‘Leaving the Fold’

Apostasy from Fundamentalism and the Direction of Religious Development


  • Raoul J. Adam James Cook University




Religious Development, Fundamentalism, Apostasy


This paper re-examines the direction of religious development implicit in Piagetian-based theories in light of a recent study of apostasy from fundamentalism. The theory-led and inductive thematic analysis of apostate narratives reveals evidence of a ‘sociocognitive conflict’ that complicates the implicit teleology of traditional theories of religious development. The diverse trajectories produced by this interaction between sociocultural and cognitive influences prompts a fresh analysis of Howard Gruber’s question concerning the direction of development: Which way is up? I highlight the complex interaction between cultural and cognitive influences involved in apostasy from fundamentalism and provide support for Streib’s Religious Styles Perspective as a theory for investigating multiple factors influencing the conceptualisation and direction of religious development.

Author Biography

Raoul J. Adam, James Cook University

Raoul Adam lectures in educational psychology at the School of Education, James Cook University. His primary research interests are in epistemological development and the psychology of religion.


Apostasy from Fundamentalism Project (AFFP) 2006 Coded Data [material used in] Raoul Adam. 2007. ‘A Cognitive Developmental Analysis of Apostasy from Religious Fundamentalism’. PhD dissertation, The University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Babinski, Edward T. 1995 Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Prometheus Books, New York.

Barnes, Michael H. 2000 Stages of Thought: The Co-evolution of Religious Thought and Science. Oxford University Press, New York.

Barret, Justin L. 2004 Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Altamira Press, New York.

Boone, Kathleen 1989 The Bible Tells Them So: The Discourse of Protestant Fundamentalism. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY.

Boyer, Pascal 1994 Cognitive Constraints on Cultural Representations: Natural Ontologies and Religious Ideas. In Hirschfeld and Gelman 1994: 391-411.

Bruce, Steve 2000 Fundamentalism. Polity Press, Malden, MA.

Caplovitz, David, and Fred Sherrow 1977 The Religious Drop-outs: Apostasy among College Graduates. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA.

Carter, Alan 2000 On Pascal’s Wager, or Why All Bets Are Off. Philosophical Quarterly 50: 22–27.

Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby 1994 Origins of Domain Specificity: The Evolution of Functional Organization. In Hirschfeld and Gelman 1994: 85-116.

Davis, James Allan, Tom W. Smith, and Peter V. Marsden 2002 General Social Survey 2002. The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, National Opinion Research Centre, Chicago, IL.

Dekmejian, Richard H. 1985 Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World. Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY.

Doise, William, and Gabriel Mugny 1984 The Social Development of the Intellect. Pergamon Press, Oxford.

Evans, E. Margaret 2000 Beyond Scopes: Why Creationism is Here to Stay. In Imagining the Impossible: The Development of Magical, Scientific, and Religious Thinking in Contemporary Society, edited by Karl S. Rosengren, Carl N. Johnson, and Paul L. Harris, 305-33. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Cognitive and Contextual Factors in the Emergence of Diverse Belief Systems: Creation versus Evolution. Cognitive Psychology 42: 217-66. doi:10.1006/cogp.2001.0749.

Fowler, James W. 1981 Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Harper & Row, San Francisco, CA.

Fowler, James W., Heinz Streib, and Barbara Keller 2004 Manual for Faith Development Research. Centre for Research in Faith and Moral Development, Atlanta, GA.

Gruber, Howard E. 1986 Which Way is Up? A Developmental Question. In Adult Cognitive Development: Methods and Models, edited by Karen S. Kitchner and Robert A. Mines, 112-33. Praeger Scientific, New York.

Hirschfeld, Lawrence A., and Susan A. Gelman (eds.) 1994 Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture.

Cambridge University Press, New York.

Hood, Ralph W., Paul Hill, and William Williamson 2005 The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism. Guilford Press, New York.

Introvigne, Massimo 1997 Defectors, Ordinary Leave-takers and Apostates: A Quantitative Study of Former Members of New Acropolis in France. Online: http://www.cesnur.org/testi/Acropolis.htm (accessed June 22, 2005).

Kliever, Lonnie D. 1995 The Reliability of Apostate Testimony about New Religious Movements. Online: http://www.neuereligion.de/ENG/Kliever (accessed June 22, 2005).

Kohlberg, Lawrence 1971 From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development. In Cognitive Development and Epistemology, edited by Theodore Mischel, 222-25. Academic Press, New York.

Korniejczuk, Victor A. 1993 Psychological Theories of Religious Development: A Seventh-Day Adventist Perspective. Paper prepared for the International Faith and Learning Seminar, Institute for Christian Teaching, Lincoln, NE.

McDowell, Josh 1979 Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.

McDowell, Josh, and Don Stewart 1980 Answers to Tough Questions: Skeptics Ask about the Christian Faith. Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL.

Nagata, Judith 2001 Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of ‘Fundamentalism’. American Anthropologist 103(2): 481-98. doi:10.1525/aa.2001.103.2.481.

Oser, Fritz, and Paul Gmünder 1991 Religious Judgment: A Developmental Approach. Religious Education Press, Birmingham, AL.

Piaget, Jean 1971 Genetic Epistemology. Norton, New York.

Plantinga, Alvin 2000 Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford University Press, New York. doi:10.1093/0195131932.001.0001.

Reich, Helmut K. 2002 Developing the Horizons of the Mind: Relational and Contextual Reasoning and the Resolution of Cognitive Conflict. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Siegler, Robert, S. 1996 Emerging Minds: The Process of Change in Children’s Thinking. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Smith, Tom 1990 Classifying Protestant Denominations. Review of Religious Research 31(3). Online: http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=96619399 (accessed October 4, 2004).

Streib, Heinz 2001 Faith Development Theory Revisited: The Religious Styles Perspective. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 11(3): 143-58. doi:10.1207/S15327582IJPR1103_02.

a Biographical and Religious Development in Christian-Fundamentalist Converts and Deconverts: A Narrative Approach. Online: http://wwwhomes.uni-bielefeld.de/hstreib/ResearchNote.pdf (accessed March 21, 2004).

b A Faith Development Perspective on Fundamentalism. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Salt Lake City, November 3, 2002. Online: http://wwwhomes.uni-bielefeld.de/hstreib/Fund-FD(Streib2002).pdf (accessed June 5, 2007).

Faith Development Research Revisited: Accounting for Diversity in Structure, Content, and Narrativity of Faith. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 15(2): 99-121. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1502_1.

Faith Development and a Way beyond Fundamentalism. In Faith-Based Radicalism: Christianity, Islam and Judaism between Constructive Activism and Destructive Fanaticism, edited by Christiane Timmerman et al., 151-67. Peter Lang, Brussels.

Vygotsky, Lev S. 1962 Thought and Language. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. doi:10.1037/11193-000.

Wilson, Stephen G. 2004 Leaving the Fold: Apostates and Defectors in Antiquity. Fortress Press, Minneapolis.

Winell, Marlene 1993 Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA.

Wulff, David M. 1993 On the Origins and Goals of Religious Development. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 3(3): 181-86. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr0303_3.



How to Cite

Adam, R. J. (2009). ‘Leaving the Fold’: Apostasy from Fundamentalism and the Direction of Religious Development. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 22(1), 42–63. https://doi.org/10.1558/arsr.v22i1.42