Religious exit–also known as disaffiliation, deconversion, or apostasy–is a growing phenomenon in the United States with significant individual and social consequences. In this review, I consult existing literature to clarify the relationship between the process of religious exit and the mental health of exiters I organize this literature using Ebaugh’s (1988) role-exit model to frame exiting religion as a multi-stage process of role-identity disruption, exit, anomie, and reestablishment. I situate each stage as characterized by changes in mental health, in alignment with psychological theories of the impact of self-construction and self-concept on mental health symptoms. The literature suggests that, beginning with tension between a religious system and the individual, exiters undergo a psychologically and emotionally fraught process of role-identity transformation typified by a sequence of pre-exit strains, a turning point at which exit occurs, immediate psychological and social aftermath, and a subsequent lifetime process of reconstruction. Using evidence from exiters’ narratives, I argue that the conflict inherent in the process of religious exit catalyzes psychological distress, but that exit itself provides a mechanism for role-identity reset that relieves many of the negative mental health effects associated with religious strain.
Date of Degree
Master of Arts (MA)
Program of Study
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Haire, Fio. (2023). “Born Again:” Narrating the Mental Health Journeys of Religious Exiters [Master’s alternative plan paper, Minnesota State University, Mankato]. Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works for Minnesota State University, Mankato. https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/etds/1400/
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