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Many contemporary understandings and implementations of conversion are prefigured in historical periods of world Christianity. In this paper, I consider a selection of historical moments, which together illustrate the broad variety of understandings and practices of conversion. I begin with conversion’s role in the formation of Christianity, followed by conversion in oriental Christianity under the influence of Islam from the seventh century. I then explore conversion in occidental Christianity during the early modern period. Exported to China in the seventeenth century, this conception ultimately failed to translate into the Chinese context. After briefly considering this development, I turn to an understanding of conversion that emerged in African societies, which responded in their own ways to Western missions during late colonialism. Finally, I consider the nature of conversion, de-conversion and re-conversion in secularized societies.


Muchas interpretaciones y prácticas contemporáneas de la conversión fueron anticipadas en los períodos históricos del cristianismo. En este artículo, la autora considera una selección de momentos históricos que en conjunto ilustran la amplia variedad de entendimientos y prácticas de conversión. Comienza con el papel de la conversión en la formación del cristianismo, seguido, desde el siglo vii, por la conversión en el cristianismo oriental bajo la influencia del Islam. A continuación, explora la conversión en el cristianismo occidental durante la Edad Moderna. Esta concepción fue exportada a la China en el siglo xvii pero no pudo trasladarse al contexto chino. Luego de considerar brevemente este desarrollo, analiza el tipo de conversión que surgió en las sociedades africanas, que respondieron a su manera a las misiones occidentales durante la época del colonialismo tardío. Por último, considera la naturaleza de la conversión, la des-conversión y la re-conversión en las sociedades secularizadas.

This article is in English.

In: Mission Studies
The Mission of the Church in the Transformation of European Culture
The scope of this volume is how churches experience themselves and their mission in their context. The discussions in this volume provide ample material to substantiate the claim that the church should not be an ecclesia incurvata in se ipsa, (a church curved into itself) but welcoming and directed not only to personal needs but to social needs as well—but not bound to what people often feel the needs are and delving deeper to the real roots of sin and selfishness, be it personal, social or national. Contextualization in itself is part of the mission of the churches, but it is on the edge: should the church adapt to its context and lose both its identity and witness or should it find a way between the Scylla of easy adaptation to the changing contexts of this world that is passing and the Charybdis of a preservation of forms and identities of bygone times that have lost the freshness of the message of liberation of bondage, conversion and freedom, freedom to be what the church is called to be, a sign of hope, peace, reconciliation, justice and love?