Proselytism and Cultural Integrity

Proselytism and Cultural Integrity



Published as Chapter 28 in Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Deskbook, Tore Lindholm, W. Cole Durham Jr. & Bahia G. Tahzib-Lie, eds.

On March 12, 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a historic statement in which the Catholic Church publicly acknowledged for the first time some of the gross human rights violations that it has committed, perpetrated, condoned, or tolerated over its two thousand year history. While a step in the right direction, the confession and plea for forgiveness failed to address the basic contradictions between proselytizing, universalist faiths and indigenous religions and cultures, and the underlying arrogant and inflexible assumption of the moral, ethical, and racial superiority of the former over the latter. It is this vexed relationship between imperial faiths and the indigenous beliefs and moral universes of non-white, non-European, and non-Arabic peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas that is subject of this inquiry. Using Africa as an illustration, this chapter deconstructs the meaning of the freedom of religion or belief at the point of conflict between the universalist faiths and African religions. It argues that the meeting of the two universes resulted in cultural genocide. It problematizes the concept of the right to the free exercise of religion, which includes the right to proselytize in the presumed marketplace of religions.

Publication Date



Martinus Nijhoff Publishers





First Page


Last Page



Proselytism, Culture, Religion, Catholic, Human rights, Faiths, indigenous, Africa, Genocide


Human Rights Law | Law | Religion Law


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Proselytism and Cultural Integrity