Too often, ancient persons have been seen as uncritically religious. From such perspective, leaving religion in Antiquity is deemed to be a theme of no importance. In this chapter, the notion that more or less everyone in Antiquity were religious is challenged. We first try to understand how such a perspective has evolved. After a reflection of recent trends in the sociology of religions, the need of rethinking the above-mentioned perspective is argued for. As a case study, Euripides’s drama Heracles is discussed. We suggest that the study of this drama and of other important texts and artifacts might prosper from a new look in which leaving religion is a reasonable perspective among others hitherto established ones.
As this handbook sets out to explore, the question of leaving a religious tradition is a common question and a potential problem within all religious traditions in both past and present. To draw up a line between insiders and outsiders and to argue that one’s interpretation of the religious tradition is right and that one’s opponents are wrong (for example by calling the other group heretics, or apostates) is therefore a general pattern that is found in all social formations that make use of a religious vocabulary. The handbook on leaving religion consists of three sections covering: (1) Major debates about leaving religion; (2) Case studies and empirical insights; and, finally, (3) Theoretical and methodological approaches.
This chapter examines the decline of Roman Catholic practice, belief and affiliation in Ireland, a country long considered Western Europe’s secularisation outlier. Existing literature demonstrates that changes in social expectations led to a collapse in devout, embodied religiosity in favour of laissez faire “cultural Catholicism.” At the same time, the Church retains significant institutional influence. A series of scandals has acted as a lightning rod for the tensions implicit in this situation, morally contaminating the Church and enabling discourse around the rectitude of Catholic affiliation. Together, these contribute to morally charged secularism focussed on severing the default link between Irish ethnic and religious identity to erode lingering Church influence. Against this background, Irish ex-Catholics do not simply leave the Church; many also depict themselves as repudiating “inauthentic” cultural Catholicism which irresponsibly supports the status quo.
This chapter review studies on leaving the Amish since the 1980s and argues that as Amish communities themselves have become more heterogeneous, the ways of leaving have become equally diverse. Early academic studies of departure from the Amish focused on describing the cultural logic and functions of rumspringa, baptism, excommunication and shunning and on establishing the predictors of apostasy. More recent studies have tried to clarify the motivations for and the process of leaving and to relate the different experiences of leaving to baptismal status, affiliation, and gender. While central themes can be identified as running through many Amish experiences of leaving, there is no one path or master narrative that captures the former Amish experience.
This chapter examines narratives of Burmese Buddhists who have left the “traditional” Theravāda Buddhism in Burma, into which they were born, for the teachings – stamped “heretical” and illegal by the state – of a dissident Buddhist monk, Ashin Nyāna. His teaching is claimed to represent the Buddha’s original doctrine, in contrast to the allegedly later and corrupt Theravāda Buddhism. Based on fieldwork in Myanmar, the aim of this chapter is to – using various theoretical and analytical frameworks – investigate interlinked deconversion and conversion narratives of my informants divided into three different groups, based on their attitudes (secular, devotional, or spiritual seekers) and the kind of Buddhist practice in which they were mainly engaged before converting.
This chapter examines the disaffiliation narratives of former members of Goenka’s Vipassana meditation. It adopts a linguistic approach to conversion/deconversion and presents the findings in light of the linguistic and institutional features of the movement. It considers “self-doubt,” in one’s ability to progress towards enlightenment, as a common theme in all disaffiliation narratives and explores two disaffiliation trajectories based on how former members resolved their doubts, plotted their narratives, and articulated their current self-concepts: (1) “drifters in samsara,” and (2) “pursuers of the gateless gate.” Finally, the chapter examines deconversion as a relatively rare pattern of exit from this movement.
Long research traditions exist behind both the theorization of the relationship between religion and media and that of the conversion to and renunciation of religion. For some reason, however, these two traditions have rarely overlapped. Neither in the study of leaving religion nor in that of religious conversion has there been a focus on the role of media. While media cannot be said to be the main reason behind or motivation for renouncing any given religion, it is nevertheless crucial not to discount its role in facilitating the leaving of religion and maintaining the apostate’s new identity. As research focusing primarily on the significance of the role played by media in one’s decision to leave religion is scarce, the main aim of this chapter is to provide some tools for thinking about the relevance of media and communication to leaving religion. Most of the views presented here apply primarily to countries with relatively free and uncensored media and access to online media.
This chapter discusses the implications of the study of narratives for our understanding of leaving religion. Two broad approaches are considered and reviewed, the positivist and the discursive. In the former, narrative is studied to reveal underlying social factors that bring about the phenomenon in question. In the latter, analysis focuses on the language and conventions of the narrative itself, seeking to understand how these shape and indeed constitute experiences of leaving religion. In closing, an expansion of the discursive approach is advocated along pragmatic lines. When possible, studying the performance of the narrative can enhance our understanding of how experience and narrative become intertwined in the process of leaving religion.
Drawing on data and surveys of atheists located primarily in the state of Illinois in the US, we offer insights into both the beliefs of those who have left religions in general – in our particular case, atheists – and explore how confident atheists are that they have made the correct decision. We explore how dogmatic atheists are with their new beliefs and address the questions: Are atheists open to the possibility that they are wrong? Are atheists likely to change their minds? We find that some atheists are open to the possibility that they are wrong and changing their minds.
Psychological research has offered various explanations as to why individuals leave, disavow, or never become affiliated with organised religion. Contributing factors include cognitive, social-emotional, biological, and the extent to which people pursue meaning as it relates to their state of well-being. The scientific study of unbelief is still in its formative stages, so there are important limitations to these theories and respective methodologies. In particular, theories that explain unbelief often start with a default position based on the study of religion, instead of studying unbelief in its own right. The history of these perspectives is provided and future directions are proposed.