To proselytize means, basically, to seek out converts. The half a dozen or so religions we think of as major world religions—with significant followings in many different places across the globe—in most cases achieved that status through some sort of proselytizing. The act of seeking out new converts is laid out as an explicit command in the scriptures of some of these religions and therefore it is seen as a holy duty or mission. Given the grandiose nature of religious revelations, it makes perfect sense for people to want to share their own divine insights with the rest of the world. In this sense, proselytizing can be a very benevolent gesture with the intention of improving other people’s lives. Unfortunately, history shows there is a fine line between sincere proselytizing born out of the goodness of one’s heart, and outright coercion or even violence. It is important to keep in mind this distinction: proselytizing can be done in a good way or a bad way. Ultimately, the best way to convert others to your beliefs is to explain them clearly, make your best argument for why you hold those beliefs, and let others make their own decisions. After all, the most devout converts will be those who come into the fold of their own accord.

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Mother Teresa
Christian saint

“Yes, I do convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, a better Christian, a better Catholic, a better Sikh, a better Muslim. When you have found God, it’s up to you to do with him what you want.”

The New Testament
Christian scripture

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

C.S. Lewis
Christian theologian and writer

“If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man's outward actions — if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before — then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; and after one's original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply[...]A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture

“There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in God has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. God is all hearing and all knowing."

Sefer Ha-Aggadah
Collection of Jewish writings

"A parable of a stag who grew up in the wilderness and on his own joined the flock. The shepherd not only gave him food and drink, but loved him more than any of the other animals in his flock. He was asked: How is it that you love the stag more than any other in the flock? He replied: I had to perform many kinds of labor for my flock until they grew up: I took them out in the morning and brought them back in the evening. But this one, who grew up in the wilderness and forests, came into my flock on his own. Should I not love him very much? Likewise the Holy One said: Much did I have to labor for Israel: I brought them out of Egypt, lit the way for them, sent down manna for them, swept in quail for them, made the well gush up for them, and encompassed them with clouds of glory before they were willing to accept My Torah. But this one came on his own. He is therefore deemed by Me the equal of an Israelite, even of a Levite."

Universal House of Justice
Baha'i governing body

“It is true that Bahá’u’lláh lays on every Bahá’í the duty to teach His Faith. At the same time, however, we are forbidden to proselytize, so it is important for all believers to understand the difference between teaching and proselytizing. It is a significant difference and, in some countries where teaching a religion is permitted, but proselytizing is forbidden, the distinction is made in the law of the land. Proselytizing implies bringing undue pressure to bear upon someone to change his Faith."

Mahatma Gandhi
Acknowledged by Indians as Father of the Nation

 "I do not want you to become a Hindu. But I do want you to become a better Christian by absorbing all that may be good in Hinduism and that you may not find in the same measure or not at all in the Christian teaching."

Shunryu Suzuki
Zen master

“Dogen-zenji said, ‘When you say something to someone, he may not accept it, but do not try to make him understand it intellectually. Do not argue with him; just listen to his objections until he himself finds something wrong with them.’ This is very interesting. Try not to force your idea on someone, but rather think about it with him."

James Robson
Scholar of East Asian languages and religions

“Daoist centers established in the West began to attract large followings in the 1960sand 1970s, when those rejecting the Western emphasis on materialism and reason turned to the ‘mystic East.’ Young seekers flocked to the centers established by the newly arrived Asian masters. Earlier, the Chinese had shunned Daoism and turned to the West for its ideas on science and rationality; now, in a remarkable reversal, Westerners were turning to China for its mystical philosophy and self-cultivation practices that some interpreted as prefiguring the discoveries of modern science.”

Ruth H. Chang
Scholar of East Asian religions

"One approach of the campaign recalled the Shang method of 'religious cooptation" through which they accepted the religious beliefs of subjugated tribes for the purpose of assimilating and winning control over the conquered people. Incorporating deities from new tribes helped to unite the people by providing them with common spiritual beliefs and identities. This process worked in two ways: first, religious cooptation enabled the conquered people to feel that they were a more equal part of the polity, rather than merely vanquished subjects[…]By combining both di and tian into the Zhou religious system, the rulers sought to unite the people despite the difference in spiritual beliefs."

William James
American psychologist and philosopher
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Conversion is in its essence a normal adolescent phenomenon, incidental to the passage from the child’s small universe to the wider intellectual and spiritual life of maturity.”

Pierre Hadot
French philosopher and historian
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“To the same extent that the philosophical life is equivalent to the practice of spiritual life exercises, it is also a tearing away from everyday life. It is a conversion: a total transformation of one's vision, style, and behavior.”