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Religious Conversion in Universal Religions in the Pre-modern era: A Mini-Reader

Michael McInneshin


     One of the central themes in world history texts and classes is the history of "world" religions: their doctrine and practices; their ties to political and social change; their spread over space and time. In one sense, teaching about world religions offers students an entry into past experience that for many may offer an empathetic interaction with the past, "Ah, they were Buddhist/Christian/Muslim like me." In another sense, the world historical processes that created those religions, the making new believers, or conversion, may be alien to those twenty-first century students who are born into their religion and/or live with little close knowledge of how conversion lies at the roots of the massive faith-based cultural formations we have today.

     What follows in an effort to provide a means to do so through a Micro-Reader designed to support World History survey and seminar courses. A concordance indicating its utility in the Advanced Placement World History course is incorporated into the Micro-Reader. In survey courses, the lack of time impedes coverage of even "the basics" and because of this tight window, the bulk of the primary documents employed to meet curriculum standards are statements of belief or doctrine, often excerpts from scripture. While these subjects are important—sometimes for understanding the choices of historical actors—this kind of selection often leaves the student reader an incomplete conceptualization of what religions are or were. Focusing on purely doctrinal documents obscures change over time, downplays the complexities of believers performing a religion, and tends to overemphasize cultural difference and exclusivity.

     How does studying conversion in particular help in the classroom? Conversion puts change over time in the analysis; it historicizes religion. The examination of methods/means of conversion allows students to see it as a historical process. It also opens up comparative history, allowing us to see how people shared historical experience, even when they were not directly connected. At the same time, examining conversion gets at the blurry lines and the messiness of the processes of cultural change. When we, as teachers, show maps about the rise of religion, the accompaniment of conversion materials complicates the changes shown by the colors of those maps. At some level, conversion analysis reveals why people made the choice to do new, different, confusing, tedious, and difficult beliefs and rituals, to follow rules about giving up pleasures and wealth, or to open up the dangerous possibility of personal persecution. This is one way to get at the "flesh and blood humans defining and enacting the requisite cults and rites."1

     Aside from the standard practice of investigating the reliability of sources, primary sources addressing the issue of conversion allow readers to see some of the unusual (to them) nature of past viewpoints, particularly with regard to syncretic cultural strategies and the assumed reality of magic in the world. They also can provide a glimpse of the religious experiences of both the elite and the masses and address assess the options/volition of converts. Through them readers can also examine social history, what historical actors did on an intimate scale in response to grand, sweeping forces. The documents offered below speak to the importance of narrative to the processes of conversion, and how identity has been constructed.2 Finally, and most importantly, I think, for grasping global scale history, these sources illuminate the multiple varieties/aspects of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, past and present. Their brevity sharpens the focus on the topic, while the comparative framing allows students to draw connections quickly across time and space. The subject itself allows for a broad geographical coverage, including most of Afro-Eurasia. Certain documents might act as a springboard for further research, or a set or two might be extracted for use in a particular classroom lesson.

     The Micro-Reader only includes what I am calling "universalist" religions, which are sometimes labelled as the "salvation," "missionary," or "evangelical" religions. This choice partly stems from a presentist viewpoint arising from the successes of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam as borne out in twenty-first century populations (together over half the world's population of believers). Clearly, the Micro-Reader neglects universalist religions with limited numbers of adherents today, like Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism, whose historical import was far greater at certain historical junctures. Moreover, religions with grand conversion successes based on Vedic and Chinese texts are absent, in part, because their exportation to distant populations was much more limited. Early Modern and Modern conversions, namely the Christianizing of the Americas and Southern Africa, are also not addressed. The motivations of the documents' authors—usually advocates of the particular universalist religion with an interest in exaggerating conversion successes—were not necessarily conducive to describing what actually occurred. Finally, the documents here are intended to stimulate debate in a comparative World History context, and instructors should employ the sources with care considering the multitude of doctrinal milieus they emerged from. Student readers should be directed to these limitations, as well to the following very brief discussion of scholarly approaches to conversion.

Scholarly Approaches to Conversion

     Recent religion historiography has been concerned with the "complexity and diversity of motivations that engage converts."3 Jerry Bentley argues that, generally speaking, there are three types of conversion, largely framed by the choice, or lack thereof, for the convert: voluntary, assimilationist (a selective adoption of belief and practice), and pressured.4 Marc David Baer argues for four styles of conversion: acculturation (pressured conversion by a dominant or conquering culture); adhesion (new beliefs and practices added on top of old); syncretism (a fusion of belief and practice that creates a new synthesis); and transformation (complete replacement of systems).5 The documents below tend to illuminate tactics of evangelism, but also show some of the choices made by historical actors, and some of the patterns of cultural adoption. Students should be reminded to approach the material with some skepticism: "More recently … historians have doubted the totalizing experience of conversion …. they argue instead that religious conversion entails both an event or events and a gradually unfolding, dynamic, yet often incomplete process."6 Richard Bulliet notes the caveat that Islamic "conversion stories themselves reinforce the impression that change of religion may not have been particularly momentous for the convert," and this certainly applied at times to converting Buddhists and Christians as well.7

The Micro-Reader

     Each of the following sections is based on a strategy or type of conversion, with at least one selection from Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, in that order. A few of the document sections include doctrinal statements from scripture regarding the subject at hand. Each source is provided with a date and location of the construction of the document in the naming line, and a date when and location where the event purportedly happened. In some of the documents, conversion is implied rather than claimed outright. The sources for the documents are contained in the endnotes. The issues raised by these documents would relate to the following parts of the AP World History curriculum as outlined in the AP World History Curriculum Framework (Effective 2011) p-world-history-and-description.pdf. These are:

2.3.III,C. Religious and cultural traditions were transformed as they spread.

3.1.III. Cross-cultural exchanges were fostered by the intensification of existing, or the creation of new, networks of trade and communication.

4.1.VI. The increase in interactions between newly connected hemispheres and intensification of connections within hemispheres expanded the spread and reform of existing religions and created syncretic belief systems and practices.8


     Although the earliest forms of Buddhism did not attempt to acquire converts from the masses, Christian missionaries rarely looked beyond cities in the first half of the first millennium of the Common Era, and during the first few centuries of Islam, Muslims were not particularly evangelical toward non-Arabs, eventually each of the three religions became focused on public proselytization.

Lotus Sutra, Chapter 27, Kashmir (South Asia), 2nd Century CE
Ganges Basin (South Asia), 5th Century BCE

[The Buddha spoke to his followers] "Into your hands, young men of good family, I transfer and transmit, entrust and deposit this supreme and perfect enlightenment arrived at by me after … incalculable Æons. … do your best that it may grow and spread. … Receive it, young men of good family, keep, read, fathom, teach, promulgate, and preach it to all beings. … follow my example; imitate me in liberally showing this knowledge … to the young men and young ladies of good family who successively shall gather round you. And as to unbelieving persons, rouse them to accept this law."

