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Religious Switching: Preference Development, Maintenance, and Change

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Up to one–third of Americans switch religions at some time during their lives. What are the predictors of this religious mobility? This article addresses this question using a modified rational choice framework to explain the development, maintenance, and change of religious preferences. Although classical rational choice theory assumes that preferences are stable, this article suggests that preferences are variable and that social interaction works to maintain or change an individual's preferred religious choice. A cultural theory of preference formation is applied to allow for the social constraint rational choice theory often ignores. Findings suggest that childhood socialization does not cement religious preference, that formally joining a church while growing up acts to stabilize preferences, that lapsing in practice increases the likelihood of switching, and that “distinctive” denominations generate religious preferences that reduce individual switching.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Notre Dame [email protected]

Publication date: March 1, 2003

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