On 18 December, 2019, Tomsk state University hosted the “Converts to religion: the problem of fanaticism and methods of work with neophytes” round-table. The event was organized by the staff of the Philosophy and History departments of Tomsk State University together with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute.
The discussion was attended by employees of Tomsk universities, representatives of religious organizations and movements, as well as students of different specialties engaged in the study of ethnic and religious issues, as well as interreligious and interethnic relations.
The meeting began with a speech by Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology and DOC RI Associated Expert Roman Bykov, who moderated the meeting. He outlined the format of the work, described the main problems and important issues for discussion on the problems of converts. He spoke about the understanding of the neophyte syndrome in Christian traditions, described such negative manifestations as the presence of a subjective interpretation of dogma for one’s own purposes, growth of pride, aggression, blind faith and willingness to prove one’s own position, dualist perception of the world, conflict with society. Nevertheless, Bykov noted the presence of positive components in the process of Church formation of a newcomer. The neophyte sincerely tries to answer important philosophical and metaphysical questions, seeks community and mentoring, which later helps him to find himself in the religious realm, solve certain problems that may lie at the basis of the search, actively socializes, devotes himself to education and practices.
Representatives of neo-orientalist movements said that they teach their followers ethics, moral principles, qualities and only then give knowledge that then falls on the proper basis. If this happens in reverse, the person replaces his life with an abstract ideal, puts it first, losing common sense, which leads to fanaticism, the destruction of relationships with his neighbors and other problems. The representative of Buddhism said that in their tradition there are no ideas “to save by force”, there is instead an example of a better life and readiness to help the person who is sincerely interested in this faith and asks questions.
Father Michael, a representative of the Roman Catholic Church, noted the importance of thorough preparation for the spiritual life which in his case lasts at least for two years. In other countries, this period may be different, for example, four years in Congo and one year in the United States. The neophyte must necessarily be led by a mentor.
Protestants of different types said that missionary work is exactly what Jesus Christ commanded. Accordingly, if a child knows from his early years that he would start preaching some day in the future, his activities are conscious, he is prepared and serious in his intentions to demonstrate the principles of the doctrine by his own example. In general, a person cannot be saved if he or she does not really feel need for it and neophytes must understand this truth.
Representatives of other religious organizations noted that among neophytes there is a need to emphasize the importance of their religion and their identity, which often indicates the weakness of their own faith. They may not see the real goal and often can not engage in a dialogue, being ready to conflict and dividing the world into sects instead, as superficial knowledge kills love and acceptance of the diversity of the world. Fanaticism itself leads to the fact that a person, without solving his or her real problems, gets acquainted with the religious tradition and starts to simplify reality by , for example, devaluating the importance of health, financial stability, losing interest in personal growth.
Chairman of the Union of Dagestan peoples of Tomsk region Afsaladdin Akhmedov noted the importance of working with newcomers, taking care of them. “There is no negativity from a real Muslim,” the speaker stressed, and no one has the right to put himself above others, because “this is a direct road to hell.” Problems often arise not because of external reasons, but rather from misunderstanding within the Ummah, when Muslim themselves are at odds with each other, show that they understand Islam better than others, and do not see the importance of dialogue with other traditions.
At the end of the meeting, the neophyte was compared to a child who is curious and full of energy, able to learn quickly, but needs support during first steps. In conclusion, the results of the Tomsk Dialogue Project in 2019 were summed up. Proposals were made to expand the range of participants, conduct an intercultural festival and joint projects on social services in the city.
In 2020, DOC RI is planning to continue the project.