Shi Baochang, Biqiuni Zhuan (The Lives of Nuns), China, ca. 516 CE
Huang He Basin (China), mid-4th century CE

[When her husband did not behave properly, Miao-hsiang, a woman from the very wealthy Chang family, left him with her father's permission to become a Buddhist nun.] She lived … in a shady forest facing the open countryside, where she and her many disciples led a life of joyful resolve in the quiet retreat [for over 20 years]. Whenever she preached the [Buddhist] teaching, she saved people. Because she often feared that those listening to her would be unable to concentrate their resolve to attain freedom from birth and death, she would at times weep to exhort them to greater efforts. Thus her preaching always brought about great benefits.

New Testament, Matthew 28:18–20, Levant, late 1st Century CE
Levant, early 1st Century CE

Then Jesus came to [his apostles] and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father [God] and of the Son [Jesus] and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Bede, The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Northumbria (England) ca. 730 CE
Isle of Britain, 7th Century CE


Many of [the neighboring people], indeed, disgraced the faith which they professed, by unholy deeds; and some of them, in the time of mortality, neglecting the sacrament of their creed, had recourse to idolatrous remedies, as if by charms or amulets, or any other mysteries of the magical art, they were able to avert a stroke inflicted upon them by the Lord. To correct these errors, [Cuthbert] often went out from the monastery, sometimes on horseback, sometimes on foot, and preached the way of truth to the neighboring villages .… It was at this time customary for the English people to flock together when a clerk or priest entered a village, and listen to what he said, that so they might learn something from him, and amend their lives. … He was mostly accustomed to travel to those villages which lay in out of the way places among the mountains, which by their poverty and natural horrors deterred other visitors. Yet even here did his devoted mind find exercise for his powers of teaching, insomuch that he often remained a week, sometimes two or three, nay, even a whole month, without returning home; but dwelling among the mountains, taught the poor people, both by the words of his preaching, and also by his own holy conduct.

Qur'an, ("The Bee") Surah 16: 125–126, Late 7th Century-8th Century
Hijaz (Arabia), 7th Century CE

Invite [all] to the way of your Lord [Allah] with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious…. [I]f you show patience, that is indeed the best for those who are patient.

Attar, [The Life of]"Abu 'l-Hosain al Nuri," Persia, Early 13th Century CE
Baghdad (Mesopotamia), ca. 900 CE

When Gholam Khalil declared hostilities against the Sufis, he went to the caliph [of Baghdad] and denounced them. "A group have appeared on the scene," he announced, "who sing songs and dance and utter blasphemies. They parade about all day, and hide themselves in catacombs, and preach. These men are heretics."

Conversion By Force10

     Although peaceful methods of evangelism can be found occasionally in universalist scripture, violent methods and forced conversion were common in practice. Over time, the descendants of people who faked their conversion sometimes became devout followers.

Majjhima Nikaya #35 ("Cula-Saccaka Sutra"), South Asia, 1st Century BCE?
Ganges Basin (South Asia), 5th Century BCE

[Much of the scripture about the Buddha and his teaching has him engaging in debates with non-believers to illuminate a particular point about the religion, in this case Aggivessana.] What say you, Aggivessana? Would a Noble [Kshatriya] being an anointed King … have power—within his own realm—to put to death … or to exile those of his own subjects who deserve those respective punishments?

[Although he agrees with this proposition, Aggivessana is then quiet about a follow-up, and the Buddha said,] "Answer [now]; this is no time to be silent. If thrice a person is asked a doctrinal question by the Truth-finder and answers not, his skull is then cloven into seven pieces."

At that moment [the Thunderbolt Spirit Vajirapanin] took his stand in the air [ready] to cleave his head into seven pieces if he failed the third time [to answer the Buddha].

Ashoka's Thirteenth Rock Edict, South Asia, 3rd Century BCE
Multiple Sites in South Asia, 3rd Century BCE

The Beloved of the Gods [Ashoka, a Mauryan emperor recently-converted to Buddhism] conciliates the forest tribes of his empire, but he warns them that he has power even in his remorse and he asks them to repent, lest they be killed. For the Beloved of the Gods wishes that all beings should he unharmed, self-controlled, calm in mind, and gentle.

Old Testament, II Chronicles 15: 10–14, Mesopotamia, ca. 400 BCE
Levant, ca. 900 BCE

They [Hebrews] assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa's reign. At that time they sacrificed to Yahweh [God] seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats from the plunder they had brought back. They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.All who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman.They took an oath to the Lord with loud acclamation, with shouting and with trumpets and horns.

Charlemagne, "Capitulary Concerning the Regions of Saxony," Northwestern Europe, 782 CE

If any one of the race of the Saxons hereafter concealed among them shall have wished to hide himself unbaptized, and shall have scorned to come to baptism and shall have wished to remain a pagan, let him be punished by death.

Qur'an, ("Repentance") Surah 9: 5, Late 7th Century-8th Century CE
Hijaz (Arabia), 630 CE

But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Severus ibn al-Muqaffa', History of the Patriarchs, Egypt, late 10th century CE
Egypt, 750 CE

Then [Umayyad caliph Marwan II] gave orders to his subjects, the natives of the land, saying: "If any of the people of Egypt refuse to enter into my religion, and to pray as I do, and to adopt my creed, I will slay him and impale his body. But whoever shall enter with me into my religion I will clothe with a robe of honour, and I will mount him upon a horse, and will place his name in my Divan, and make him rich." In consequence of these words he was soon followed by a thousand persons, who recited his prayer; and accordingly he gave to each one ten dinars [coins]. Then two thousand Muslims of Egypt joined him, besides those whom he had released from prison, and those who served him of the troops of the army of the empire.

Targeting Leaders11

     Because monarchs and chiefs were not shy about using their power to create new converts, universalist believers often chose them as missionary targets. State sponsorship of religion (when leaders required the conversion of their subjects) mattered immensely at certain times and places: with Ashoka, the South Asian Mauryan Empire, and Buddhism (to some degree) in the 3rd century BCE; Theodosius, the weakening Roman Empire, and Christianity in the 4th century CE; and the conversion of Seljuk, the Oghuz Turkish chieftain, and Islam in the 10th century CE. Powerful states not only actively enforced conversion, a leader's public conversion worked more gradually as well. As Ibn Khaldun, the Muslim scholar reported in 1377, "Allah has the power to command. In this light, one should understand the secret of the saying, 'The common people follow the religion of the ruler.' (This saying) belongs to the subject under discussion. The ruler dominates those under him. His subjects imitate him, because they see perfection in him, exactly as children imitate their parents, or students their teachers."12 (As we can see from the first source, this was not always true.)

