Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular to the exclusion of others. Thus "religious conversion" would describe the abandoning of adherence to one denomination and affiliating with another. This might be from one to another denomination within the same religion, for example, from to Christianity or from to . In some cases, religious conversion "marks a transformation of religious identity and is symbolized by special rituals". People convert to a different religion for various reasons, including active conversion by free choice due to a change in beliefs, , , conversion for convenience, , and . is the act of attempting to convert by persuasion another individual from a different religion or belief system. is a term used by members of a religion or denomination to refer to someone who has left that religion or denomination.

Abrahamic religions

Baháʼí Faith

In sharing their faith with others, Baháʼís are cautioned to "obtain a hearing" – meaning to make sure the person they are proposing to teach is open to hearing what they have to say. "", rather than attempting to supplant the cultural underpinnings of the people in their adopted communities, are encouraged to integrate into the society and apply Baháʼí principles in living and working with their neighbors. Baháʼís recognize the divine origins of all revealed religion, and believe that these religions occurred sequentially as part of a divine plan (see ), with each new revelation superseding and fulfilling that of its predecessors. Baháʼís regard their own faith as the most recent (but not the last), and believe its teachings – which are centered around the principle of the oneness of humanity – are most suited to meeting the needs of a global community. In most countries conversion is a simple matter of filling out a card stating a declaration of belief. This includes acknowledgement of – the Founder of the Faith – as the Messenger of God for this age, awareness and acceptance of his teachings, and intention to be obedient to the institutions and laws he established. Conversion to the Baháʼí Faith carries with it an explicit belief in the common foundation of all revealed religion, a commitment to the unity of mankind, and active service to the community at large, especially in areas that will foster unity and concord. Since the Baháʼí Faith has no clergy, converts are encouraged to be active in all aspects of community life. Even a recent convert may be elected to serve on a local – the guiding Baháʼí institution at the community level.


Within Christianity conversion refers variously to three different phenomena: a person becoming Christian who was previously not Christian; a Christian moving from one Christian denomination to another; a particular spiritual development, sometimes called the "second conversion", or "the conversion of the baptised". Conversion to Christianity is the religious conversion of a previously non-Christian person to some form of Christianity. Some Christian sects require full conversion for new members regardless of any history in other Christian sects, or from certain other sects. The exact requirements vary between different churches and . is traditionally seen as a sacrament of admission to Christianity. Christian baptism has some parallels with Jewish immersion by '. In the , commanded his disciples in the to "go and make disciples of all nations" (, ). —sharing the Gospel message or "Good News" in deed and word, is an expectation of Christians.

Comparison between Protestants

This table summarizes three Protestant beliefs.

Latter Day Saint movement

Much of the theology of Latter Day Saint baptism was established during the early founded by . According to this theology, baptism must be by , for the remission of s (meaning that through baptism, past sins are forgiven), and occurs after one has shown faith and repentance. Mormon baptism does not purport to remit any sins other than personal ones, as adherents do not believe in . Latter Day Saints baptisms also occur only after an "" which is defined as the age of eight years. The theology thus rejects . In addition, Latter Day Saint theology requires that baptism may only be performed with one who has been called and ordained by God with authority. Because the churches of the Latter Day Saint movement operate under a lay priesthood, children raised in a Mormon family are usually baptized by a father or close male friend or family member who has achieved the office of , which is conferred upon worthy male members at least 16 years old in the LDS Church. Baptism is seen as symbolic both of ' death, burial and and is also symbolic of the baptized individual putting off of the natural or sinful man and becoming spiritually reborn as a disciple of Jesus. Membership into a Latter Day Saint church is granted only by baptism whether or not a person has been raised in the church. Latter Day Saint churches do not recognize baptisms of other faiths as valid because they believe baptisms must be performed under the church's unique authority. Thus, all who come into one of the Latter Day Saint faiths as converts are baptized, even if they have previously received baptism in another faith. When performing a Baptism, Latter Day Saints say the following prayer before performing the ordinance: Baptisms inside and outside the temples are usually done in a , although they can be performed in any body of water in which the person may be completely immersed. The person administering the baptism must recite the prayer exactly, and immerse every part, limb, hair and clothing of the person being baptized. If there are any mistakes, or if any part of the person being baptized is not fully immersed, the baptism must be redone. In addition to the baptizer, two members of the church witness the baptism to ensure that it is performed properly. Following baptism, s receive the by the of a holder. Latter Day Saints hold that one may be baptized after death through the vicarious act of a living individual, and holders of the Melchezidek Priesthood practice baptism for the dead as a missionary ritual. This doctrine answers the question of the righteous non-believer and the unevangelized by providing a post-mortem means of repentance and salvation.


