‘Losing my religion’: religious development and the dynamics of apostasy

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Adam, R 2009, '‘Losing my religion’: religious development and the dynamics of apostasy' in M Miner, MT Proctor & D Martin (eds), Spirituality in Australia: directions and applications, Australasian Centre for Studies in Spirituality, Roselands, NSW, pp. 36-57. ISBN: 9781740580168


This paper identifies two developmental dynamics contributing to apostasy from religious fundamentalisms – heterodyning (Streib, 2001) and sociocognitive conflict (Doise and Mugny, 1984). Heterodyning refers to the combination of elements and products from otherwise transitional styles of cognition. I suggest that fundamentalisms represent examples of sophisticated heterodyning between mythic-literal and rationalist styles. For some individuals, heterodyning produces sociocognitive conflict. Sociocognitive conflict refers to the dissonance produced when an individual’s cognitive operations generate questions and answers that are incompatible with the sociocultural conventions of their group. The identification and application of these developmental dynamics is based on a three-year study of apostasy from religious fundamentalisms. The study involved a coded content analysis of over 100 apostate narratives and 100 apostate questionnaire responses. This analysis was informed by three complementary theories of development including James Fowler’s (1981) faith development theory (FDT), Oser and Gmünder’s (1991) stages of religious judgment, and Helmut Reich’s levels of relational and contextual reasoning (2002). I suggest that heterodyning and sociocognitive conflict are developmental dynamics that produce diverse trajectories of development which find expression in religious, spiritual, and secular forms. Furthermore, I suggest that an account of these dynamics and trajectories is essential to religious or secular claims to developmental maturity.