Chapter 17: Reflexive and Holistic Switchers: Older Women/Newer Commitments

The Insider/Outsider Debate - New Perspectives in the Study of Religion - George D. Chryssides

Janet Betty Eccles [+-]
Independent Scholar
Janet B. Eccles gained her PhD in 2010 in the sociology of religion as a mature student at Lancaster University, UK. She then spent 18 months as research associate on the Young Atheist Project, based at Lancaster. Currently she is a part-time adult education tutor in religious studies in Cumbria and an independent researcher. Her research interests cover women and religion, forms of non-religion, chaplaincy studies and, more recently, religion and social class and Anglican monasticism. She has published on women, Christian affiliation and disaffiliation, alternative spiritualities and forms of non-religion in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, Temenos and the Journal of Belief and Values, among others, and on multi-faith chaplaincy in the Journal for Pastoral Care and Counseling. She has a chapter Speaking Personally: Women Making Meaning through Subjectivised Belief in: A. Day (ed.), Religion and the Individual: Belief, Practice, Identity (2008).


In the closing chapter of their book: Gone for good? Church leaving and returning in the 21st century (2007) Francis and Richter suggest that one way back into a Christian community for discontented disaffiliates is to consider joining one perceived to be more in tune with their notion of what a good religious community should be. This chapter examines two groups of women who have ‘deconverted’ from one form of sacred community and commitment to another. Reflexive switchers join a different religious worshipping community from the one they have left, defecting from Anglicanism to the Religious Society of Friends, for example. Holistic switchers opt instead to join, in various guises, forms of spiritual and holistic activity but as Barbour (1994) makes clear deconversion does not involve a total loss of faith in what was left behind and deconversion is rarely complete. Hence, these women retain some elements of former beliefs, practices and belonging in the way they now live their new form of what has been recently termed ‘lived religio-spirituality’ (Aune, 2014). The chapter demonstrates that switchers are looking for - and often find - new freedoms to pursue what seems to them a more authentic expression of sacred commitment. This is not simply the pursuit of an individualised self-serving freedom, however, without regard for moral integrity and care of ‘the other’. Rather, this involves a process of negotiation between different commitments, religious, spiritual and secular, to arrive at a meaningful form of religio-spiritual life. The author’s own insider/outsider status forms part of the narrative in that she has also switched between various forms of sacred commitment at different stages in my own life.

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Eccles, Janet. Chapter 17: Reflexive and Holistic Switchers: Older Women/Newer Commitments. The Insider/Outsider Debate - New Perspectives in the Study of Religion. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 330-349 Nov 2019. ISBN 9781781793442. Date accessed: 19 Sep 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27471. Nov 2019

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