Converting to requires the ', the Muslim profession of faith ("I bear witness that there is no but , and I bear witness that is the messenger of Allah."). Islam teaches that but the parents or society can cause them to deviate from the straight path. When someone accepts Islam, they are considered to revert to the original condition. In Islam, is a ' custom not mentioned in the . The majority clerical opinion holds that circumcision is not required upon entering Islam. The and schools regard it as , while the and schools regard it as only recommended. However, it is not a precondition for the acceptance of a person's Islamic practices, nor is choosing to forgo circumcision considered a sin.


Conversion to Judaism is the religious conversion of to become members of the and Jewish . The procedure and requirements for conversion depend on the sponsoring . A conversion in accordance with the process of a denomination is not a guarantee of recognition by another denomination. A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken by individuals whose Jewish ancestry is questioned, even if they were raised Jewish, but may not actually be according to . As late as the 6th century the Eastern and were issuing decrees against conversion to , implying that this was still occurring. In some cases, a person may forgo a formal conversion to Judaism and adopt some or all beliefs and practices of Judaism. However, without a formal conversion, many highly observant Jews will reject a convert's Jewish status.


There are no rituals or dogmas, nor any sort of procedures in conversion to . The doctrine is first considered as science, then philosophy and lastly as a religion. 's of Spiritism occurred between the years 1857 and 1868. Currently there are 25 to 60 million people studying Spiritism in various countries, mainly in Brazil, through its , which include ', ', ', ' and '. wrote over 490 additional books, which expand on the . As explained in the first of the 1,019 questions and answers in ''The Spirits Book'':
1. What is God? Answer: "God is the Supreme Intelligence-First Cause of all things."
The consensus in Spiritism is that God, the Great Creator, is above everything, including all human things such as rituals, dogmas, denominations or any other thing.

Indian religions


Persons newly adhering to Buddhism traditionally "" (express in the —, , and ) before a , , or similar representative, with often the sangha, the community of practitioners, also in ritual attendance. Throughout the , conversions of entire countries and regions to Buddhism were frequent, as Buddhism spread throughout Asia. For example, in the 11th century in , king converted his entire country to . At the end of the 12th century, set the stage for conversion of the to Theravada Buddhism. Mass conversions of areas and communities to Buddhism occur up to the present day, for example, in the in India there have been . Exceptions to encouraging conversion may occur in some Buddhist movements. In , for example, the discourages active attempts to win converts.


Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning , , , , , , and among others. Hinduism has no traditional ecclesiastical order, no centralized religious authorities, no universally accepted governing body, no binding holy book nor any mandatory prayer attendance requirements. Hinduism has been described as a way of life. In its diffuse and open structure, numerous schools and sects of Hinduism have developed and spun off in India with help from its scholars, since the . The six and two Nastika schools of , in its history, did not develop a missionary or proselytization methodology, and they co-existed with each other. Most Hindu sub-schools and sects do not actively seek converts. Individuals have had a choice to enter, leave or change their god(s), spiritual convictions, accept or discard any rituals and practices, and pursue spiritual knowledge and liberation () in different ways.Gavin Flood, Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Editor: Knut Jacobsen (2010), Volume II, Brill, However, various schools of Hinduism do have some core common beliefs, such as the belief that all living beings have (soul), a belief in theory, spirituality, (non-violence) as the greatest dharma or virtue, and others. Religious conversion to Hinduism has a long history outside India. Merchants and traders of India, particularly from Indian peninsula, carried their religious ideas, which led to religious conversions to Hinduism in Indonesia, Champa, Cambodia and Burma. Some sects of Hindus, particularly of the schools began seeking or accepting converts in early to mid 20th century. For example, groups like the accept those who have a desire to follow their sects of Hinduism and have their own religious conversion procedure. Since 1800 CE, religious conversion from and to has been a controversial subject within Hinduism. Some have suggested that the concept of missionary conversion, either way, is contrary to the precepts of Hinduism. Religious leaders of some of Hinduism sects such as have seen Hinduism as a non-missionary religion yet welcomed new members, while other leaders of Hinduism's diverse schools have stated that with the arrival of missionary Islam and Christianity in India, the view that "there is no such thing as proselytism in Hinduism" must be re-examined. In recent decades, mainstream Hinduism schools have attempted to systematize ways to accept religious converts, with an increase in inter-religious mixed marriages. The steps involved in becoming a Hindu have variously included a period where the interested person gets an informal ''ardha-Hindu'' name and studies ancient literature on spiritual path and practices (English translations of , , , ethics in , Hindu festivals, ). If after a period of study, the individual still wants to convert, a '' Samskara'' ceremony is held, where the individual adopts a traditional Hindu name. The initiation ceremony may also include ' (i.e., fire ritual with Sanskrit hymns) under guidance of a local Hindu priest.SS Subramuniyaswami (2000), How to become a Hindu, 2nd Edition, Himalayan Academy, Some of these places are ''mathas'' and ''asramas'' (hermitage, monastery), where one or more ''gurus'' (spiritual guide) conduct the conversion and offer spiritual discussions. Some schools encourage the new convert to learn and participate in community activities such as festivals ( etc.), read and discuss ancient literature, learn and engage in rites of passages (ceremonies of birth, first feeding, first learning day, age of majority, wedding, cremation and others).


