Authored by: Tad Stahnke

Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion

Print publication date:  March  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415836425
eBook ISBN: 9780203694268
Adobe ISBN: 9781135045555


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Proselytism is one of the most controversial aspects of relations among religious communities, and between religion and the state. The very meaning of the word is hotly contested, as is its propriety – considered by some a compulsive religious duty, by others a harmful abuse of freedom. How the law should apply to this field of human relations is unsettled, with national examples ranging from virtually complete freedom to complete criminal prohibition, and everything in between. International law has provided scant guidance. Untangling these issues is of critical importance, as the stakes are high. Recent reports by the Pew Research Center found that proselytism is restricted in over 30 percent of the world’s 197 countries, and incidents of social hostility over proselytism, including acts of violence, occur annually in around 20 percent (Grim et al. 2012: 68, 85; Grim et al. 2014: 72, 89). Conflicts over proselytism impinge on peace and security, inter- and intra-religious relations, church–state relations, and protections for individual human rights. Thus, proselytism is not solely a matter for ecumenical consideration or the subject of interreligious dialogue. How the state and the law address proselytism impacts the extent of civil freedoms as well as relations between religion and the state, resulting in some cases in relative equilibrium or in others constant tension and even violence.

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