Kakhun, Haedong Kosung-Chon (Lives of Eminent Monks), Korea, ca. 1215 CE
Korea, 372 CE

[Shundao] possessed great virtue, and was of an outstanding character. With a compassionate mind, he attempted to redeem the beings of this world. Having vowed to spread widely the teaching of Buddha, [he] traveled throughout China. … [During 372 CE] the monarch Fu-chien of Chin [a post-Han kingdom] dispatched an envoy and the monk Shundao with images of the Buddha and Buddhist scriptures [to the Korean court of the Kingdom of Koguryo]. With appropriate ceremony, the king Sosurim and his courtiers greeted [them] at the gate to the city. … Their thankfulness and happiness overflowed. … Gradually, in this way, the teachings of the Buddha began to spread like the fragrance of an orchid or the mist. However, as society was too unprepared and the people too simple-minded, the faith did not take root.

Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, late 6th century CE, France
France, ca. 500 CE

…Queen Clotilda [the wife of Frankish king Chlodweg or Clovis] wished to consecrate [the king] in baptism, she tried unceasingly to persuade her husband, saying: "The gods you worship are nothing, and they will be unable to help themselves or any one else. For they are graven out of stone or wood or some metal. …" … [T]he king was by no means moved to belief, and he said: "It was at the command of our gods that all things were created and came forth, and it is plain that your God has no power and, what is more, he is proven not to belong to the family of the gods." … The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni [another Germanic people], in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis's army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: "Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the living God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon [you, God], I desire to believe [you] only let me be rescued from my adversaries." And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis ….Then the queen asked saint Remi, bishop of Rheims, to summon Clovis secretly, urging him to introduce the king to the word of salvation. And the bishop sent for him secretly and began to urge him to believe in the true God, maker of heaven and earth, and to cease worshipping idols, which could help neither themselves nor any one else. But the king said: "I gladly hear you, most holy father; but there remains one thing: the people who follow me cannot endure to abandon their gods; but I shall go and speak to them according to your words." He met with his followers, but before he could speak the power of God anticipated him, and all the people cried out together:/ "O pious king, we reject our mortal gods, and we are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remi preaches."

Hikayat Raja Pasai (Chronicles of the Kings of Pasai), Insular Southeast Asia,
story recorded 1815
Sumatra (Southeast Asia), 15th century CE

In due course Shaikh Ismail's [a Muslim holy man responding to a prophecy made by Muhammad] ship arrived [in Sumatra]…. The next day Shaikh Ismail went ashore and made his way to the city to find Sultan Maiku'l-Saleh. He came into the presence of the Sultan and said 'Oh Sultan, recite the two statements of the profession of faith.' The Sultan then recited them, saying 'I testify that there is no god but God, alone with no companion, and I testify that Muhammad is His Servant and His Apostle.' … The next day the holy man came bringing thirty sections of the Qur'an … to the Sultan who accepted it with reverence. …

Then Shaikh Ismail ordered an assembly of the chiefs and the people great and small, old and young, male and female. When they were all together they were taught by Shaikh Ismail to recite the profession of faith. The whole population willingly recited the profession of faith, in all sincerity and with true belief in their hearts. Therefore the city of Semudera was given the name of Daru'l-Salam (abode of peace)…

War Magic (Empirical Religiosity I)13

     As can be seen in the example of Clovis above, one of the things that leaders desired from the supernatural world was assistance on the battlefield, and successes attributed to the Buddha, Jesus, or Allah won powerful converts. Generally speaking, religious practices were sought out by persons looking for tangible rewards: health, success, protection, or prosperity awarded by properly interacting with the supernatural world.14

Huijiao, Gaoseng Zhuan [Biographies of Eminent Monks], China, 530 CE
Huang He Basin (China), 310 CE

[In 310 CE, the monk Fotudeng] came to Luoyang [a major city in China, sometimes an imperial capital] with the purpose of spreading the Great Teaching [Buddhism]. He was proficient at intoning magic spells and could make the spirits his servants ... [seeing] events more than 1000 li distant [300 miles] ... as if he were face to face with them. … Fotudeng, out of his compassion for the people, wished to bring Shi Le [a Xiongnu warlord/governor] under the influence of Buddhism. [He began teaching one of Shi Le's generals, who, thanks to Fotudeng] always knew beforehand whether [a battle] would be a victory or a defeat. [When Shi Le learned of this] he summoned Fotudeng and enquired, "What miraculous efficacy does Buddhism have?" [Fotudeng] took his begging bowl, filled it with water, burned incense, and said a spell over it. In a moment there sprang up blue lotus flowers whose brightness and color dazzled the eyes. Shi Le was convinced by this, and Fotudeng admonished him [for executing prisoners]. Of those remaining who were to have been executed, eighty or ninety percent benefited from this. Thereupon almost all the barbarians [pastoralists] and Chinese in Jungzhou worshipped the Buddha.

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, Levant, 330s CE
Italy, 312 CE

Being convinced, however, that [Constantine] needed some more powerful aid than his military forces could afford him, on account of the wicked and magical enchantments which were so diligently practiced by the tyrant [Maxentius, who ruled Rome at the time], he sought Divine assistance, deeming the possession of arms and a numerous soldiery of secondary importance, but believing the cooperating power of Deity invincible and not to be shaken. He considered, therefore, on what God he might rely for protection and assistance. While engaged in this inquiry, the thought occurred to him that, of the many emperors who had preceded him, those who had rested their hopes in a multitude of gods, and served them with sacrifices and offerings, had in the first place been deceived by flattering predictions, and oracles which promised them all prosperity, and at last had met with an unhappy end, while not one of their gods had stood by to warn them of the impending wrath of heaven. While one alone who had pursued an entirely opposite course, who had condemned their error and honored the one Supreme God during his whole life, had found him to be the Savior and Protector of his empire, and the Giver of every good thing. … considering farther that those who had already taken arms against the tyrant, and had marched to the battle-field under the protection of a multitude of gods, had met with a dishonorable end (for one of them had shamefully retreated from the contest without a blow, and the other, being slain in the midst of his own troops, became, as it were, the mere sport of death). Reviewing, I say, all these considerations, he judged it to be folly indeed to join in the idle worship of those who were no gods, and, after such convincing evidence, to err from the truth; and therefore felt it incumbent on him to honor his father's [Christian] God alone. … The emperor constantly made use of [a banner with a cross and spear] as a safeguard against every adverse and hostile power and commanded that others similar to it should be carried at the head of all his armies.

