World Religions and their Missions

Second Edition

by Aaron J. Ghiloni (Volume editor)
©2022 Monographs XVI, 334 Pages


A world religions textbook spotlighting global missionary activity
This comparative introduction explores the mission obligation as it is expressed across seven traditions: the Bahá’í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, and nonreligion.
In a structure that facilitates side-by-side comparison and contrast, the book examines the philosophies, practices, and texts that inspire the worldwide propagation of a plurality of religious and nonreligious teachings.
Topics explored include proselytization, conversion, translation, religious education, colonialism, cultural adaptation, humanitarianism, interfaith encounter, secularism, and transnational growth.
The first edition of World Religions and their Missions was fundamental in establishing comparative mission studies. This revised second edition features expanded chapters, updated data, and entirely new chapters.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Praise for the First Edition
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contributors
  • Chapter 1 A Plurality of Missions (Aaron J. Ghiloni)
  • Part I Traditions
  • Chapter 2 The Global Mission of the Bahá’í Faith: Individual and Collective Transformation Through Spiritual Education (Robin Mihrshahi)
  • Chapter 3 Trends in Buddhist Mission from the Time of Shakyamuni Buddha to the Era of Globalization (Glenys Eddy)
  • Chapter 4 Christian Mission: Between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (Atola Longkumer)
  • Chapter 5 The History of Mission in Hinduism: The Spread of Bhakti from India to the West (Ferdinando Sardella)
  • Chapter 6 Da’wah and Conversion in Islamic Theology and Practice (Mehmet Ozalp)
  • Chapter 7 Justice as Mission: An Islamic View of Individual, Social, and Institutional Duties (Zahra N. Jamal)
  • Chapter 8 Mormon Mission in Concept and Practice: From Apocalyptic Gathering to Teaching Salvation (David Golding)
  • Chapter 9 Nonreligion and Its Mission Impulse: From Support and Inclusion to Advocacy and Institutional Growth (Jesse M. Smith)
  • Part II Comparisons
  • Chapter 10 Studying Mission Comparatively: From Max Müller to Max Universalism (Aaron J. Ghiloni)
  • Chapter 11 Mission and Interreligious Dialogue: A Deliberative Democratic Framework (Brian J. Adams)
  • Index

←vi | vii→



Figure 1.1International Review of Mission issue on the topic Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah (1976)

Figure 2.1The Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India

Figure 3.1Scroll depicting the Buddha preaching

Figure 3.2Buddhist mission to Germany from Sri Lanka

Figure 4.1A missionary of the London Missionary Society addresses three African converts

Figure 4.2Map of Africa marking Christian mission stations as well as populations of “Mohammedans” and “Heathens”

Figure 5.1Hare Krishna devotee distributing books in Moscow

Figure 5.2Bhakti Vijnana Goswami

Figure 6.1Da’wah meeting of the Islamic Education and Research Academy in the United Kingdom

Figure 6.2The Crescent, a newspaper covering Islam in England between 1893 and 1908

Figure 7.1Bilāl, a former slave freed by the Prophet

Figure 7.2Islamic Da’wah Center in Houston, Texas

Figure 8.1Latter-day Saint missionaries speak with a woman in Old Sacramento, California

Figure 9.1Anti-Mormon protest on the sidewalk of Temple Square

Figure 9.2Atheist Monument in Bradford County, Florida

Figure 10.1Title page of Max Müller’s On Missions (1874)

Figure 10.2San Francisco Chronicle report, “Missionaries of the Buddhist Faith” (1899)

←vii | viii→

Figure 10.3San Francisco Chronicle report, “Priests from Japan Come to Proselyte” (1899)

Figure 11.1Interfaith roundtable in Brisbane, Australia

Figure 11.2Interfaith roundtable in Brisbane, Australia


Table 11.1Comparison of the Deliberative Interreligious Dialogue Framework and Dryzek’s Discursive Model of Democracy

Table 11.2Summary of the Proposed Deliberative Interreligious Dialogue Framework

←viii | ix→


The editor is grateful to Lorraine Alouan, Martin Cvelbar, James Lewandowski-Cox, Gerdien Jonker, and Senaka Weeraratna who assisted with research questions. A grant from the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University enabled the completion of the book. All images remain the property of their owners.

←ix | x→

←x | xi→


Brian J. Adams is an internationally awarded academic, keynote speaker, and trainer promoting respect and understanding across cultural, religious and organizational boundaries. For nearly 30 years, Brian has developed major international dialogue initiatives, including the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue, the annual G20 Interfaith Forum, the Commonwealth Dialogue Initiative to strengthen leadership for sustainable peace, and the CURe program for multicultural competency.

