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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.19

Between Religion and Morality: Cases of Conversion to Christianity in Austrian Borderlands


  • Dr. Dong JU KIM

Primary authors


During the refugee crisis in Europe since 2014, refugee's conversion to Christianity has been highlighted by the media and often considered in a negative light, especially in political contexts. Religious conversion is seen as an instrumental strategy to be granted asylum or to maintain refugee status and prevent deportation. This paper examines the underlying assumptions about morality, rationality, and personhood in this negative viewpoint and tries to understand the actual process of conversion, which involves various actors besides the individual who converts. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with different groups of refugees, activists and volunteers of church organizations, and church members in Burgenland, Austria, I shall explore the multi-layered meaning of Christian morality in humanitarian responses to the refugee crisis. From a perspective that highlights communication and translation across languages and religions, I view conversion as a process of mutual persuasion, and trace the way towards a common moral ground between volunteers and non-Christian refugees. More specifically, I will utilize a semiotic model of indexicality, voice, and language to understand conversion as an intersubjective process taking place simultaneously with continuous moral self-formation, in which language-learning and translation play pivotal roles in both everyday speech and religious speech. I shall further explore these implications of moral language and self-formation within the context of the refugee’s expansion of social relationships, participation in local communities, and perception of the idea of Europe in terms of religion.