Changing Religious Landscapes: Why Some Muslims Convert to Christianity-The Case of Central Asia

A Central Asia Initiative Lecture by Olivier Roy

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Duration: 59:01

Olivier Roy is a professor at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris and a senior researcher in political science at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). During 2008-09, he is a Visiting Professor inUC Berkeley’s Travers Political Science Department. His recent publcations include Globalized Islam (2004), Secularism Confronts Islam (2007), and The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East (2008).


A phenomenon of massive individual conversions either to a different religion or to new forms of the same religion has been taking place in many unexpected quarters. Religions which attract new believers are those that disconnect themselves, more or less explicitly, from given cultures, either by exporting themselves or by distancing themselves from a surrounding culture perceived more as pagan than just profane.  In this sense we are not witnessing a “return” of traditional religions: the contemporary religious movements are dissociating themselves from past religious traditions and are a by-product of the process of secularization.

Globalization has a paradoxical effect: it strengthens the more fundamentalist forms of religion, but it pushes for standardization and formatting of religions under a common paradigm, exacerbating the competition between religions, as illustrated by tensions surrounding conversions and apostasy. The pressure from states and courts to control and integrate religions, as well as to implement religious freedom has led to the same consequence: religious practices, religiosity, and the institutionalization of faith communities tend to follow the same paradigms (place of worship, way of worshipping, clergy, chaplains, etc.), leading to an increase in religious competition, but also to the emergence of religious coalitions against the modern pagan culture (same-sex-marriage, abortion, evolution etc.).