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“Conversion refers to shifts across religious traditions” (Stark and Finke 2000:114). This would include changing from Judaism to Christianity or Hinduism to Islam. Religious reaffiliation, changing from one style of a specific religion to another, is commonly confused with conversion. An example of reaffiliation would be changing from Southern Baptist to Methodist within Christianity or from Sunni to Shiite within Islam.

Studies focusing on the growth of cults did the most to shed light on the nature of conversion and the way individuals change their religious beliefs. The popular belief before the studies of Lofland and Stark (1965) and Barker (1984) was that individuals joining religious cults were brainwashed by leaders. These studies disproved this conception of conversion showing that initiates into new religious groups converted due to changes in their social networks. Those who converted did so because they came to a point where they knew more people in the cult or religious group than individuals not a part of the group. It was only until after conversion took place that the actual beliefs of the group were cited as reasons for the conversion.

Some common ways of measuring the concept of conversion is to ask individuals if they have ever experienced what they would describe as a conversion experience. Another avenue for exploring conversion is to compare a respondent’s parent’s religious affiliation with the respondent’s current religious affiliation or stated religious identity. This method assumes that, as a child, the respondent shared his or her parent’s religious views. A third possible measure of conversion is religious intermarriage. Over time researchers might find that a spouse converts to his or her spouse’s religion.

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Barker, Eileen. 1984. The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing? Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Lofland, John, and Rodney Stark. 1965. “Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective.” American Sociological Review 30: 862-875.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stark, Rodney, and William Sims Bainbridge. 1980. “Networks of Faith: Interpersonal Bonds and Recruitment to Cults and Sects.” American Journal of Sociology 85: 1376-1395.

The following are possible measures of Conversion that can be created using data from theARDA.com
These variables ask whether a respondent identifies with undergoing a religious conversion experience of some kind. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:
Several files in the ARDA's Data Archive have examples of this Measure.
Q13A - Variable 28 from Baylor Religion Survey, 2005 Faith - 2001 U.S. Congregational Life Survey Search the ARDA for similar measures.
A measure of an individual's religious affiliation or salience as a child.
Several files in the ARDA's Data Archive have examples of this Measure.
RELIGKID - 2008 General Social Survey (similar measures available in other waves) FUND16- 2004 General Social Survey (similar measures available in other waves) RAISREL1 - 2003 National Study of Youth and Religion CATHCONV - 1999 Gallup Poll of Catholics RESPREL - 1998 International Social Survey Program: Religion II V085252A - 2008 American National Election Study (time series) Search the ARDA for similar measures.
A measure of whether an individual has changed religious affiliation as an adult.
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