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Book: The Insider/Outsider Debate

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

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27471


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.

Chapter Contributors

  • Janet Eccles ( - janeteccles) 'Lancaster University'