Changing Religious Loyalties: A Seeker’s Journey

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1“Church” throughout this paper will usually refer to broader associations such as denominations, rather than a single and specific gathering of individuals.

2An example of such change within a political context was witnessed midway through the last century when the son of former Russian Premier Khrushchev moved to the United States to be a professor at a prominent Ivy League university. Less dramatic, although nonetheless significant to the individuals making the change, shifts can be observed in changing political parties within a democracy such as the United States. In some situations the change appears to have lead to the individual thriving because of the change such as Ronald Regan switching to the Republican Party and eventually becoming President of the United States (Wills, 1988). Yet in other situations the individual may be viewed as a traitor to the cause, never seeming to grow beyond the event of changing allegiances. The field of psychology looks to its changers as contributing significantly to its breadth of perspectives. Prominent developers of newer theories in psychology were originally trained in the tradition of Sigmund Freud, yet went on to establish theories, some of which varied significantly from Freud’s tradition – Alfred Adler, Albert Ellis, Carl Rogers, to name a few.

3Acts 9: 13-19

4The largest percentage of new people who joined a congregation in [a five year period] transferred from another congregation of the same faith tradition – fifty seven percent. 18 percent of worshipers [those currently worshiping within a particular congregation have] switched from a congregation of a different faith (Congregational Life Survey, 2002).


6Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar (2001) found that . . . more than thirty-three million American adults, [about 16% of the total U.S. adult population], report that they have changed their religious preference or identification.



9The point of this example is not to draw clear differences between various denominational or even religious sects, but to emphasize an inter-dynamic between the various sides of the triangle. There is not even anything sacred about the triangle. A square or even other multisided geometric figures may represent the point even better.

10Bernard Spilka,, (2003) The Psychology of Religion, 3rd ed., pp 132-134.

11Cited in Spilka, (2003)


13Spilka, p. 134

14Nancy J. Cobb, Adolescence: Continuity, Change, and Diversity, 5th ed., (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004). According to Marcia an individual’s progress toward Identity Achievement can be identified as falling within at least four stages – Identity Achievement which includes having experienced a significant level of internal crisis, exploration of various options, and finally committing to a set of beliefs that have been worked out in the process. Identity Moratorium includes the sense of crisis and exploration/searching, but no commitment has yet been made. Identity Foreclosure is characteristic of the firm commitments seen in the Achievement stage, but no sense of crisis or exploration has taken place. The commitments are secondary to the strong influence of significant role model types in the person’s life, and not of their own sorting out. And Identity Diffusion which is described as the state, or awareness, of not searching and not making commitments to either their culture’s ideals or values, or trying to establish their own.

15James W. Fowler, Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 2000)

16Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1935)

17C.S. Lewis, (1984) The Second Coming, May 7, in The Business of Heaven.

18J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958).

19B. Michael Thorne and Tracy B. Henley, Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

20Not all boundaries and compartmentalisations are necessarily bad; in fact some are absolutely essential. Such as the boundaries we build around our families that make a clear distinction between who is inside the family and who is outside. In complex societies our ability to compartmentalize helps us juggle a variety of responsibilities, such as the ability to carry out several roles at various points throughout our lives – husband, father, grandfather, professor, psychologist, property owner, grounds keeper around my house, etceteras. Our environments provide us with various compartments that aid our day-to-day functioning as well as our development, such as school, church, work, and social clubs. Religious denominations is an example of a compartmentalization provided by society that can be quite helpful in providing particular sets of beliefs and prescribed doctrines. By being a member of a particular denomination we know that we will be around people that share our basic beliefs and perspectives and shape our spirituality.

21Phillips, pp. 38-40.

22C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (Great Britian: G. Bles, 1946).

23The author’s adaptation.

24Romans 8:28. New International Version of The Holy Bible.

25This is analogous to throwing a rock into a pond and observing that the ripples expand to take over ever larger areas of the pond’s surface.

26Arthur Frank Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, Revised edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)

27Since the beginning of modern day psychology’s relatively short history, its foundational thinkers like Freud, Erikson, Piaget, (Santrock, 2002) and Jung (Schaie & Willis, 1996) have established a framework for understanding normal and predictable human development. More recently theorists such as Kohlberg and Gilligan (Cobb 2004), and Fowler (2000) have continued to expand a developmental and systematic framework for viewing human growth in areas such as moral thinking and religious faith respectively.

