Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations

Spiritual Identity Formation: Testing a Model of Religious Conversion Processes

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Kenneth Pargament

Second Advisor

Annette Mahoney (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Linda Petrosino (Committee Member)


Religious conversion has long fascinated both the faithful and social scientists. However, despite efforts to distinguish between different styles and processes, measures of conversion styles are lacking. The present study proposes a framework for understanding the variety of religious conversion experiences based upon identity development theory and research.

The author developed self-report, Likert-type measures of three conversion styles and administered them to college students from six institutions. The final sample consisted of 478 college students who met criteria for having experienced a religious conversion. The author performed exploratory factor analyses and reliability analyses on the conversion style measures in order to refine them, which resulted in a four-factor model of conversion styles. Using the final scales, he used hierarchical multiple regression to test their relationships with participants’ retrospective reports of their psychosocial functioning (e.g., perceived stress) in the period leading up to their conversion, as well as participants’ current psychosocial and religious/spiritual functioning.

The results suggested that the four measures reliably assessed distinct constructs and that they showed different patterns of relationships to other psychosocial and religious/spiritual variables. It appears that some forms of conversion are associated with better functioning whereas others are related to poorer functioning. The conversion style measures developed in this study open up new possibilities for empirical psychological research on religious conversion and may challenge prevailing understandings of this phenomenon.