The Sacred and the Transformation of the Self: A Proposed Definition of Religious Conversion

By Jeremy Cummings.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Religious conversion has long intrigued society and will likely continue to do so. The notion that individuals can undergo fundamental changes in their core beliefs, values, relationships, and strivings is fascinating, though questions remain about the circumstances under which such changes are beneficial or detrimental to personal and societal functioning. Scholarly study of religious conversion has produced an array of perspectives, but a consensual definition of this phenomenon remains elusive.

This paper reviews and critiques common approaches to defining religious conversion. The author argues in favor of defining religious conversion in terms of identity transformation rather than religious affiliation switching or worldview change. Furthermore, the author explains why it is essential for a definition of religious conversion to incorporate the concept of the sacred (as defined by Pargament & Mahoney, 2005) as an element that sets religious conversion apart from other kinds of personal transformation. Finally, the author notes some implications of the proposed definition for future work on religious conversion.

Keywords: Religious Conversion, Identity, Sacred

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.49-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 705.356KB).

Jeremy Cummings

Dissertation Fellow, Graduate Student, Psychology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA