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Conversions More Self-Dependent, Not Forced, Study Reveals

ICC Note: This article reports on research that undermines one of the main arguments Hindus make to justify their attacks on Christians.

By Leo Fernando
3/27/08 CHENNAI, India (UCAN) — Conversions depend on personal religious experiences and not on external pressures or allurement, says a research study presented in a government-run university in southern India.

“Individuals choose to convert on their own free will. … It happens to different walks of people in different ways,” says Iyadurai Joshua, 46, the Protestant researcher.

“Personal religious experience and individual decisions” make people turn to Jesus. They do not do so because of “external pressures or allurement,” Joshua told UCA News on March 18.

The research results, released on Feb. 16, come amid allegations by right-wing Hindu groups that Christian missioners induce poor Hindus to convert to Christianity with offers of money, jobs, education and health care.

Joshua is a professor at Lakeview Bible College based in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu state capital, 2,100 kilometers south of New Delhi. He conducted the research for his doctoral studies in the Department of Christian Studies at government-run University of Madras. Chennai was earlier called Madras.

For the study conversion was defined as “the decision to accept Jesus Christ as God and following him faithfully.” The researcher pointed out that while conversion “can sometimes lead to change of religion,” some people do not change religion but nonetheless decide to follow Jesus.

The research studied the lives of 137 converts: 87 men and 50 women. Eleven of the people are no longer alive, so Joshua relied on documents and biographies going back to 1857 in these cases. The others ranged from teenagers to people in their 60s.

Of these people, from various parts of India, 117 were formerly Hindus, 10 Muslims, three Sikhs, four atheists and three from tribal religions.

In most cases, conversion came after a personal crisis. But even when problems were not resolved after conversion, the converts claimed they had “peace and confidence” and a “conviction that Jesus is there for them,” the researcher noted.

The subjects in the three-year study reported experiencing Jesus in visions, voices and dreams, and through reading the Bible and hearing people preach. Conversion generally occurred during adolescence, which is a universal phenomenon, Joshua noted, but some converted as adults.

Most commonly they perceived Jesus as “a loving friend” who led them to change their values. They described themselves as having become more confident and courageous in addition to experiencing spiritual, psychological and physical well-being.

Converts do expect suffering and even death, Joshua said, citing the case of Willayat Ali, a former Muslim who was killed in 1857 after he announced his conversion to Christianity. He made the announcement even though he was sure it would mean his death.

In several other cases converts lost their family and friends while gaining nothing, the researcher pointed out. He cited a recent case of a Muslim teenage girl whose father tried to kill her after she converted but whose mother helped her escape… [Go To Full Story – ID IB04713.1490]