Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Conversion and Reversion: Two Questions

Conversion and Reversion: Excursus
The first in a series of brief essays on conversion and reversion leads me immediately to two thoughts. One is the need clarify the meaning of reversion. In North America one might leave the religion of one’s parents, meaning that one becomes non-Christian. Or one might leave the church of one’s parents, meaning that one leaves the Brethren in Christ (BIC) Church for (as one example of many) the Evangelical Free Church of America.
The former is what I mean by reversion. The latter is probably what the organizers of the conference on ex-Mennonites (to be held at the University of Winnipeg, October 3 and 4) have in mind. As a missiologist I am less concerned about which denomination people identify with and more interested in what leads people to leave Christian faith entirely.
My own small piece in the conference is to look at the BIC in Zimbabwe, where the question usually involves leaving Christian faith for some kind of revitalisation movement, based on traditional religions, or for some form of Pentecostal faith. People in the church in Zimbabwe debate among themselves whether or not these new Pentecostal churches are truly Christian.
The second thought is to note that religion and worldview are closely related, but not identical. In many African cultures (such as the Ndebele of Zimbabwe), the people’s worldview is thoroughly supernatural, and to the extent that we think of religion as supernatural,[1] worldview and religion flow together. In North America many people describe themselves as not religious. In fact they are religious, but their religion is some form of secularism, or an individualized form of Hinduism or Buddhism, or atheism itself, or some other individualized variant. In our case, worldview is shared by the members of a society, but they have many religious options. This fact complicates the picture and means that we must be careful not to generalize too quickly from one case or from one set of cases, to say what we think is true of the larger population.


Ellwood, Robert S., Jr. Introducing Religion: From Inside and Outside. Second edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983. 

Smith, Christian. Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture. New York: Oxford University, 2003.

[1] Note that religion is not necessarily supernatural. I use the shorthand definition from Ellwood (1983) of religion as “scenarios of the real self”: that is, religion is the story we tell with which we construct our identity—supernatural or otherwise. See also Christian Smith’s Moral Believing Animals (2003).


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting conference and paper topic!

Climenheise said...

I think it should be. Looking forward to it!