Al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, Persia, Late 9th Century CE
Persia, 7th Century CE

It has been told by many men of learning: Siyah al-Uswari [a Persian general] was in command of the vanguard of Yazdajird. … When Siyah beheld the victories of Islam and the power of its people (for [the Persian city of] Susa fell and reinforcements kept coming to abu-Musa) he sent to the Moslem commander, saying, "Behold, we are desirous of entering with you into your religion on condition that we help you fight your [Persian] enemies … and that if we have war with the [heathen] Arabs, you will grant us help and defense against them; and that we be permitted to settle in whatever part of the country we please, and live among whichever of your tribes we choose; and that we receive the maximum stipend." [Later, Siyah admitted] "We entered into this religion from the very beginning only as a refuge, and in the hope that Allah was one who provides abundant sustenance."


     The grandeur of religious institutions was self-consciously used to awe potential converts, as one seventh-century Chinese Buddhist monk wrote, "There are three reasons to construct a pagoda [including] to persuade others to believe."16 There are alternate versions of the Russian Chronicle which claim that the prohibition of alcohol was why Russians rejected Islam.

Chen Shou, Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms), China, Late 3rd century CE Yangzi Basin (China), 193 CE

[While the Han dynasty was disintegrating, a warlord named Ze Rong was appointed to transport grain by a regional governor. Ze Rong appropriated many of the taxes and he] erected a large Buddhist temple. ... dressed in silk and brocade [and bronze] ... a building of several storeys ... which could contain more than three thousand people who all studied and read Buddhist scriptures. He ordered the Buddhist devotees from the region and from adjacent [counties] to listen and to accept the doctrine. Those people he exempted from other [corvee] labor duties in order to attract them. ... Whenever there was the ceremony of 'bathing the Buddha' [Ze] had always great quantities of wine and food set out for distribution, and mats were spread along the roads over a distance of several tens of li. Some ten thousand people came to enjoy the spectacle and the food.

"Capitulary Concerning the Regions of Saxony," Northwestern Europe, 782 CE

It was pleasing to all that the churches of Christ, which are now being built in Saxony and consecrated to God, should not have less, but greater and more illustrious honor, than the shrines of the idols had had.

Primary Russian Chronicle, Eastern Europe, ca. 1100
Dnieper Basin (Ukraine), 987 CE

Vladimir [the monarch of the state of Kiev] summoned together his vassals and the city elders, and said to them: "Behold, the Bulgars [Muslims] came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans and praised their own faith [Catholicism]; and after them came the Jews. Finally the Greeks [Byzantines] appeared, criticising all other faiths but commanding their own [Eastern Orthodox Christianity]… . [Elder Russians suggested sending emissaries to the homeland of each group of missionaries to examine each faith.]

… The envoys reported: "When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt [loosely, or disorderly, or literally unbelted]. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good.

"Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there.

"Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here." … Vladimir then inquired where they should all accept baptism, and they replied that the decision rested with him.

Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, North Africa, 1377 CE
Levant, ca. 637/691/701 CE

It should be known that Allah singled out some places of the earth for special honor. He made them the homes of His worship. (People who worship in them) receive a much greater reward and recompense (than people who worship elsewhere). God informed us about this situation through the tongues of His messengers and prophets, as an act of kindness to His servants and for the purpose of facilitating their ways to happiness. …

'Umar [the Umayyad caliph] was present at the conquest of Jerusalem, and he asked to see the Rock. The place was shown to him. It was piled high with dung and earth. He had it laid bare, and he built upon it a mosque in the Bedouin style. He gave it as much veneration as God allowed and as befitted its excellence, as preordained and established in the divine Qur'an. Al-Walid b. 'Abd-al-Malik later on devoted himself to constructing the Mosque of (the Rock) in the style of the Muslim mosques, as grandly as God wanted him to do it. He had done the same with the Mosque in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, as well as the Mosque of Damascus. The Arabs used to call (the Mosque of Damascus) the Nave (balat) of al-Walid. Al-Walid compelled the Byzantine Emperor to send workers and money for the building of these mosques, and they (the Byzantine artisans) were to embellish them with mosaics. The Byzantine Emperor complied, and the construction of the mosques was able to materialize according to plan.

Merchants As Missionaries (Empirical Religiosity II)17

      Since merchants (long-distance and regional traders) do their job by convincing people to purchase their wares, perhaps they are especially good evangelists. Selling things meant traders stuck around and chatted and socialized for a while. Merchant caravans also provided safety for non-commercial missionaries. Smaller communities also might have been convinced that merchants—and the faiths they practiced—were a connection to a greater, more civilized world.18 Merchants also looked very wealthy, considering all the high-value goods they transported, suggesting that worshiping in a similar fashion would bring wealth to a convert. Buddhist ceremonial demand for silk helped to encourage long-distance trade, incense was used in Christian religious ritual (and purportedly delivered to the baby Jesus), and do not forget that Muhammad himself was originally a merchant. Comparing maps of the major middle ages trade routes of Afro-Eurasia and successful conversions to the fifteenth century shows a substantial overlap of phenomena.

Xuanzang, Record of the Western Regions, China, 646 CE
5th century BCE, South Asia

In old days, when Buddha first attained enlightenment … he went to the garden of deer; at this time two [merchants] meeting him, and beholding the brilliant appearance of his person, offered him from their store of provisions for their journey some cakes and honey. The lord of the world, for their sakes, preached concerning the happiness of men and Devas [supernatural beings], and delivered to them, his very first disciples, the five rules of moral conduct [precepts] .… When they had heard the sermon, they humbly asked for some object to worship. On this [the Buddha] delivered to them some of his hair and nailcuttings. Taking these, the merchants were about to return to their own country, when they asked of Buddha the right way of venerating these relics. [He performed a ritual, and described the construction of] a stupa [container of relics]. The two men … each went to his own town, and then, according to the model which the holy one had prescribed, they prepared to build a monument, and thus was the very first stupa of the Buddhist religion erected.

Nestorian Chronicle from Saard, Mesopotamia, 11th Century CE
Southern Arabia (and Northeastern Africa), ca. 400 CE

In the land of Najran of Yemen there was, in the days of Jazdegerd, a tradesman, well-known in his country, whose name was Hayyan. He went to Constantinople on business and returned to his country. Then he planned to go to Persia and passed through al-Hira. There he frequented the society of the Christians and learned their religion. So he was baptized …. Then he returned to his country and exhorted the people to adopt his faith, and made his family Christians, as well as a number of the people in this part of the country. And certain persons attached themselves to him and aided him to convert to Christianity the people in the Land of the Himyarites and adjacent tracts of Abyssinia [Ethiopia].