Glenys Eddy is author of Becoming Buddhist: Experiences of Socialization and Self-Transformation in Two Australian Buddhist Centres (Continuum, 2012; Bloomsbury, 2019), based on her doctoral thesis undertaken in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. Glenys continues to publish as an independent scholar on topics related to her interest in Western alternative religion and religious conversion, with articles published in Journal of Global Buddhism, Contemporary Buddhism, Fieldwork in Religion, Culture and Religion, and Literature and Aesthetics.

Aaron J. Ghiloni is a research fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University. He lectures in religious studies at the University of Queensland where he is also an honorary senior research fellow.

David Golding is a historian in the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an instructor of Mormon history and world religions at Brigham Young University.

←xi | xii→

Zahra N. Jamal is Associate Director at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance. Previously on the faculty of Harvard and MIT, she was founding director of the Civil Islam Initiative at University of Chicago, the Central Asia and International Development Initiative at Michigan State, and Associate Director at The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s Center for the Study of American Muslims. Her fieldwork covers voluntarism, migrant labor, gender-equity, and food security among Muslims. Dr. Jamal has published with Duke University Press, Lexington Books, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and The Hill. She received her PhD from Harvard.

Atola Longkumer is a scholar of religions and mission studies working in Nagaland, India. She is visiting faculty at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (Bengaluru, India) and at the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (Allahabad, India). She is Book Review Editor of Mission Studies and has co-edited several books including Mission and Power: History, Relevance and Perils in conjunction with the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Dr Longkumer’s writing on Christian mission and religions, indigenous cultures, women in mission history has appeared in the International Review of Mission, ANVIL: A Journal of Theology and Mission, and The Ecumenical Review.

Robin Mihrshahi is a member of the Bahá’í Council for Queensland, Australia, where he has previously served as Regional Coordinator for Bahá’í educational programs. He has published in the Australian Bahá’í Studies Journal and the Bahá’í Studies Review, as well as various scientific journals. Robin completed his PhD in molecular immunology at the University of Oxford.

Mehmet Ozalp is a public intellectual and one of the most prominent Muslim community leaders in Australia. He is an Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University where he is also the Director. Mehmet is an executive member of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University, and Executive Director of the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy.

Ferdinando Sardella is Associate Professor at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions, and Gender Studies at Stockholm University. He is the co-director of the project “Bengali Vaishnavism in the Modern Period” at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, where he is a research fellow. He is the author of the book Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life, and Thought ←xii | xiii→of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, published in 2013 by Oxford University Press. He has also co-edited The Sociology of Religion in India: Past, Present and Future (with Ruby Sain; 2013), The Legacy of Vaiavism in Colonial Bengal (with Lucian Wong; 2020), and Brill’s Handbook of Hinduism in Europe (with Knut A. Jacobsen; 2020).

Jesse M. Smith is Associate Professor of Sociology at Western Michigan University. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Colorado. An interpretive sociologist and social psychologist, his main research interests are in secularity and nonreligion, where he focuses on issues of identity, collective behavior, and worldview construction. He is joint-editor of the journal, Secularism and Nonreligion, and co-editor, with Ryan T. Cragun, of Secularity and Nonreligion in North America (Bloomsbury, 2021).

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←xiv | 1→

Chapter 1 A Plurality of Missions

Aaron J. Ghiloni

In the summer of 1976, fourteen Muslim and Christian leaders and scholars met in Chambésy, Switzerland. Summoned by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), their brief was to compare Christian mission and Islamic da’wah.1 The five-day symposium was situated against the backdrop of violent conflicts: Christians and Muslims massacring one another in Lebanon; Muslims and Christians warring in Mindano leaving 50,000 dead.2 The talks transpired in emotive thickness. There were “grievances on both sides.”3 This was no consequence-free junket. The meeting of “two great missionary faiths” generated “sharp and at times angry controversy of inter-religious debate…”4

Dialogues can be mirrors, and mirrors can be uncomfortable. Participants described the Chambésy consultation as “intense,” “painful,” and “suspicious,” but also as conducted in “good faith” and a “spirit of frankness and fairness.” They saw themselves as navigating “uncharted waters,” and one co-convener commented that “never before, to my knowledge have Christians and Muslims met together at an international level to address themselves explicitly to this vital issue which is elemental to the integrity of both.”5 What was unique was not Muslim–Christian dialogue itself, but rather the content of the dialogue. Mission was difficult to discuss equitably insofar as mission was seen as anti-dialogical—competitive, manipulative, unscrupulous, even anti-Muslim. “Muslims feel that Christian mission among Muslims overshadows dialogue everywhere,” a Muslim leader observed.6 Nevertheless, the summit resulted in the identification of an analogue: “da’wah is to Islam as mission is to Christianity…”7

