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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parents' experiences of an adult child's religious deconversion : an interpretive description study Wiebe, Glendon Paul


Increasing numbers of individuals are no longer identifying as religious. Religious change research has focused on this shift as well as explored how these individuals account for their religious change. Though links between religion and family are well-established in the literature, parents’ perspectives on an adult child’s religious change have largely been overlooked. In religious change research, parents are frequently portrayed as enacting theologically-rigid and relationally-punitive responses to a child’s departure from the family’s religious tradition. Using semi-structured interviews, this study explored parents’ experiences of a child’s “deconversion” from the family’s evangelical, Protestant religious tradition. Parents’ accounts illustrated diverse definitions, attributions, and responses related to an adult child’s religious change. In light of evangelical faith-keeping, parental culpability, and “shunning” discourses related to deconversion, parents’ accounts reflected determined and resourceful approaches to upholding both family and faith commitments. A child’s deconversion illuminated a number of double binds for parents. For many participants, nurturing a child’s critical thinking, for example, did not encourage a child to “make their faith their own” but, paradoxically, influenced a child’s deconversion. Parents negotiated several seemingly irreconcilable positions by privileging certain biblical texts over others, questioning the interpretive accuracy of evangelical discourses related to deconversion, or separating domains of family and faith. The decision to respond to a child’s deconversion in relationally-affirming ways often elicited a less-than-supportive response from a parent’s faith community. This research began to address the minimal attention on parents’ perspectives of an adult child’s religious deconversion. In the present study, parents’ accounts departed from the polarized and divisive ways that familial religious differences are often characterized in both academic inquiry and popular discourse. Further, the intentional, reflective, and, at times, evangelically-subversive responses to a child’s deconversion diverged from how highly committed and theologically orthodox religious parents have been represented in the literature.

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