Lisan al-Din ibn al-Khatib, Iberia, ca. 1350
West Africa, Mid-13th century

… his descendants [the Maqqari family]… became famous in trade. They established the desert route by digging wells and seeing to the security of merchants. … [the family] acquired properties and houses in [Walata in the Sahel], married wives, and begat children by concubines. The [brother in Morocco] would send to [the brother at Walata] the goods that the latter would indicate to him, and [he would send back] skins, ivory, nuts, and gold. … And so their wealth expanded and their status grew.

When [the Empire of Mali] conquered the region … [the brother at Walata] entered into relations with their king, who made him welcome and enabled him to trade in all his country, addressing him as a dear and sincere friend. Then the king began to correspond with [the Moroccan family. Soon] Their wealth knew no bounds and became more than could be counted…

"The Ancient History of Kilwa Kisiwani," East Africa, collected 19th century CE
Swahili Coast (East Africa), 12th century CE(?)

Of the original people who built Kisiwani [on Kilwa Island]… were the Mtakata [and]… the Maranga…. Then came Mrimba and his people…. He became the headman of Kisiwani.

Then there came Sultan Ali bin Selimani the Shirazi … the Persian. He came with his ship, and brought his goods and his children. One child was called Fatima…. They came with Musa bin Amrani the Bedouin [Arab]. They disembarked at Kilwa … went to the headman of the country, the Elder Mrimba, and asked for a place in which to settle at Kisiwani. This they obtained. And they gave Mrimba presents of trade goods and beads.

Sultan Ali married Mrimba's daughter [and asked her to tell her father to move to the mainland. He replied:]"Tell Sultan Ali, I am ready to go to the mainland, but he must spread out cloth for me all the way, so that I may walk on cloth as far as the mainland." … So [Ali] spread out cloth from Kisiwani to the opposite mainland, and Mrimba passed over it thither.

[When Mrimba changed his mind] Sultan Ali had the Qur'an read out as a spell and offered sacrifices so that Mrimba should not take the road to cross over and bring war. …

Sultan Ali had a child by Mrimba's daughter, a son, who was called Sultan Muhammad bin Sultan Ali. [When] he reached manhood, and then set off … to see his grandfather, the Elder Mrimba. When he arrived, his grandfather handed over his power to him, his grandson. So Sultan Muhammad ruled [on the African mainland].

State Breakdowns (Empirical Religiosity III)19

     While monarchical conversions were often vital to mass conversion, the collapse of states and the resultant loss of security often played a role in converting populations in the "cores." As we have already seen in some of the sources above, religious institutions and networks offered safety, in material and immaterial form, when the Han Dynasty fell, the Western Roman Empire began to crumble, and the Abbasids experienced a civil war.

Shi Baochang, Biqiuni Zhuan (The Lives of Nuns), China, ca. 516 CE
Huang He and Yangzi Basins (China), mid-5th century CE

Fa-sheng's secular surname was Nieh. Her family was originally from Ch'ing-ho [in north China, north of the Huang He River, but, during the fighting when the [non-Chinese] dynasty of Latter Chao (319350) was coming to power, the family fled south to Chin-ling [that is, to the southern capital, on the Yangzi River].

In the fourteenth year of the yüan-chia reign period (437) of the Sung, Fa-sheng, who was talented, intelligent, and very quick to understand everything, became a nun [at the age of seventy] in Establishing Blessings Convent in the capital city. She had sojourned there in her old age, but, even though once again the imperial capital was peaceful and prosperous, she still longed for her old home. Only by delving deep into the mysteries [of Buddhism] was she able to leave behind sorrow and forget old age.

Letter from Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, to Contantius, Italy, 379 CE

You have undertaken the office of a Bishop, and now, seated in the stern of the Church, you are steering it in the teeth of the waves. Hold fast the rudder of faith, that you may not be shaken by the heavy storms of this world [the Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire]. …

Let them [wealthy Romans] learn to seek the wealth of good wishes, and to be rich in holiness; the beauty of wealth consists not in the possession of money-bags, but in the maintenance of the poor. It is in the sick and needy that riches shine most. … let the wealthy learn to seek not their own things, but the things of Jesus Christ, that Christ also may seek them, and recompense to them what is their own. … His kingdom.

Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, North Africa, 1377 CE
Mesopotamia, 817 CE (201 AH)

Trouble broke out in Baghdad. The troublesome elements among the underworld and the soldiery were given a free hand against the decent citizens. They robbed the people and filled their pockets with loot, which they sold openly in the markets. The inhabitants turned for protection to the authorities, but these did not help them. The religious and good citizens, thereupon, united in order to stop the criminals and to put an end to their misdeeds. At that moment, a man named Khalid ad-Daryush appeared in Baghdad. He appealed to the people to obey the law. Many responded to his call. They fought the troublesome elements and defeated them. Khalid had them beaten and punished. After him, there appeared another man from among the populace of Baghdad, by name Abu Hatim Sahl b. Salamah al-Ansari. He hung a copy of the Qur'an around his neck, and appealed to the people to obey the law and to act in accordance with the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. High and low, Hashimites and others, all followed him. He established himself in the palace of Tahir and took over the government office(s). He went about Baghdad, kept out all those who were frightening wayfarers, and put an end to the payment of protection money to the [organized criminals]. When Khalid al-Daryush said to him that he (Khalid) was not against the government, Sahl replied that he (for his part) was fighting all those who acted contrary to the Qur'an and the Sunnah, whoever they might be.

Healing (Empirical Religiosity IV)20

     Stories about the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad all recounted the founders' miraculous powers of healing. Universalist evangelists spread stories of more humble miracle-working missionaries, but also stored magical healing relics at central locations (in stupas and reliquaries built for those purposes), including the teeth of the Buddha, splinters of the cross and the milk of Mary, and hair from Muhammad's beard or the robe of 'Ali, not to mention the remains of lesser Bodhisattvas, saints, and pirs. (This was less common in Islamic practice.) Potential converts made pilgrimages to heal themselves, and on certain sites institutions of convalescence and even what might be considered early hospitals were constructed. For instance, Buddhist prince Xiao Ziliang (late fifth century CE, Southern Qi Dynasty of China), probably founded "the first permanent hospice with a dispensary."21

Huijiao, Gaoseng Zhuan [Biographies of Eminent Monks], China, 530 CE
Huang He Basin (China), 310 CE

At this time there was a chronic illness which no one was able to cure. When Fotudeng treated the disease, it was immediately cured. ... Shi He [nephew of Shi Le] had a son named Pin [who] was unexpectedly taken ill and died. ... Fotudeng, then took his toothpick and said a spell over it. In a moment Pin was able to get up and in a little while had fully recovered. As a result of this Shi Le had most of his young sons brought up in a Buddhist temple.

