Religious (Dis)Affiliation in the Catholic Church : A Social Identity Approach
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This project seeks to examine one group, former-Catholics, how they view Catholic identity, and why they felt they must leave it behind. Utilizing Social Identity Theory, a psychological concept that has recently been employed by scholars in the Cognitive Science of Religion, I consider how former-Catholics construct their identities against the church they have left. Underlying my research is the assumption that religious disaffiliation is foremost an identity process—a rejection of a group identity because of the perceived incongruence between an individual’s values and what they identify as the beliefs/values of the larger group. Before someone can disaffiliate, they must have an idea of what it is they are disaffiliating from. For former-Catholics, it is an assertion of what the Catholic church is and a proclamation of what one is not. Explicable or unprecedented, personal or political, the choice to leave the church means the rejection of one identity and its substitution with a new one, in this case a nonreligious one. This contrasts with many modern Catholics who maintain their Catholic identity in spite of disagreements with the Catholic church. What we find is that they do so because they represent the church in different terms, reconfiguring the group identity. Ultimately, the tensions between these two groups show how religious disaffiliation is a subjective experience while revealing the insufficiencies of religious identity for explaining a person’s attitudes toward religion.