"Once I Felt I had a Choice, I Didn't Choose Religion": A Qualitative Analysis of Meaning in Religious Dones



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



‘Religious dones’ are a significantly growing group of people who have left their religion (Streib, 2021). The current study examines the process individuals go through while leaving their religion and how it relates to their religious identity, community, and meaning system. Religious meaning systems are the ways in which religious things, events, and relationships connect mentally (Park, 2013). Fourteen participants between 18 and 54 Years-Old, all formerly Christian, and all with some college education were interviewed in a qualitative existential phenomenological study. Participants were asked eleven questions in a semi-structured interview. Transcripts of the interviews were divided into meaning units, with transformative analysis occurring using intentional analysis and empathetic dwelling to identify shifts in meaning that occurred. This analysis uncovered a cycle of meaning making in which individuals engage. The cycle begins with a major stressor which is processed by the individual’s meaning system. If the stressor is processed by the meaning system, stability is achieved and the meaning system does not change. However, if the meaning system cannot process the stressor, this becomes a stressor itself and the cycle begins again. With each cycle, the person modifies their meaning system. This cycle can challenge the person’s meaning system, identity, and/or community, leading to a person leaving religion. The participants who were interviewed not only challenged their meaning systems, but also their values and core beliefs. ‘Religious dones’ were unable to engage with this meaning cycle until moving into adulthood and into a career or college study. Once a stressor manifests in this period, the cognitive dissonance and trauma returns and overwhelms the individual, resulting in mental health struggles and a loss of identity, community, and meaning. With this model, further efforts can be made to develop a clinical framework to assist those transitioning between religious meaning systems. Further research can examine how the inability to engage with this meaning cycle may contribute to Complex PTSD.



Religion, Deconstruction, De-identification, Meaning, Meaning Making, Psychology