Research shines light on converts

08 April 2016

iSTOCK

MOST people who convert to a new religion do so after experiencing a “light bulb” moment, research by Leeds Beckett University suggests.

The study was small — 118 people were surveyed — but it was conducted worldwide, and included those switching to atheism, agnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and paganism. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 80.

The light-bulb experience, for two-thirds of those surveyed, consisted of a time in which converting felt “like the right thing to do”. But this change also took place after a considerable period of reading about the chosen belief system, and becoming more acquainted with what it entailed.

Other positive reasons for switching included “talking to a learned person about the chosen belief system, or attending a congregation event with like-minded people.” But almost half (44 per cent) of those who took part said that they had made the change because they were turned off by the views or actions of people who belonged to the religion or spiritual tradition that they had originally been a part of.

Participants also revealed that switching spiritual traditions can be a cause of stress. Some 45 per cent felt anxious about telling other people about their conversion, and 40 per cent had similar feelings about having to hide their beliefs. A third felt that switching had been a sacrifice, which was connected to their feeling socially isolated.

Despite these challenges, most respondents believed that their conversion had benefited them.

“One intriguing finding is that the more often and intensely a person draws on their new belief system, the better their level of well-being is,” the principal of Leeds Beckett University, Dr Glen Williams, who led the survey, said. “This is particularly true in relation to an individual’s ability to derive a sense of purpose in life and feeling better able to cope. It really does seem as if being fully immersed in a spiritually or religiously focused belief-system is pivotal for the well-being of the particular group of people we have surveyed.”

The researchers are hoping to extend the survey. Participants should identify as having changed religious or spiritual beliefs from that of their upbringing (including conversions to, or from, atheism and agnosticism). To take part, visit: http://tinyurl.com/ReligiousConvertsExtn.

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