Stages in Religious Conversion

“There is only one true and right way.” Isn’t that what we are taught as children? And as we grow we discover that this is not necessarily true … in fact there is a multitude of spiritual and religious paths … each as valid and special as the other – and each with their own lessons to teach us as we journey through our lives.

Of these some are old and some are new … and each of them find new converts on a daily basis. But how and why does these conversions occur? There are several reasons, but the most common is that of dissatisfaction with one’s current religious teachings and beliefs.

Always the first stage in any religious conversion is a questioning of the current religious system. This can occur in one of two ways … either through external stimuli or through personal experience.

If this is done through external stimuli, it is usually through discussion with another person – usually a follower of the religion to which the conversion occurs – or through media such as books or (in our modern day and age) radio, television or even the internet.

If this questioning occurs because of personal experience it is usually because the individual grows angry with the teachings and practices of their current belief system. This can happen due to personal experience with the involved deity or due to seeing that the image projected by the specific religion does not correspond to the actual practices of its followers or institutions.

Once this dissatisfaction and questioning grows beyond a certain point the individual will begin searching for other options and spiritual belief systems. Once again, this can occur through interaction with followers of other religions or self study and research.

If the individual believes that they have found a suitable path that supports their personal beliefs and views, they will begin to slowly explore this new religion and its teachings. It is possible that as they research their newly chosen path, that they will still find that it is not quite what they are looking for and they will continue their search, deciding on another spiritual path to explore. This will then continue until they find a belief system that truly resonates with them and they will begin to explore that specific path with more intensity and fervor – delving deeper into its teachings and ideas.

The next step in the conversion of the individual to the new religion is then attending a ceremony held by the followers of the specific religion, thus seeing if the actual practice resembles what they have found during their research – as well as if the people truly resonate that which the religion is supposed to show. If they are happy with the results that they find, they will move on to the next step in their ultimate conversion to their newly chosen faith.

Now the individual will begin to actively mingle with the other followers of the religion, most probably changing their social circles and behavior to reflect their new group of peers. This is clearly represented in the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.”

This means that the individual will now join study groups, attend more and more ceremonies and become fully involved with their new spiritual circle. Debates and discussions will begin to clearly reflect the teachings and ideas of the newly adopted religion. An official initiation of some sort will also be undergone to show that the individual is now a formal member and follower of the new religion – this can be either private or public, depending on the individual and the religious practices.

As knowledge and experience in the new spiritual path increases, the individual will over time become more and more involved in the activities of religious groups, eventually perhaps even forming and leading their own private groups under the supervision of the senior local body. Involvement in ceremonies will also increase, from a simple bystander to an active role with specific responsibilities within the religious community.

The final step – which not all converts and followers of a given religion will undertake – is that of joining the clergy of the specific spiritual path. This shows a complete and full commitment to the religious path and its community and a willingness to serve those who follow the same path.