28Fowler, James (2000). Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian. Josey Bass, Inc. San Francisco, CA

29Peter C. Hill, “Spiritual Transformation: Forming the Habitual Center of Personal Energy” in Psychology of Religion Newsletter, v. 26, no. 4 (American Psychological Association Division 36).

30William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, (New York: Longman Green & Co., 1902), p. 230.

31The shift in the habitual centre described by James characterizes religious conversion as impacting the focal point the individual relies on to habitually guide his or her life as they navigate life’s journey. Thus, conversion includes the psychological process of altering that centre. James believed that it is part of human nature to be spiritual, and that prior to a religious conversion the spiritual part of a person exists only in the periphery of the self. Then upon conversion, the spiritual part of the self shifts from the periphery to the centre of who we are and becomes the guiding part of the self (James, 1902, pg. 230).

32Fowler, 2000.

33Hill, 2001.

34Within the total population of the U.S., 16% (33 million adults) have changed their religious preference. It is suggested that this could reflect some kind of spiritual seeking. (Keysar, Kosmin, & Mayer, 2001)

35A more complete discussion of the concept of attributional theory, as well as common attributional error, can be found in undergraduate psychology texts (Cobb, 2004, pg 558-559; Santrock, 2001, pg 426-429; and Berk, 2004, pg 316-317).

36Within the membership of the Church of the Nazarene in the United States nearly 21% state that they came to their faith through a gradual process, 19% state that they have had the level of faith they now have for as long as they can remember, and over 23% report that they experienced a number of specific moments of commitment or re-commitment [The U.S. Congregational Life Survey: Nazarene Worshipers – 100 congregations and 6,000 worshipers participated (Houseal, R. 2001). The U.S. Congregational Life Survey, supported by the Lilly Endowment Inc., the Louisville Institute, and the Research Services office to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was conducted in April and May 2001. Deborah Bruce, Cynthia Woolever, and Keith Wulff directed this survey of more than 2,000 congregations and 300,000 worshipers in the United States.

Berk, L. (2004) Development Through the Life Span, 3rd Ed, Alyn and Bacon, Boston.

Chambers, O. (1935) My Utmost for His Highest. Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York.

Cobb, N. (2004) Adolescence: Continuity, Change, and Diversity, 5th Ed. McGraw Hill, New York, NY.

Fowler, J. (2000), Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian. Josey Bass, Inc. San Francisco, CA.

Hill, P. (2001) “Spiritual Transformation: Forming the Habitual Center of Personal Energy.” In Psychology of Religion Newsletter. American Psychological Association Division. 36.

Holmes, A. (1987) The Idea of a Christian College, Revised Edition. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI.

Harrison, E. Editor (1980) Baker’s Dictionary of Theology.

Houseal, R. (2001) The U.S. Congregational Life Survey: Nazarene Worshipers.

James, W (1902) Varieties of Religious Experience. Longman Green & Co, New York.

Kosmin, B., Egon, M. Keysar, A. (2001) American Religious Identification Survey 2001. The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Lewis, C.S. (1984) “The Business of Heaven.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis: Surprised by Joy, Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, The Business of Heaven. Inspirational Press – BBS Publishing Corporation, New York.

Lewis, C.S. (1946) The Great Divorce, Touchstone Publishing, New York.

Phillips, J.B. (1958) Your God is Too Small. The Macmillan Company, New York.

Santrock, J. (2004) Life-Span Development, 8th Ed. McGraw Hill, New York, NY.

Santrock, J. (2001) Adolescence, 8th Ed. McGraw Hill, New York, NY.

Schaie, K, Willis, S. (1996) Adult Development and Aging. Harper Collins Publishers.

Spilka, B., Hood, R., Hunsberger, B., Gorsuch, R. (2003) The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach, 3rd Ed. Guilford.

The Holy Bible, New International Version (1973). International Bible Society, Colorado Springs, CO.

U.S. Congregational Life Survey Results (2002), Myths About Worshipers and Congregations.

Wills, G. (1998) Regan’s America. Penguin Books.