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Research into Emotions and Religious Conversion

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1956 words Published: 3rd Apr 2018

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Conversion as defined by William James is the “process, gradual or sudden by which a self-hitherto divided, consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”(James, 145). In the field of psychology of religion, many academic scholars have expressed the importance of the involvement of emotions in the practices of religious conversion (Granqvist, 226). Even different branches of psychology have come to note that emotions and or emotional energies hold a very important role in people’s lives (Rambo, 183). As humans, people incorporate various aspects to their personal selves; one significant aspect people incorporate within their selves is the emotional component which helps us gain our identities (Rambo, 183). These identities for the sake of this paper will mainly be spiritual and or religious identities. THESIS

Humans have extensive social components embedded within their daily lives. This social component is driven by motivating factors that push some people to associate with other religious groups and ultimately undergo conversion to that new religion (Rambo, 183). Since emotions are a very significant part of our lives, our emotions can be what drives our motivation (Rambo, 183). Therefore, in a much simpler manner it can be noted that our emotions can work as motivating factors when we make decisions.

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Emotional elements are involved throughout the process of the religious conversion. These emotional elements can be present before, during, and after conversion. Amongst different individuals the strength of these emotional elements will vary greatly, which is natural since each person in unique in some form (Rambo, 183). Regardless of the strength of an emotional element during the process of conversion, an individual will move towards the path that gives them the most emotional satisfaction (Rambo, 183). This is understandable because when a person makes any sort of decisions whether for something rational or not, gaining emotional or personal satisfaction will be one of the main goals to get from making that decision (Rambo, 183). Why would someone decide to do something that does not please them in any way? They would not gain satisfaction of any sort and may even get distress. Attaining emotional satisfaction is one of the key things motivating a person’s decision in life, whether it is for something to have for dinner or as deeply connected as choosing a more promising religious path. Achieving emotional satisfaction is what guides us in making different choices. In terms of religious conversion, the emotional component that is driving an individual will guide them to choose whatever religion provides most emotional satisfaction (Rambo, 183-84).

Emotional satisfaction is a motivating factor that facilitates the process of religious conversion but there is more to it. It is important to understand that the emotional satisfaction achieved from a religious change must come in some form of reward to the individual. This form of reward would typically be something intrinsic that the individual would feel inside them. Contrasting to extrinsic rewards they will only be temporary and short lasting whereas intrinsic rewards will be long lasting and spiritually connected; thus ensuring emotional satisfaction (Rambo, 184). Emotional satisfaction is one of the key motivating reasons leading a person to convert, where the individual experiences feelings of gratitude, love, happiness. However, during the process of conversion there will be other emotions involved too such as fear, awe, suffering, and guilt (Rambo, 165-66). None of these emotions such as fear and guilt will provide any form of direct satisfaction. Here is where the intrinsic reward comes in; given that converting to a different religion may induce fear, suffering, and uneasiness while the good aspect of converting to that religion is that the person will experience internal or intrinsic rewards. Examples of uneasiness can be seen in different religions that offer their own forms of intrinsic rewards; such as in Buddhism to eliminate our desires, in Islam to follow the order of Allah no matter what, in Sufism-Islam to deny the carnal soul, and in Christianity to denying thy self (Rambo, 183). Even though what these faiths suggest sound as if they lead to uneasiness, discomfort, and pain, it is the intrinsic rewards that provide the converting individual with emotional satisfaction. An example of this discomfort and intrinsic reward can be seen in this quote from the Hebrew Bible (12:2) regarding the “pioneer of the faith” where he for “the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” (Rambo, 183). Taking this in a Christian religious orientation, looking at that quote above we can get a sense that there is something worth enduring all the shame and having to endure the cross. That something worth enjoying is the joy of being set at the right hand of God. There is an inner reward which will lead the religious convert to feel a form of emotional satisfaction. However, to better understand this concept of emotional satisfaction in religious conversion it is helpful to look at studies focusing on this.

