Arguments that attempt to prostelytize seem to have common features that are relatively invariant across the particular religion to which they seek to prostelytize.

What is the name for this basic type of argumentation? What types of arguments does it make? Is it studied in philosophy?


4 Answers 4


I would say arguments that attempt to prostelytize would have two or possibly three common features:

  1. They are always going to be practical arguments (whether this is direct or indirect) insofar as their goal is to accomplish a change in belief and behavior.
  2. They are often going to be "persuasive arguments". Here, I do not mean they will succeed in persuading. Rather, I mean with reference to Aristotle's Rhetoric that they will tend to include appeals to ethos (justifications for why should accept an argument based on who is giving it) and pathos (roughly speaking emotion) and not merely be composed of logos (arguments after the usual pattern in philosophy).
  3. They are not going to be offered with complete neutrality with respect to their claim.

I would not be surprised if someone had a much better account than this. I'm just trying to get the ball rolling.


The current philosopher Peter Kreeft has in one of his books (God Does Exist) made a list of many of the common arguments used to justify God's existence irrespective of religion. Kreeft offers this way of organizing these arguments:

We have organized them into two basic groups: those which take their data from without—cosmological arguments—and those that take it from within—psychological arguments.

As an example of each, the Kalam argument is an example of a "cosmological" argument, and arguments appealing to an individuals conscience or innate sense of morality is an example of a psychological proof.

Kreeft points out some things that these arguments do not all share: Not are all equally convincing, and some are more like evidence-in-favor-of then "proofs":

Not all the arguments are equally demonstrative. One (Pascal's Wager) is not an argument for God at all, but an argument for faith in God as a "wager." Another (the ontological argument) we regard as fundamentally flawed; yet we include it because it is very famous and influential, and may yet be saved by new formulations of it. Others (the argument from miracles, the argument from religious experience and the common consent argument) claim only strong probability, not demonstrative certainty.

As to why someone would join a particular religion, I think arguments follow the same two categories: either "psychological" or "cosmological," but I'm unaware of any scholars who have explicitly done such a study. Many of these cross the boundary from philosophy-proper into theology, so are studied more in that context.


Sophistry and rhetoric are methods of dialogue associated with ancient Greeks like Socrates and Plato, wherein one engages in dialogue with the express purpose of making the other person contradict himself and seem foolish. I believe that those who are prepared for proselytizing are trained in a system in dialogue that is more-or-less the same as sophistry.

The person intended to be proselytized is led to imagine that he is engaging in an open and casual conversation about the comparative validity of his own religion, and that of the proselytizer. However, it is not "just" a conversation because the proselytizer has the deadly-serious agenda of converting the other person, while the other person usually does not have any agenda for being in the conversation. Also, the proselytizer may have back-up persons such as priest who brief and debrief him about such conversations for hours, and prepare him to hold various conversations or even to lure him to the temple/mosque/church or other place of worship of the proselytizer/converter, and into the company of more converters who may play various roles in the convertee's social life, such as accuser, sympathizer, good-cop-bad-cop, devil's advocate, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.

The thrust of the proselytizer's conversations with the intended convertee is to seem utterly logical, tolerant and compassionate, so as not to provoke any defensiveness on his part. A key element is to induce him to relate to the proselytizer, and share negative confidences about his family, friends, social setup and co-religionists.

As a result of a series of interactions, the intended convertee often feels a sense of euphoria that he is surrounded by a bunch of new friends who understand him and are genuinely interested in the problems of his life, his emotional angst, etc., and give him the importance that he feels that he deserves. He contrasts this with his family members and his older friends, who seem relatively indifferent, uncaring and dismissive, and he feels driven towards the decision that his future happiness lies in proving himself loyal to his new friends by embracing their faith. Due to his frequent interactions with the proselytizers, the intended convertee may actually feel guilty for postponing his conversion to the new religion, which seems to be eagerly waiting with open arms. His old religion, by contrast, appears utterly lifeless and nondescript, and his family ties (which may break due to his conversion) don't seem worth maintaining at this point of his life.

A great deal of the proselytizer's conversation may be aimed at fomenting a sense of grievance against the convertee's co-religionists, and a spirit of discontentment and rebellion. "Show them that you are willing to part company with all that is untrue and unworthy in your life," the proselytizers seem to say.

If the intended convertee happens to be undergoing a bad patch in his life, or a transition phase such as adolescent rebellion, midlife crisis, joblessness, discontentment with marriage, etc, then the opportunity to 'make a clean break' with his life may seem too good to pass up. The possibility of being enabled to remarry or restructure his business, or find employment within the new community's network, is seductive.

Converting seems like the only decent, rational and beneficial thing to do. Not converting threatens his newfound friendships, happiness and progress in his life.

[My answer is intended to provoke discussion. It is illustrative of the environment set up by proselytizers, rather than the actual arguments themselves. This is admittedly not a classification of the kinds of arguments used by proselytizers, but it hopefully sets the stage for examining and classifying them.]


First not all religions are proselytising: the Jewish, Parsi, Jain and Sikh faiths don't actively seek converts.

Arguments can be distinguished as apologia; which is a defence of faith.

It derives etymologically from the Greek; and early Christian writers used it in both the sense of defending and recommending; in the Greek, it is one of two key technical terms used in legal discourse; the prosecution delivered the kategoria, and the defense offered the apologia.

Religious apologetics is an effort to:

show that the preferred faith is not irrational, that believing in it is not against human reason, and that in fact the religion contains values and promotes ways of life more in accord with human nature.

The traditional arguments for Christianity is cosmological, teleological and ontological; there is also the argument from revelation ie from scripture.

Apologetics becomes a neccessity as the religions encounter each other - to maintain coherence, and to explain to an other.

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