accepts anyone who wants to embrace the religion. There is no specific ritual for becoming a Jain. One does not need to ask any authorities for admission. One becomes a Jain on one's own by observing the five vows (''vratas'')Pravin Shah

Jainism Literature Center, Harvard University Archives (2009)
The five main vows as mentioned in the ancient like are: # ' - Not to injure any living being by actions and thoughts. # ' - Not to lie or speak words that hurt others. # ' - Not to take anything if not given. # ' - Chastity for householders / in action, words and thoughts for monks and nuns. # ' ()- non-attachment to possessions. Following the five vows is the main requirement in Jainism. All other aspects such as visiting temples are secondary. are required to observe these five vows strictly.


is not known to openly proselytize conversions, however it is open and accepting to anyone wanting to take on the Sikh faith.

Other religions and sects

In the second half of the 20th century, the rapid growth of (NRMs) led some psychologists and other scholars to propose that these groups were using "" or "" techniques to gain converts. This theory was publicized by the popular news media but disputed by other scholars, including some . In the 1960s sociologist lived with and a small group of American church members in and studied their activities in trying to promote their beliefs and win converts to their church. Lofland noted that most of their efforts were ineffective and that most of the people who joined did so because of personal relationships - often family relationships - with existing members. Lofland summarised his findings in 1964 in a doctoral thesis entitled "The World Savers: A Field Study of Cult Processes", and in 1966 in book form (published by ) as '. It is considered to be one of the most important and widely cited studies of the process of religious conversion, and one of the first modern sociological studies of a new religious movement. The attempts to gain converts by offering "free stress tests". It has also used the celebrity status of some of its members (most notably that of the American actor ) to attract converts. The Church of Scientology requires that all converts sign a legal which covers their relationship with the Church of Scientology before engaging in Scientology services. Research in the United States and in the Netherlands has shown a between areas lacking mainstream churches and the percentage of people who are members of a new religious movement. This applies also for the presence of centres. On the other end of the proselytising scale are religions that do not accept any converts, or do so very rarely. Often these are relatively small, close-knit minority religions that are ethnically based such as the s, , and . The Parsis, a group based in India, classically does not accept converts, but this issue became controversial in the 20th century due to a rapid decline in membership. lacks clear criteria for membership, and hence for conversion. However, does has its own religious conversion ceremony which seems to be adopted and modified from refuge-taking ceremonies. The and some Indian brotherhoods do not allow procreation, so that every member is a convert.

Fostering conversion

Different factors and circumstances may operate and interact to persuade individuals of groups to convert and adopt a new set of religious doctrines and habits. for proselytism can play a role. For example, the chronicles the personal activities of the and their followers in inspired , -working and the subsequent gathering of followers. Freshly-converted and Anglo-Saxon priests among pagan British and Germanic peoples. Missions of the 19th century spread against a background of North Atlantic with its alism and mass-meeting psychological behaviours. may prepare groups for the coming of a or of a . Thus the 1st-century , steeped in expectations of overturning , provided fertile ground for and other Jewish messianic sects, such as the . s of doom () have become popular as a potential recruiting tool among some . Some religious traditions, rather than stressing emotion in the conversion process, emphasise the importance of as a pathway to adopting a new religion. fits here, as do some of the (such as - insofar as it ranks as a religion - and ). The historical s may represent a philosophical bridge between Hellenism and . A religious creed which can capture the ear and support of secular power can become a movement, encouraging the mass of a people to follow its tenets. Christianity grew after becoming the , in the , and in . expanded when it gained . Some people convert under the influence of other social conditions. Early Christianity attracted followers by offering and enhanced status for disadvantaged groups such as women and slaves. in North Africa through just administration, and in the Balkans by integrating new believers with improved tax conditions and social prestige. missions since the 19th century have attracted people to an implied nexus of material well-being, , and European-style religion. Force can - at least apparently - coerce people into adopting different ideas. in (for example) and answer for the correct religious expression of those in their purview. The in France and in Iberia worked to convert - with . armies spread eastwards in the Middle Ages. Religious wars and suppression shaped the histories of the , the and the . On the other hand, can drive religious faith and practice underground and strengthen the resolve of oppressed adherents - as in the cases of the or the .

