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Leaving, Losing and Switching Religion: Disruptive Dynamics of Past and Present

Panel Chair: Teemu T. Mantsinen | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

This panel addresses questions about apostasy, processes of leaving, losing and switching religion and religious faith in both past and present times. People construct their identities from the wide range of alternatives now available. This is partly due to an increased global migration and a new mediatization of religion that has changed the landscapes of religion globally. In our research projects we analyze how people construct new religious, non-religious, and ethnic identities by leaving or switching religion. Also we focus on dogmatic texts that could be related to the challenge of deconversion. Followers of a religion might question social stories and individual identities in new circumstances, time and locations. Aim of this panel is: a) to examine theoretical perspectives on the dynamics and processes of leaving and switching religion, b) to pose questions about the causes, processes, and the social responses to apostasy, to the disruption of past and present.

Teemu T. Mantsinen

Leaving family religion: Apostasy from Pentecostalism in Finland

In this paper I will present my research on Finnish Pentecostals leaving their family tradition, and analyze the social aspect of this deconversion. I will approach the subject from the theoretical perspectives of social and psychological contract and embodied cognition. My interviewees all share an experience of disruption between social story and personal experience. This disruption may be a feeling of hypocrisy, unwanted control, loss of plausibility, or other experiences of interference in the balance between traditional and personal life. If there are no sufficient compensating aspects in their religion and social life to balance the negative experiences, the contract is broken. The aim of this paper is to present a theoretical explanation why socialized members of a religious community leave their tradition, Pentecostalism. Furthermore I will discuss if the explanative model can be applied to the other religions addressed in this panel.

Daniel Enstedt

Leaving Islam in contemporary Sweden

This paper will address issues concerning religious apostasy, deconversion and disaffiliation in present-day Sweden in relation to Islam. The aim is to outline new theoretical perspectives that enable a better understanding of religious change that leaving religion is, or can be, a part of. My critique of the dominant trends in the contemporary research on leaving religion shares some of Linda Woodhead’s sociologically informed discussion of the shortcomings of the prevailing concepts of religiosity in religious studies. Instead of understanding religion as a mind-set, cognitive script or a world-view, that many previous studies has done, Woodhead highlights other concepts of religion (i.e. religion as culture, identity, relationship, practice, and power). I will take these aspects into account when discussion leaving Islam in present-day Sweden. Besides theoretical evaluations and considerations on apostasy, deconversion and disaffiliation this paper will also discuss an empirical material in relation to Muslim communities in contemporary Sweden.

Göran Larsson

‘They turned apostate as renegades after you left.’ The problem of apostasy in the hadith-literature

The first aim of my paper is to give an overview to how the problem of apostasy, apostates and renegades are discussed and addressed in the hadith-literature; to be more specific in the collection of Bukhari. The overview will give a picture of the frequency of how often the question of apostasy and people leaving Islam is in focus in Bukhari's collection. Which Arabic terms are used, and in which contexts are apostasy, apostates and renegades discussed? The second aim is to tentatively discuss and analyse why the question of apostasy is of such an importance in the hadith-literature. Even though this paper is focused on historical aspects and classical texts it is clear that the question of apostasy is still a relevant topic in Muslim discourses.

David Belfon

Leavetaking among Toronto’s Hasidic Jews: The Role of Narratively Constituted Identity Change

My project examines leavetakers from Hasidic Judaism in Toronto, persons who have ceased altogether or substantially lessened the degree to which they perform the normative modes of religiosity expected of them. Many exiters leave alone, and experience various social and practical difficulties adjusting to the non-Hasidic world, facing a complex system of adjustment during their transition to new lifestyles among the general population and apart from that which had been familiar. A new leavetaker generally has limited exposure to mainstream Canadian culture and possesses a consequently narrow social and secular educational toolkit. Questions of identity and narrative are central, as readily available scripts with which leavetakers may tell their stories are scarcely available. I explore the narration of loss of faith, and how one negotiates self-expression and identity formation as a leavetaker, especially regarding leavetakers’ self-perception (and their communication to others) of their religious identities before, during and after leaving.


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