This groundbreaking study uncovers fascinating new data on sudden shifts in religious and nonreligious belief. Amazing Conversions explores, for the first time ever, the reasons why converts join, and apostates go. The focus of this absorbing study is on some amazing people, with unique stories to tell those who join a religious group in spite of being raised in nonreligious (or even antireligious) families, and those who, at great personal cost, choose to leave religion in spite of having a deeply religious background. Why would an atheist's son become a Christian fundamentalist? Why would a "good Catholic girl" decide that she really is an atheist?
The authors of Amazing Conversions, both social psychologists, surveyed thousands of young adults to find that small number who were "amazing believers" or "amazing apostates." These rare individuals tell their stories, which are supplemented by their responses to a detailed questionnaire. The resulting picture shows that amazing believers and amazing apostates are dramatically different groups of people, in spite of the fact that their lives now stand in opposition to previous (non)religious training. You, too, can complete the same questionnaire to learn more about yourself and your beliefs. Have you experienced an amazing conversion?
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Bob Altemeyer (Winnipeg, Canada) is associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba and the recipient of the Prize in Behavioral Science Research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Bruce E. Hunsberger (1946-2003) was professor of psychology at Wilfred Laurier University and the winner of the William James Award from the American Psychological Association for outstanding research in religion.
Amazing Conversions addresses the how and why of conversion to and away from religious faith. Canadian social psychologists Bob Altemeyer and Bruce Hunsberger surveyed thousands of young adults in order to investigate the backgrounds and lives of amazing believers (individuals who became devout believers in spite of little or no religious upbringing) and amazing apostates (individuals who became agnostic or atheists irrespective of their strong religious training). The authors document in great detail the answers provided by interviewees to questions such as "At what age did the first questions about your religion arise in your mind?" or "In what ways are you glad because you no longer believe?" Readers interested in the intellectual, emotional, and social influences on religious belief and non-belief will find the scenarios of individuals fascinating reading. Although amazing believers and apostates seem to contradict their own socializing process, Altemeyer and Hunsberger contend that their research demonstrates the power of socialization, since other social factors (family strife, employment, relationships) influence the conversion process. One might suspect that many forms of religious belief and conversion are not susceptible to a statistical survey approach and the attempt by the researchers to quantify religious belief seems problematic. The authors will strike many readers as theoretically naive in claiming that the survey method produces only random error but not systematic distortion. Given that the surveyed group consisted entirely of Canadian university students, this study is more valuable in its depiction of actual cases of religious conversion than in its general conclusions. -- From Independent Publisher
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