political positions. The notions of 'mission' and 'conversion' are sometimes rejected as morally dubious activities. That judgement is unquestionably true if force is involved, as has happened historically in both Christianity and Islam. However, in non-aggressive ways, one individual will commonly seek to encourage or persuade another to share his or her view. If that were not the case, the implication might be that their own views are not worth holding in the first place.

A distinction is often drawn between gradual and sudden conversion. The more gradual version may involve growing into an acceptance of beliefs, which have been familiar from childhood, but only now really understood, or new ones which have been found more persuasive than ones previously held. By contrast, sudden conversion is a more radically transformative experience, which is described as 'seeing things in an entirely new light' accompanied by a determination to believe and behave differently in the future.

In the latter sense, conversion in religion is more associated with Christianity and Islam, than with Hinduism and Judaism (in some Christian circles even people socialised as Christian may be thought to need to be 'born again'). Hindus and Jews are born as such, and though there is a possibility for others to become closely associated with that faith identity, they remain on a different footing. Christians and Muslims have traditionally been missionary religions seeking to convert others to their faith, a process which continues today along the faultline between the two religions in Africa and Indonesia in particular, involving much mutual hatred and periodic murderous violence.

Political belief systems show similar variation in degrees of proselytisation, ranging from energetic campaigning to passive imitation. In a world in which plurality of beliefs is increasingly advertised, challenge from one belief system to another has become both more universal and directly communicated. For public schools not to assist with equipping young people to make discerning moral distinctions between the different worldviews is rapidly becoming educationally indefensible.

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