What is proselytism?

What Does Proselytizing Mean

We explain what proselytism is, the origin of the term and its various meanings. Also, religious and political proselytism.

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Many religions consider proselytizing as part of their mission.

What is proselytism?

Proselytism is the act of trying to convince third parties to convert to a religion or adopt a point of view , through preaching, oratory and different argumentative and discursive strategies .


This term is derived from the word proselyte , synonymous with adept, follower or convert. The Jews used it in biblical antiquity for those foreigners who adopted their religion .

It comes from the Greek prosêlütos , “recently arrived (in a foreign country)”, but it came to Spanish through ecclesiastical Latin ( prosélytus ), used in the Middle Ages as a synonym for “recently converted”, that is, of those who had recently adopted the Christian religion. So proselytism was the effort to get new proselytes for one's religion or for one's point of view.

Thus, although the term proselytism is not exclusive to Christianity, it is very present in its history, since this religion considers evangelization a commandment, that is, to impart the doctrine of the Christian gospels to anyone who professes a different religion, or not have none.

However, a distinction is often made between evangelization and proselytism, since the latter has negative connotations, that is, it is often considered as a conversion through fallacious, insincere, deceitful or manipulative strategies.

In everyday language, proselytism is considered a form of propaganda or unfair ideologization , more committed to swelling in any way the ranks of the followers of the cause itself, than with the debate around the truth and the legitimate conviction of a third regarding our point of view. In this way, the negative connotation predominates.

It can help you: Argumentation

Religious proselytism

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All proselytism that is based only on the mystical is accepted by the religions.

Religious proselytizing is very common, not only in Christian churches, which consider it part of their religious duties to "spread the word."

In fact, most creeds consider it legitimate when it consists of gaining adherents through purely spiritual conviction , that is, limiting itself to what the religion itself proposes and the arguments it uses to support its vision of the world. This is known, as we said before, as “preaching”, “conversion” or, in Christianity, “evangelization”.

On the other hand, it is condemned when it is carried out through accusations to other cults, or the use of moral, physical or verbal coercion . It is also considered deceptive when it resorts to the offer of economic, social or political powers and benefits, that is, resorting to everything that is not strictly from the mystical and spiritual realm.

In the latter cases, most churches condemn proselytism as an unfair practice among the different existing cults, contrary to the ecumenical spirit and religious tolerance.

Political proselytism

In the world of politics, proselytizing has negative connotations. Political proselytism consists, logically, in gaining followers for a political cause through practices considered "unfair" : promises, bribes, false accusations, among others, that move away from the healthy exercise of politics, which should be that of objective exchange of ideas and proposals.

Proselytism is condemned and punished in different legislations , in some cases legally and juridically, in others only from a moral point of view . It all depends on where the boundary is set between tolerable practices and those considered unfair or demagogic.

Follow with: Ethics

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