The International Review of Mission (IRM), a WCC-operated journal, published the resulting papers in its autumn edition. This issue has historical significance for being one of the earliest and most deliberate considerations of ←1 | 2→mission in comparative perspective. The proceedings were heralded as marking a “first time” and a “first occasion in the history of Christian-Muslim relations” that a da’wah/mission comparison had occurred.8 In 1982, the Islamic Foundation republished the proceedings noting that “neither before nor since have ‘mission and da’wah’ been placed into the limelight of dialogue.”9

IRM’s editor concluded that “the same missionary compulsion” was shared by Islam and Christianity.10 Nonetheless, the hard work of the conference did not result in full unanimity. In IRM’s following issue (January 1977), a letter of protest was published. Ali Muhsin (a Muslim participant) noted that his remarks had been “distorted” by the WCC journal, edited to make his paper seem more quarrelsome than the “ecumenical spirit” in which it had been framed.11 Understanding and respecting the missions of other religious groups was no simple task. When the Islamic Foundation republished the material, a foreword was added noting that “the issues debated at Chambésy have not been resolved.”12 In April of 1977, the disagreement again appeared on IRM’s pages with Bishop Kenneth Cragg (a participant in the summit) describing the tensions at Chambésy as arising from a starting point that “dismay[ed] and oppress[ed].”13

What is an adequate starting point for studying the varieties of religious mission? Perhaps the historic dialogue would have been less volatile had other kinds of religious missionaries been present. Instead of two groups staring head-on at one another, what if a third and even a fourth and fifth were present? Perhaps a way forward is through pluralizing the concept of mission. That is an intent of this book.

Two’s company, but not a plurality. The WCC consultation considered only Islam and Christianity. Although Buddhism is widely recognized as a missionizing religion, Buddhists were not invited to Chambésy. This gap limited the comparative possibilities of the summit. When the study of mission is confined to a dialogue between Christian and Islamic theological distinctives, the dialogue tends to crystallize around binaries—particularly, the translatability or non-translatability of divine language.14 The analogue renders as a dualism, a dualism that excludes Buddhism from its remit. Likewise, when Islam and Christianity are treated as mirror “religions,” institutionalism is often emphasized. The actors responsible for sending missionaries are portrayed as possessing hierarchical authority and having clerical concerns.15 Indeed, the symposium reinforced the centrality of religious institutions to the practice of mission insofar as it was initiated by the World Council of Churches, a fact both the Muslim convenor and the Christian convenor pointed out. Months later, Bishop Cragg noted that a “psychology ←2 | 3→of possessiveness” in which each side saw itself as “institutional proprietors of truth” persisted.16 David Kerr, a co-convenor, recognized the dyad as a limitation and hinted at the possibility for a far more variegated study of mission impulses. He wrote, “We are living in a situation not simply of plurality of religions, but of plurality of missions…”17

Dialogue is better than what Wilfred Cantwell Smith called the “erstwhile monologue of proselytising missions,” but colloquy is even better. Smith urged theologizing side-by-side rather than face-to-face as a more genuinely global approach to facing “our strange new age.”18 In this vein, this book introduces seven missionizing traditions—not all of which are conversionary, Western, text-centered, or even theistic. A benefit of a multilateral perspective is how it invariably complicates stereotypes of mission as the proselytization, coercion, or evangelization of outsiders. Islamic da’wah, for example, is as much directed to Muslims as to non-Muslims. Islam’s universality implies a call to go in as much as a call to go out. Buddhist missionaries, to give another example, practiced translation before Christianity existed, but did so based on the principle of compassion (karuna) rather than a theology of incarnation.19 Their means were similar (venularization), but their motives different. Richard Fox Young—likely coiner of the term comparative missiology—refers to the study of missiological variegation as “making comparative missiology more comparative.”20 7 > 2.

Figure 1.1International Review of Mission issue on the topic Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wah (1976)


XVI, 334
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Comparative study Belief Proselytism Interreligious encounter
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XVI, 334 pp., 20 b/w ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Aaron J. Ghiloni (Volume editor)

Aaron J. Ghiloni is a Research Fellow of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Religious Studies at the University of Queensland.


Title: World Religions and their Missions