Empowerment & Conversion: A Contemporary Explanation for Why People Join Minority Religions

Graham-hyde, Edward (2024) Empowerment & Conversion: A Contemporary Explanation for Why People Join Minority Religions. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis]
PDF (Thesis) - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.


Digital ID: http://doi.org/10.17030/uclan.thesis.00051529


In contemporary society, popular discourse surrounding minority religions is negatively impacted by usage of the word “cult” or “brainwashing”, words which carry connotations. Many minority religions, and adherents thereof, are “othered”, these include Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baha’i, Paganisms and Scientologies.

The research aim was to ascertain the hidden social mechanisms which lead to a participant’s conversion. A broader aim was to investigate the impact of popular discourse surrounding “cults” on individual religious identity, illuminating the lived reality of minority religion adherents. Ultimately, this research investigated why individuals choose to convert into minority religions which are often considered “bad religion”. Overall, this thesis discusses the implications this has for the individual’s lived reality.

I employ a qualitative method of data collection of collecting conversion narratives while blending a critical realist, interpretive, and rational choice theoretical frameworks. This thesis reviews the emerging data from the pilot study and three additional case studies. Through qualitative interviews, the lived reality of conversion was explored which revealed a hidden social mechanism impacting on the rational choice of participants to affiliate with minority religions. This thesis demonstrates empowerment is a key category requirement for conversion and/or affiliation into minority religious organisations. Furthermore, this thesis explores a generalised emergent model of empowered conversion which can be applied in future investigations of conversion in religious and non-religious contexts.

This research interjects into the current discussions concerning methodology and paradigms for understanding religion. Ultimately, this thesis is submitted at a time when the fields of religious studies and sociology of religion, as well as the sub-field of minority religion, is in a state of flux. Therefore, this thesis further seeks to engage in the discussions currently taking place regarding “world religions”, minority religions and the use of “cult” rhetoric.

Repository Staff Only: item control page