The Bielefeld-Based Cross-Cultural Study on Deconversion
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Introduction to The Bielefeld-based Cross-cultural Study on Deconversion

The Bielefeld-based deconversion project has focussed on deconversion from a variety of religious affiliations in cross-cultural comparison between the U.S.A. and Germany. The project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The team of researchers had an international and interdisciplinary profile and included psychologists, sociologists, theologians. In the U.S.A, Ralph W. Hood served as supervisor of the U.S. field work, James W. Fowler and James T. Richardson as advisors. Christopher F. Silver and other students have invested much energy in US field work. In the Bielefeld team, Dr. Barbara Keller and Rosina-Martha Csoeff and also a group of student assistants have organized and conducted field work and have manged to put together and administrate a massive amount of qualitative and qunatitative data.

In the years 2002 - 2005, a total of 1,196 research participants have been interviewed. The core of the study are about one hundred deconversion narratives (50% from U.S.A. and 50% Germany) with deconverts from all kinds of religious traditions and organizations, including mainstream churches, as well as, new religious fundamentalist groups.

The research design has included narrative interviews, faith development interviews and a questionnaire, thus a triangulation of qualitative and quantitative approaches. The deconverts (focus persons) have been selected according to the principle of maximal contrast (theoretic sampling). In order to profile the deconverts over against the background of the milieus which they have left, it was our aim to interview a ten times higher number of intradition members. Thus, our questionnaire has been administered to 129 deconverts (99 with a narrative interview) and to 1,067 intradition members. The questionnaire included, besides demographics, questions for religious socialization and spiritual/religious self-identification, the following instruments: the Big Five personality scale (NEO-FFI), the Ryff Scale of Psychological Well-Being and Growth, the Religious Fundamentalism Scale and the Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale. We have conducted a faith development interview with 100 deconverts, and also with 177 intradition members, thus with a total of 277 persons.

The aim of the research was the analysis of the variety of deconversion trajectories from a diverse spectrum of religious organizations in the U.S.A. and Germany - with special focus of personality traits, motivations, attitudes, psychological well-being and growth, biographical outcomes and transformation in terms of faith development. Thus, our questions included the following: What does deconversion mean in terms of biographical change? Is the outcome psychological growth, well-being and religious development? The question about the losses and the gains of deconversion in terms of religious development is of special interest. Does deconversion imply crisis? Was professional support needed?

While the first project phase (2002-2003) with the official title, “Deconverts from Fundamentalist New Religious Groups in Germany and the United States of America” aimed at a typology of biographical trajectories of deconverts in Germany and the U.S.A. who have left or are in the process of leaving fundamentalist new religious groups, the second project phase ("Varieties of Deconversion Experiences in the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America: Potentials for Transformation, Vulnerabilities, and Needs for Intervention") has included and focussed on the variety of a accommodating and integrated religious groups from charismatic groups to mainline churches.

[qualitative results ..]

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