Kharosthi Tablets, Inner Eurasia, ca. 300 CE

Whoever performs the bathing of the Ganottama[most excellent of teachers, i.e., The Buddha] becomes pure in the eyes, bright, pure in the limbs, tender and of good complexion. Whoever performs the bathing of the Ganottama does not have boils and pimples, elephantiasis, … or the itch. Pure, he acquires a sweet-smelling body. Whoever performs the bathing of the Ganottama becomes big-eyed and bright, golden-limbed and of pleasing aspect, and sets off [?]. A gift in this matter is the best, the most excellent of gifts. In the works connected with baths it is an example of action. Let there be honour to the Jinas, the Tathagatas who take delight in the good of beings, and vision of supreme truth. Let there also be honour to those who exist in themselves, the pratyeka buddhas who have sought solitude, who take delight alone in the mountain caves, devoted to their own aims, delighted in continence and virtue. Also let the disciples, those dear to the Jina who have passed by in this interval of time, be honoured, of whom he from the Kodinya family was first and Subhadra the last. Let those (who make) gifts on this point enjoy (the reward even) when the chief king of Ganas, the Elders, the middle, and younger monks have not arrived, and when they have arrived, let them be perpetually enlightened. May the monks who are assembled in this gathering, who bathe in the jamdaka-baths and honour and love their teachers, be pure in their current duties, with minds free from hatred (or fault). In this (matter of) baths let both he who provides material for removing dirt, he who provides oil for rubbing, and he who provides a dry bath, be free from fault and impurity. I am devoted to the Vihara, to the law of the Tathagata and his excellent virtue; as a result of removing dirt, let their minds be calm, and let them undertake the lawful protection of men. All creatures that exist from the bottom of Hell up to the summit of being, on entering the doctrine of the Tathagatas, make an end of birth and death. Let there always be good begging and plenty; let Indra the lord of sacrifice rain increase; let the crops come up and the king (go forth) to victory. May he long abide in the law of the Blessed One.

Bede, The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Northumbria (England) ca. 730 CE
Isle of Britain, 7th Century CE


But the venerable Bishop Cuthbert effected a cure similar to this, of which there were many eye-witnesses, one of whom is the religious priest, Ethelwald, at that time attendant on the man of God, but now abbot of the monastery of Melrose. Whilst, according to his custom, he was travelling and teaching all, he arrived at a certain village, in which were a few holy women, who had fled from their monastery through fear of the barbarian army, and had there obtained a habitation from the man of God a short time before: one of whom, a sister of the above-mentioned priest, Ethelwald, was confined with a most grievous sickness; for during a whole year she had been troubled with an intolerable pain in the head and side, which the physicians utterly despaired of curing. But when they told the man of God about her, and entreated him to cure her, he in pity anointed the wretched woman with holy oil. From that time she began to get better, and was well in a few days.

Jerome, Letter to Oceanus (Letter #77: Fabiola's Eulogy), 399 CE,
ca. 395 CE, Rome

In the day of prosperity [Fabiola, an aristocratic Christian] was not forgetful of affliction…. Instead therefore of re-embarking on her old life, she … sold all that she could … turning [her property] into money she laid out this for the benefit of the poor. She was the first person to found a hospital [in Rome], into which she might gather sufferers out of the streets, and where she might nurse the unfortunate victims of sickness and want. Need I now recount the various ailments of human beings? Need I speak of noses slit, eyes put out, feet half burnt, hands covered with sores? Or of limbs dropsical and atrophied? Or of diseased flesh alive with worms? Often did she carry on her own shoulders persons infected with jaundice or with filth. Often too did she wash away the matter discharged from wounds which others….

Benjamin of Tudela, Itinerary, Mesopotamia 1160 CE

[Caliph Emir al Muminin al Abbasi] built, on the other side of the river, on the banks of an arm of the Euphrates which there borders the city, a hospital consisting of blocks of houses and hospices for the sick poor who come to be healed. Here there are about sixty physicians' stores which are provided from the Caliph's house with drugs and whatever else may be required. Every sick man who comes is maintained at the Caliph's expense and is medically treated. Here is a building which is called Dar-al-Maristan, where they keep charge of the demented people who have become insane in the towns through the great heat in the summer and they chain each of them in iron chains until their reason becomes restored to them in the winter-time. Whilst they abide there, they are provided with food from the house of the Caliph, and when their reason is restored they are dismissed and each one of them goes to his house and his home. Money is given to those that have stayed in the hospices on their return to their homes. Every month the officers of the Caliph inquire and investigate whether they have regained their reason, in which case they are discharged. All this the Caliph does out of charity to those that come to the city of Bagdad, whether they be sick or insane. The Caliph is a righteous man, and all his actions are for good.

Siyar al-'arifin (Sufi Biographies) Bengal, ca. 1530 CE
Bengal (South Asia), ca. 1240 CE

[Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Tabrizi] went to Bengal [and] all the population came to him and became his disciples. There he built a hospice and a public kitchen, and bought several gardens and lands as an endowment for the kitchen. These increased. There was also there a [river] port called Deva Mahal, where an infidel had built a temple at great cost. The shaikh [Jalal] destroyed the temple and in its place constructed a [Sufi] rest-house. There he made many infidels into Muslims.

Weather Control (Empirical Religiosity V)22

     Other miraculous forms of intervention included the alleviation of drought.

Huijiao, Gaoseng Zhuan [Biographies of Eminent Monks], China, 530 CE
Huang He Basin (China), 310 CE

The source of the water for ... the city of Xiangguo ... suddenly dried up. ... Fotudeng sat down ... burned Parthian [Persian] incense, chanted an invocation of several hundred words. When he had done like this for three days, water seeped out a few drops at a time. ... In a little while the water came in abundance….

Shi He ordered Futodeng [to go to a land affected by drought]. Straightaway two white dragons descended ... there was a heavy rain over an area several thousand li square, and that year there was a great harvest.

St. Cyprian, The Life of St. Caesarius of Arles, France, 6th century CE
France, ca. 500 CE

When … Caesarius [returned to Arles] the Lord bestowed a most plentiful rain on the ground, suffering from a very long drought.

Abu 'Ubayd 'Abd Allah bin 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Bakri, Kitab al-Masalik wa-al-Mamalik (Book of Roads and Kingdoms), Iberia, ca. 1068 CE
Niger Basin (West Africa), early 11th century CE?

