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.
Sociological approaches on leaving religion has been part of the more general studies about secularisation and modernity since the late 1960s, where focus was on understanding the decline of religion and religious change in primarily Western societies. In this chapter Enstedt goes through sociological research on leaving religion, apostasy and deconversion from the 1960s and onwards. Research on “cults” and the so called brainwashing-hypothesis, age and gender, reasons to why, and how, one leave religion, as well as the consequences, are issues that are addressed in the chapter. In line with some recent studies, Enstedt suggests that future studies on leaving religion should shift its focus from the religious belief aspect of apostasy, to instead consider perspectives on embodiment, religious practice and materiality (for instance on clothing, and food).
This chapter provides an overview of the opportunities and challenges of using statistical methods to study religious disengagement. By exploring methodological literature and theory, the chapter describes common definitions of apostasy as well as how apostasy has been operationalized in quantitative studies. Furthermore, previous empirical research is presented in order to provide examples of various descriptive and inferential statistical techniques that are used in studying this topic. The chapter concludes with overall suggestions for researchers who are interested in using this methodological approach, including practical suggestions and information about data sources.
This work brings the fields of Christian theologies of atonement and reconciliation and Liberal Quaker theology into dialogue, and lays the foundation for developing an original Liberal Quaker reconciliation theology. This dialogue focuses specifically on the metaphorical language employed to describe the relationship of interdependence between humans and God, which both traditions hold as integral to their conceptions of human and divine existence. It focuses on these areas: the sin of human division and exclusion; atonement and reunification of humans and God as a response to sin; and the metaphors Liberal Quaker use to describe this interdependent relationship, specifically the metaphor of Light. This unique approach develops an original model of reconciliatory interdependence between humans and God that is rooted in both Christological and Universalist Liberal Quaker metaphorical and theological categories and utilizes the Liberal Quaker language of God as interdependent Light towards a new theology.