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World Religions and Their Missions

Edited By Aaron J. Ghiloni

Schleiermacher maintained that «to make proselytes out of unbelievers is deeply engrained in the character of religion.» But why do religions proselytize? Do all religions seek conversions? How are religions adapting their proclamations in a deeply plural world? This book provides a detailed analysis of the missionary impulse as it is manifested across a range of religious and irreligious traditions. World Religions and Their Missions systematically compares the motives and methods of the «missions» of Atheism, the Bahá'í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Mormonism. The text also develops innovative frameworks for interreligious encounters and comparative mission studies.
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Chapter 2: Atheism


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Atheism, the absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods,1 has a somewhat ambiguous origin. Although atheism has a long intellectual history with well-known historical exponents reaching far back into antiquity and the classical era, unlike many faith traditions, there is not a single origin story, founding historical figure, revelatory event, or cohesive set of doctrines outlined in the “atheist tradition.” In fact, viewing atheism—even organized atheism—through the lens and language of “religious tradition” is problematic, just as is discussing the irreligious only on the conceptual turf of the religious.

Atheist socio-political movements, such as the contemporary “new atheism,” and even the congregational atheism of the Sunday Assembly, which is perhaps the most religion-like, should not simply be conflated with religion per se. Noticing that some atheists organize, build communities, and publicly (even vociferously) advocate their views, is not in itself sufficient to meet most scholars’ definitions of religion. Mistaking form for content, or having too broadly inclusive a definition of what constitutes, for instance, religious behavior, is not the most effective way of understanding either religion or nonreligion. Social movements and political parties that express disparate values and ideologies, and many other kinds of organized behavior and cultural/institutional practices are not labeled “religious” despite sharing many similarities with how atheist groups function.

And yet there are clear parallels, commonalities, and areas of overlap—especially in recent iterations of...

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