Research studies that have been carried out on the topic of religious conversion suggest that the best way to understand religious conversion is to look at an individual’s life from an emotional perspective, such as the feelings associated with their childhood, bring up, and overall perception of life (Ullman 10, 1989) (Ullman 24, 1989). This is exactly what one researcher examined when they studied religious converts where they looked at emotional precursors of religious conversion (Ullman 183, 1982). A researcher, Chana Ullman, conducted studies on the lives of religious converts and compared them to a control group who were non-converts. Her results showed that there is a correlation between religious conversion and emotional factors (Ullman 183, 1982)(Ullman 4, 1989). The childhoods and adolescent lives of religious converts’ were examined and showed that these individuals had traumatic and stressful lives, they had negative views toward their parents and in many of the subjects’ childhoods there was an absences of father figures (Ullman 183, 1982). While examining all this information a common theme came up in all of the religious converts’ lives, which was that they all had experienced some forms of emotional turmoil. When asked to describe their childhoods the religious converts’ described it as being full of anguish and distress, while the controls described their childhoods as mainly happy (Ullman 11, 1989). What this study showed is that religious conversion is significantly influenced on the basis of emotional turmoil and by converting it allows a person who may be in emotional turmoil to attain a form of liberation from that. And it showed that converts’ took their new religious beliefs more seriously than compared to non-converts (Ullman 25, 1989). By taking their religious believes more seriously it means that they became very devout and dedicated in their new path. Ullman noted that religious converts after converting had experienced a new form of connection and acceptance with some higher figure whether it was real or imaginary (Ullman 25, 1989). When a person undergoes religious conversion it enables them to enter a new emotional sanctuary away from their past experiences of emotional turmoil and they begin to form new social networks with individuals in their newly acquired religion (Ullman xviii, 1989). With both of these events together it allows the convert to regain happiness and be emotionally satisfied. Thus essentially their whole lives have turned into a new direction to their own liking.

Religious conversion is a life changing process. In order to convert to a different or a new religion there has to be some sort of volition or willingness in the individual driving them to convert (Rambo, 165). This ability to gain emotional satisfaction, develop new better social networks, and have a sense of attachment so some figure can become the drive to push a person to convert. All of these factors can form the volition to convert. Since converts have a higher and more deeply connected religious belief than non-converts they would also have a stronger volition driving them (Rambo, 165)(Ullman 25, 1989). And since emotions have an important part in a person’s individual life as a motivating factor then adding that to the volitional aspect heightens emotional satisfaction because every individual desires personal satisfaction in their decisions (Rambo, 183-84). These elements of volition can be the desire to seek happiness, joy, and fulfillment, which can be classified as emotions. Thus elements of volition can be emotionally driven.

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A strong or deeply connected volition can be mainly driven by a variety of deep emotions such as joy and happiness, all to attain emotional satisfaction. There may also be other emotions such as fear or guilt as mentioned before. The important thing is that these emotions have to be felt internally and induce an inner change. This inner change is what will allow a new convert to have a new outlook on life, a new sense of attachment, a new way to live life. In the Christian faith this can be seen as being born again or in other faiths it can be seen as a rebirth (Rambo, 171) (Rambo, 184).

To conclude, emotions do play a very significant role in mediating a person decision to convert to a new religious belief. Most of the time, there is some form of emotional turmoil prior to the conversion that leaves and individual having feelings of anguish, unhappiness, and distress. Then having the opportunity to convert allows that individual to undergo a transformation by seeing all of the emotional satisfaction they can attain. They can experience joy, happiness, a sense of belonging. Basically our emotions motivate us to change or make certain decisions. They become the volitions, the drive, and the force to make decisions whether to convert or not. Since as humans seeking satisfaction we choose the decisions that will ultimately lead to the most emotional satisfaction. This emotional satisfaction will then lead to greater feelings of joy, bliss, and fulfillment.

Works Cited

  1. Granqvist, P., & Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2004). RESEARCH:” Religious Conversion and aaaaPerceived Childhood Attachment: A Meta-Analysis”.The International Journal for aaaathe Psychology of Religion,14(4), 223-250.
  2. James, W. (2008).The varieties of religious experience : a study in human nature. aaaaRockville, MD: ARC Manor
  3. Rambo, L. (2014).The oxford handbook of religious conversion. New York: Oxford aaaaUniversity Press. Retrieved from http://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-religious-conversion-9780195338522?cc=us&lang=en&
  4. Ullman, C. (1982). Cognitive and emotional antecedents of religious conversion.Journal aaaaof Personality and Social Psychology,43(1), 183.
  5. Ullman, C. (1989).The transformed self : the psychology of religious conversion. New aaaaYork: Plenum Press.


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