The Anthropology of Religious Conversion

By Hiebert, Paul G. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April 2006 | Go to article overview

The Anthropology of Religious Conversion


Hiebert, Paul G., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


The Anthropology of Religious Conversion. Edited by Andrew Buckser and Stephen D. Glazier. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Pp. 256. $78; paperback $34.95.

This is a most welcome book. In it anthropologists, Christian and non-Christian, do deep, sympathetic studies of religious conversion, both individual and corporate, to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Spiritism, and Rastafarianism. They do what anthropologists do best-give us thick descriptions of conversion from the perspectives of the converts themselves. Anthropologists argue that religion involves more than ideas about the supernatural. It is a theory of the world, a way of constructing reality that is uniquely real to those who experience it. Why and how, then, do radical changes in worldview and affiliation take place in individuals and communities?

In these penetrating studies, the authors show us by way of ethnographic detail the complex intertwining of personal, social, cultural, and spiritual factors that are involved. They avoid the reductionism so common in social and psychological studies of conversion. They also examine how conversions affect nationalism, state formation, and the construction of authority.

The volume begins with an overview of anthropological theories of religion and ends with key theoretical implications that can be drawn from the cases. The book is of particular importance to missiologists and field missionaries, who too often reduce conversion to spiritual transformation and who do not take into account the effects of conversion on the lives of individuals and communities.

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