- 1: the act of becoming or condition of being a proselyte : conversion
- 2: the act or process of proselytizing
Proselytism is the act of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion. The word proselytize is derived ultimately from the Greek language prefix προσ- (toward) and the verb ἔρχομαι (to come) in the form of προσήλυτος (a new comer). Historically in the Koine Greek Septuagint and New Testament, the word proselyte denoted a gentile who was considering conversion to Judaism. Though the word proselytism originally referred to Early Christianity (and earlier Gentiles), it also refers to other religions' attempts to convert people to their beliefs or even any attempt to convert people to another point of view, religious or not. Today, the connotations of proselytizing are often negative and the word is commonly used to describe attempts to force people to convert.
Views on the propriety of different types of proselytism differ radically. Some feel that freedom of speech should have no limits and that virtually anyone, anywhere should have the right to talk about anything they see fit. Others see all sorts of proselytism as a nuisance and an intrusion and would like to see them restricted (either completely or to a limited arena). Thus, Prof. Natan Lerner of Tel Aviv University observes that the issue is one of a clash of rights—the perceived right of a person to express his or her views versus the perceived right of a person not to be exposed to views that he or she does not wish to hear.
Some don't mind preaching but are concerned if the speech is accompanied by physical benefits (e.g., a soup kitchen that provides food, but only under the condition that the recipients listen to an evangelical discourse) or new converts are given physical benefits not available to those who don't convert. Others are concerned if the preaching is aimed at children without the knowledge and consent of the parents.