[Eight days' march beyond the south bank of the Niger River lies a country] called Malal, the king of which is known as 'The Muslim.' He is thus called because his country became afflicted with drought one year following another; the inhabitants prayed for rain, sacrificing cattle until they had exterminated almost all of them, but the drought and the misery only increased. The king had as his guest a Muslim who used to read the Koran … To this man the king complained of the calamities …. The man said: 'O King, if you believed in God and if you accepted all the religious laws of Islam, I would pray for your deliverance from your plight and that God's mercy would envelop the people of your country …'. Thus he continued to press the king until the latter accepted Islam and became a sincere Muslim. …[After several ceremonies] they prayed for a mart of the night, the Muslim reciting invocations and the king saying, 'Amen.' The dawn had just started to break when God caused abundant rain to descend upon them. So the king ordered the idols to be broken and expelled the sorcerers from his country. He and his descendants after him as well as his nobles were sincerely attached to Islam, while the common people of his kingdom remained polytheists.


     Although elites were often the targets of universalist evangelism, and Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic societies in the middle ages were certainly hierarchical (not to mention the religious institutions themselves), parts of scripture and certain rituals held egalitarian messages. Even if scholars are now skeptical of how often this produced converts from the lower classes, certainly some sources indicate success for this promise in a stratified world, in many cases for women.24

Sutra Nipata, South Asia, 1st century BCE or later
Ganges Basin (South Asia), 5th century BCE

No Brahman is such by birth.
No outcaste is such by birth.
An outcaste is such by his deeds.
A brahman is such by his deeds.

Shi Baochang, Biqiuni Zhuan (The Lives of Nuns), China, ca. 516 CE
Sichuan (Western China), mid-5th century CE

When she was a child T'an-hui delighted in the thought of practicing the [Buddhist] religion, but her parents would not permit it. …, when the foreign master of meditation Kālayashas entered the region … to propagate the practice of meditation and contemplation, T'an-hui, eleven years old at the time, asked her mother to invite the master of meditation to visit them, for she wished to consult him about methods of meditation. Her mother agreed to do so. The moment Kālayashas saw T'an-hui he marveled at her natural propensity and ordered her to cultivate the practice of meditation and also requested the nun Fa-yü to keep her under supervision. T'an-hui's mother, however, had already arranged her betrothal to the son of T'an-hui's paternal aunt. Because the day for the marriage had been set and was not to be changed, the nun Fa-yü took her in secret to the convent.

T'an-hui made a solemn vow, saying, "If I cannot carry out my intentions to lead the religious life but instead am compelled to marry, then I shall burn myself to death." When the governor, Chen Fa-ch'ung, heard about this he sent an envoy to summon T'an-hui. He gathered together greater and lesser officials, as well as other prominent individuals, and then requested all the monks and nuns to investigate the difficult problem thoroughly.

Chen Fa-ch'ung asked, "Are you truly able to lead the life of a Buddhist nun or not?"

T'an-hui replied, "It has been my humble wish for a long time, and I especially beg your help in my distress."

Chen Fa-ch'ung said, "I approve," and he sent an envoy to consult with her aunt, who then obeyed his instructions and released T'an-hui from her betrothal.

New Testament, (Gospel of) John 2: 1–4, Levant, ca. 90 CE

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Origen, Against Celsus, Levant, ca. 248 CE
Mediterranean Basin, ca. 178 CE

We see, indeed, in private houses [early Christian] workers in wool and leather, and fullers, and persons of the most uninstructed and rustic [rural] character, not venturing to utter a word in the presence of their elders and wiser masters; but when they get hold of the children privately, and certain women as ignorant as themselves, they pour forth wonderful statements, to the effect that [the children and women] ought not to give heed to their father and to their teachers, but should obey [the Christians]; ... that [Christians] alone know how men ought to live, and that, if the children obey them, they will both be happy themselves, and will make their home happy also. ... that if [the women and children] wish (to avail themselves of [Christian] aid,) they must leave their father and their instructors, and go with the women and their playfellows to the women's apartments, or to the leather shop, or to the fuller's shop, that they may attain to perfection;—and by words like these they gain them over. ... those [Christian] individuals, who in the market-places perform the most disgraceful tricks, and who gather crowds around them, would never approach an assembly of wise men, nor dare to exhibit their arts among them; but wherever they see young men, and a mob of slaves, and a gathering of unintelligent persons, thither they thrust themselves in, and show themselves off [i.e., preach].

Qur'an, ("Women") Surah 4: 7, Late 7th Century-8th Century CE
Hijaz (Arabia), 630 CE

Men shall have a portion of what their parents and near relatives leave; and women shall have a portion of what their parents and their near relatives leave.

Hadith narrated by 'Aisha, collected 9th Century CE?
Hijaz (Arabia), 7th Century CE

The Prophet [Muhammad] said, "He who cultivates land that does not belong to anybody is more rightful (to own it)." 'Urwa said, "Umar gave the same verdict in his Caliphate [Islamic state/kingdom]."

Al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, Persia, Late 9th Century CE
Levant, 857 CE (243 AH)

In [Syria], so many pieces of land [owned by Christian nobility, who persisted and even thrived following the Muslim armies' conquests] were exempt from the tithe that the total income of tithes was diminished to such an extent that it could not meet expenses. By al-Mutawakil's orders, therefore, all these exemptions were … abolished.


     Although in every case universalist believers argued often and intensely over orthodoxy and orthopraxy (proper beliefs and practices), the actual process of conversion often included cultural accommodationism. In other words, dogmas previously believed or actions previously practiced as parts of "pagan" worship, were allowed to new converts. Historically these absorptions and mixings helped to change Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim practices as a whole. For instance, in Japan local deities (kami) were newly explained as manifestations of Buddhas—or were themselves converts to Buddhism; the ritual sacrifice and parade around Rome and its farms to appease the local harvest deity Robigus became a processional for the Pope and cardinals; the target of Islamic prayer, the Ka'aba, was a pagan shrine rededicated by Muhammad. The following styles of syncretism do not mean that universalists did not often destroy the temples of competing religions.

Nihon Shoji, Japan, 8th Century CE
Japan, 6th Century CE

The emperor [Yomei] believed in the teachings of the Buddha and revered Shinto (or kami no michi).

