Toward Faith: A Qualitative Study of Atheist Conversions to Christianity

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Denver, Colorado
Open Access
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About This Project

We want to investigate the "how" (process) and "why" (reasons) of atheist conversions to Christianity. By doing so, we can find out if existing theories of religious conversion are able to explain the "how" and "why" of these conversions, or if a new theory might be developed from this investigation.

Those interested in participating in the study can email

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What is the context of this research?

The General Social Survey suggests that rougly 6% of Americans would agree with the statement, "I believe in God now, but I didn't used to."

Scholars of religion have been studying and theorizing about religious conversion processes for quite some time, and this has even more recently included studying how a person goes from believing in God to being an atheist, but to date there are no studies which look at the reverse, that is, what might be going on behind the scenes when someone who is a self-professed atheist gains (or regains) religious belief in the existence of God.

We don't automatically assume that this involves a simple reversing of the process of going from believing in God to not believing in God, in sociological and psychological terms.

What is the significance of this project?

There is not a single social scientific study in existence which examines how or why atheists adopt belief in God or convert to a religion (in this case, Christianity, given that it is the dominant religion in America). If we explore this, it will help us determine if there are any existing theories of religious conversion that could be adequately applied to explain the "how" or "why" questions, or, if we're going to need a new type of theory to explain what's going on there.

What are the goals of the project?

We'll be conducting no more than 100 recorded telephone semi-structured interviews with United States Christians who were once self-professed atheists. These will be turned into text transcripts and then analyzed for patterns, trends, and significant findings in terms of answering how or why a person goes from being an atheist to being a Christian.

Then we plan on applying various theories of religious conversion to see if any of them possess significant explanatory utility, or if a new explanation will be required, given the uniqueness of the phenomenon we are analyzing. We'll be considering sociological and psychological processes, as well as life histories and biographical data. We'll also be taking a grounded theory approach to interpreting our data.


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My co-author and I will seek to recruit 100 Christian, former-atheist participants from across the United States, and we'll be conducting 30-minute to 1-hour telephone interviews with each one. These will be recorded, and these recordings have to be transcribed into text documents for further analysis.

Because we're aiming for such a large number of participants (large for a qualitative study, that is), the amount of transcription that has to be done will take a very long time for us to complete if we have to do it by hand, effectively adding months to our project (and also because we can only periodically work on this project alongside our other projects and responsibilities).

So the funding that we need is for the costs of professional transcription and a Skype number that respondents call, so that personal information isn't exchanged. We've already have two transcript companies lined up who are competing with bids for our transcription volume.

Meet the Team

Joseph Langston
Joseph Langston
Independent Researcher
Heather Albanesi
Heather Albanesi
Associate Professor of Sociology

Team Bio

Joseph Langston

Joseph Langston, BS, BA, MA (project owner) is an independent scholar specializing in social psychology, religion, and atheism. His prior research has focused on testing theories of the origins or causes of atheism, and on the atheist movement and its organizations in America.

Heather Albanesi

Dr. Heather Albanesi (co-author) is an Associate Professor and the Chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

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