International law

The defines religious conversion as a : "Everyone has the right to , conscience and ; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief" (Article 18). Despite this UN-declared human right, some groups forbid or restrict religious conversion (see below). Based on the declaration the (UNCHR) drafted the , a legally binding treaty. It states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice" (Article 18.1). "No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice" (Article 18.2). The issued a General Comment on this Article in 1993: "The Committee observes that the freedom to 'have or to adopt' a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, ''including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another'' or to adopt atheistic views ..Article 18.2 bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief ''or to convert''." (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4, General Comment No. 22.; emphasis added) Some countries distinguish voluntary, motivated conversion from organized proselytism, attempting to restrict the latter. The boundary between them is not easily defined: what one person considers legitimate evangelizing, or witness-bearing, another may consider intrusive and improper. Illustrating the problems that can arise from such subjective viewpoints is this extract from an article by Dr. C. Davis, published in 's ''Journal of Law and Health'': "According to the , and constitute two of the most dangerous cults, and its members are appropriate candidates for . Anti-cult evangelicals ... protest that 'aggressiveness and proselytizing ... are basic to authentic Christianity,' and that Jews for Jesus and are not to be labeled as cults. Furthermore, certain groups who physically attacked a meeting of the Hebrew Christian 'cult' have themselves been labeled a 'cult' and equated with the followers of , by none other than the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis." Since the collapse of the former the has enjoyed a revival. However, it takes exception to what it considers illegitimate proselytizing by the , the , , and other religious movements in what it refers to as its ''canonical territory''. Greece has a long history of conflict, mostly with , but also with some , over its laws on proselytism. This situation stems from a law passed in the 1930s by the dictator . A Jehovah's Witness, , won the equivalent of $14,400 in damages from the Greek state after being arrested for trying to preach his faith from door to door. In another case, ''Larissis v. Greece'', a member of the Pentecostal church also won a case in the .

See also


Further reading

* ' (1984) * Barrett, D. V. ''The New Believers: A survey of sects, cults and alternative religions'' (2001) UK, Cassell & Co * Buckser, A. S. and S. D. Glazier. eds. ''The Anthropology of Religious Conversion'' Rowman and Littlefield, 2003 * Cooper, Richard S. "The Assessment and Collection of Kharaj Tax in Medieval Egypt" ''Journal of the American Oriental Society'', Vol. 96, No. 3. (Jul–Sep., 1976), pp. 365–382. * Curtin, Phillip D. ''Cross-Cultural Trade in World History''. Cambridge University Press, 1984. * Hoiberg, Dale, and Indu Ramachandran. ''Students' Britannica India''. Popular Prakashan, 2000. * Idris, Gaefar, ''Sheikh''. ''The Process of Islamization''. Plainfield, Ind.: Muslim Students' Association of the U.S. and Canada, 1977. vi, 20 p. Without ISBN * James, William
The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature
Being the Gifford lectures on natural religion delivered at Edinburgh in 1901–1902; Longmans, Green & Co, New York (1902) * Morris, Harold C., and Lin M. Morris. "Power and purpose: Correlates to conversion." Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior, Vol 15(4), Nov–Dec 1978, 15–22. * Rambo, Lewis R. ''Understanding Religious Conversion''. Yale University Press, 1993. * Rambo, Lewis R., & Farhadian, Charles. ''Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion''. Oxford University Press, 2014. * Ramstedt, Martin. ''Hinduism in Modern Indonesia: A Minority Religion Between Local, National, and Global Interests''. Routledge, 2004. * Rawat, Ajay S. ''StudentMan and Forests: The Khatta and Gujjar Settlements of Sub-Himalayan Tarai''. Indus Publishing, 1993. * * *

External links

Conference on Religious and Philosophical Conversion in the Ancient Mediterranean

"Conversion: A Family Affair"
Craig Harline,
', 4 October 2011 {{DEFAULTSORT:Religious conversion