The Bielefeld-Based Cross-Cultural Study on Deconversion
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Bielefeld-based Cross-cultural Deconversion Project

Summary of the three Most Important Quantitative Results

Figure: Deconversion Trajectories

  1. The variety of deconversion trajectories could be identified with the help of our typology: secular exits (29 cases), oppositional exit (8 cases), religious switching (13 cases), integrating exit (16 cases), privatizing exit (24 cases) and heretical exit (9 cases). See also our Figur of Deconversion Trajectories. Taken together, we have in our U.S. sample 66%, in our German sample 59% of deconverts who have left the field of organized religion and did not establish new memberships. In this group of deconverts who did not affiliate with a new religious organization, we have 36% in the U.S. sample and 59% in the German sample who want to live without religion (secular exit), but more than a third (BRD: 38%, U.S.A. 40%) continue to practice their religiosity, however in private only (privatizing exit), and another part (24% in the U.S. sample and 3% in the German sample) of the deconverts feel attracted to one or more new religious orientations, without any new membership (heretical exit). Deconversion thus does in many cases not mean "falling from the faith" or loosing religion, but migration itno the un-organized segment of the religious field (see also our Figure about the Deconversion Trajectories in the Religious Field).

  2. Figure: Deconversion Trajectories in the Religious Field

  3. As characteristics and predictors of deconversion we have identified for both cultures: openness to experience (Big Five), autonomy and personal growth (Ryff Scale), low scores on the religious fundamentalism scale, and higher stages of faith development. As „downside“ of deconversion, but only for the deconverts in the German sample, we have signs of a (mild) crisis in regard to the relation to self (emotional stability, self-acceptance), others (positive relations with others, extraversion) and environmental mastery. Notwithstanding exceptions, we can however not deduce from this an extraordinary need for intervention for deconverts.

  4. A surprisingly high number of members of religious organizations (37% in the U.S. sample and 18.3% in the German sample), self-identify as being „more spiritual than religious“. This is the focus of our current project on spirituality. In the group of deconverts, the „more spiritual than religious“ self-identifications double (to 63.6% in the U.S. sample and 36.5% BRD sample) (see also our Figure).

    Figure: Spiritual/Religious Self-Identification

    This surprising result points to a blind spot in previous research on religion, as far as it has focussed exclusively on 'religion' or on 'church membership'. But also, the results for deconverts reveal an important characteristic of deconversion: it is associated with a rather strong preference for spiritual self-identification.

Our research results which are documented in more detail in our book are relevant to counselling and pastoral care, religious education and public education, church administration and further empirical study of religion.

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