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Reassessing Conventional Approaches to Conversion: Toward a New Synthesis

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What are the crucial factors that may cause people to become religiously active at a certain point of their lives? I give an overview of key analytic elements of the conventional approaches to conversion: Lofland and Stark's (1965) social networks model; (spoiled) identity and religious seekership; socialization; religious markets; recruitment; cultural factors; and convert role monitoring and mastering. Subsequent sections present a critique of the conventional approaches, with their biases and emphasis on the crisis factor, and a synthesis of their best elements in the conversion career approach (currently in development). The latter distinguishes five levels of religious participation: preaffiliation, affiliation, conversion, confession, and disaffiliation. These levels are, in turn, influenced by personality factors, social factors, institutional factors, cultural factors, and contingency factors. The conversion careers approach offers directions for future research by distinguishing five levels of religious participation, systematically listing the factors in religious participation, avoiding “crisis determinism,” developing a conceptualization of the individual with active and passive elements, being gender sensitive, and including a life-cycle approach to avoid the “adolescent bias” of earlier literature.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Henri Gooren is in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Oakland University, 518 Varner Hall, Rochester Hills, MI 48309., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2007


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