Melissa Thompson

Date of Award

Spring 6-5-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Sociology



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 177 pages)


Ex-church members, Identity (Psychology), Well-being, Fundamentalism




Over the past decade, researchers have documented the steady growth of religious "nones," those who do not affiliate with any organized religion. There is, however, limited research examining religious disaffiliation on health outcomes--that is, how the process of religious disaffiliation or exiting contributes to mental well-being. These trends and gap in the literature make it timely and it is important to consider the impact of leaving religion on the well-being of individuals experiencing this life transition. This qualitative study investigates a particularly understudied subgroup of exiters -- individuals who have exited Christian fundamentalist religious groups.

Drawing on 24 in-depth, individual interviews, this research examines how former religious participants reconstruct identity, social relationships and support, and meaning related to well-being -- conceptualized as the religious exiting process for this study. I employ Iterative Thematic Inquiry or ITI, a new qualitative analytic strategy that focuses on theme development before data collection, through an initial assessment of researcher preconceptions, and that writing, versus coding, is the primary procedure for data analysis. The results demonstrate that while it is challenging in the initial stages of the exiting process to forge a new sense of identity, cultivate new relationships and support, and achieve a positive meaning outcome, over time, this reconstruction contributes to greater life satisfaction.

Persistent Identifier