Bede, The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, Northumbria (England) ca. 730 CE
Isle of Britain, 610 CE


[U]pon mature deliberation on the affair of the English, determined upon, viz., that the temples of the idols in that nation [worshipped by the "English"] ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let holy water be made and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they have been used to slaughter many oxen in the sacrifices to devils, some solemnity must be exchanged for them on this account, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they may build themselves huts of the boughs of trees, about those churches which have been turned to that use from temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer beasts to the Devil, but kill cattle to the praise of God in their eating, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their sustenance; to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to efface [remove] everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, in his own worship; so as to command them in his sacrifice to kill beasts, to the end that, changing their hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; that whilst they offered the same beasts which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. …

Amir Khusrau, Khaza'in al-Futuh (Treasury of Victories), South Asia, ca. 1310

Then they made the idol-house of Somnat prostrate itself towards the exalted Ka'ba [in Mecca]…['Ala al-Din Khalji] his high ambition prompted him that he might build a replica of the lofty minaret of the mosque (Qutub Minar) which is unique in the world and might impart thereby a loftiness to the dome of the sky which could not be surpassed. He first ordered that the courtyard of the mosque be enlarged as afar as possible …. Wherever a tipple had girt up its loins for the worship of an idol, the tongue of the pick-axes with an elegant discourse dug out the foundation of unbelief from its heart, so that the temple at once prostrated itself in gratefulness. The stone slabs which had on them inscriptions of long standing villainy made by the teachers of the angels….

Michael McInneshin has been teaching collegiate world history for over a decade. He may be contacted at


1 Michael C. Weber, "Teaching Religion in the World History Class," World History Connected 4.1 (November 2006) <>.

2 L. Rambo and C. Farhadian, "Introduction," The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion (Oxford University Press: 2014), 8.

3 Rambo and Farhadian, "Introduction," 7.

4 Jerry Bentley, Old World Encounters (Oxford University Press: 1993), 9.

5 Marc David Baer, "History and Religious Conversion," in L. Rambo and C. Farhadian, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion (Oxford University Press: 2014), 25.

6 Baer, 25.

7 Richard Bulliet, "Conversion Stories in Early Islam," in M. Gervers and J. Bikhazi, eds., Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands Eight to Eighteenth Centuries (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies: 1990), 127.

8 My thanks for this concordance to Ane Lintvedt, Chair, History Department, President, Mid-Atlantic World History Association, McDonogh School, Owings Mill, Maryland.

9 Document Sources: Hendrik Kern, trans., Saddharma Pundarika or the Lotus of the True Law, Sacred Books of the East XXI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884), 44041; Kathryn Tsai, Lives of Nuns (University of Hawai'i Press: 1994), 23 <
>; New Testament, New International Version, Matthew 28:1820; St. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, trans. L.C. Jane (Cosimo: 2007 [1910]), 300; Qur'an, trans.Yusuf Ali, Surah 16: 125126; Farid al-Din Attar, Tadhkirat al-Auliya' (Memorial of the Saints), trans. A. J. Arberry (Penguin: 1990), 302.

10 Document Sources: Lord Chalmers, trans., Further Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. 1 (Oxford University Press: 1926), 16566; V.S. Dhammika, trans., The Edicts of King Ashoka (Buddhist Publication Society: 1993); Old Testament, New International Version, II Chronicles 15: 1014; A. Boretius no. 26, trans. D.C. Munro, Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History vol. 6.5 (University of Pennsylvania Department of History: 1900), 2; Qur'an, trans. Ali, Surah 9:5; Severus ibn al-Muqaffa', History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, trans. B.T.A. Evetts, Patriologia Orientalis 5 (Firmin-Didot: 1910), 15859.

11 Document Sources: J. Grayson, Myths and Legends from Korea (Routledge: 2012), pp 18990; Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, trans. Ernest Brehaut, Records of Civilization 2, (Columbia University Press: 1916); R. Jones, "Ten Conversion Myths from Indonesia," Conversion to Islam, N. Levtzion, ed. (Holmes & Meier: 1979), 13335.

12 Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah 2.22, trans. Franz Rosenthal, <>.

13 Document Sources: Arthur Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng: A Biography," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 11 (1948), 32171; Eusebius Pamphilus, The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine (Samuel Bagster and Sons: 1845), 2529; Ahmad bin Yahya bin Jabir al-Baladhuri, Kitab Futuh al-Buldan vol. 2, trans. F.C. Murgotten (Longmans: 1924), 1056.

14 Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion (Henry Holt: 1997), 6.

15 Document Sources: Chen Shou, Sanguozhi, cited in Erik Zürcher, The Buddhist Conquest of China (Brill: 1972 [1959]), 28; Boretius, Translations, 2; Povest' Vremennykh Let, <>; Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah 4.6 <>.

16 Daoshi, Fayuan Zhulin, cited in E.Y. Wang, Shaping the Lotus Sutra (University of Washington Press: 2005), n436.

17 Document Sources: Xuanzang, Record of the Western Regions, trans. Samuel Beal, (Trubner & Co.: 1884), 4748 <>; Axel Moberg, trans., The Book of the Himyarites (Oxford University Press: 1924), xlixl; Lisan al-Din ibn al-Khatib, Medieval West Africa, eds. N. Levtzion and J. Spaulding (Markus Wiener: 2003), 4849; G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, ed., The East African Coast: select documents (Clarendon Press: 1962), 221.

18 Richard Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road (St. Martin's: 1999), 12.

19 Document Sources: Tsai, Lives of Nuns, 38 <
>; The Letters of S. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (James Parker and Co.: 1881), 514 <>; Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah 3.6 <>.

20 Document Sources: Arthur Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng"; T. Burrow, trans., A Translation of the Kharosthi Documents from Chinese Turkestan (The Royal Asiatic Society: 1940) 1001 <>; Bede, Ecclesiastical History, 328; The Letters of St. Jerome <>; M.N. Adler, trans., The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (Oxford University Press: 1907), 378; Richard Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 12041760 (California University Press: 1993), 73.

21 Nathan Sivin, ed., Medicine, vol. VI.6 of Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge University Press: 2000), 54.

22 Document Sources: Arthur Wright, "Fo-t'u-teng"; J.N. Hillgarth, ed., Christianity and Paganism, 350750: The Conversion of Western Europe (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1985), 37; Levtzion and Spaulding, Medieval West Africa, 1819.

23 Document Sources: Ainslee Embree, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 1 (Penguin: 1992), 139; Tsai, Lives of Nuns, 92 <
>; New Testament, New International Version, James 2: 14; Kevin Kaatz, Voices of Early Christianity (ABC-CLIO: 2013), 183; Kaitlyn Chick, ed., Islamic Hadith (Hamlet Publishing: 2013); Qur'an Surah 4: 7; Baladhuri, Futuh al-Buldan, vol. 1, 265.

24 See B.G. Gokhale, "The Early Buddhist Elite," Journal of Indian History 42.2 (1965), 391402; M.R. Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy (Harvard University Press: 2002); and Eaton, Rise of Islam.

25 Document Sources: K. Toshio, J.C. Dobbins, and S. Gay, "Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion," Journal of Japanese Studies 7.1 (1981), 4; Bede, Ecclesiastical History; Amir Khusrau, Khaza'in al-Futuh (Treasury of Victories), M.W. Mirza, trans. (National Committee: 1975).

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