How Families Navigate Religious Disaffiliation: A Grounded Theory

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Religious disaffiliation, defined as the act of leaving or choosing to no longer affiliate with a religious tradition, has individual, relational, psychological, and emotional consequences. While not every family experiences challenges after the disclosure of religious disaffiliation, the relational challenges associated with disaffiliation are well documented. Negative relational consequences include loss of family and community ties, secret keeping, lying, and tension in family relationships. While disaffiliation research is becoming more common, there are still large gaps in the literature about the relational impacts of disaffiliation, as well as information about families who navigate these changes well. The current study aimed to begin filling these gaps in the literature by focusing on how families maintain family relationships and family functioning after religious disaffiliation from the perspective of the disaffiliated family member. Using grounded theory, the researcher interviewed 20 individuals who disaffiliated from their family’s religious tradition about the disaffiliation experience and the factors that allowed them to maintain family relationships and functioning. The analysis resulted in the development of a dynamic model characterized by two processes, disaffiliated individual actions and actions experienced as a family. Both processes are built upon a foundation of love and the desire to have a relationship. Clinical implications and future research directions will be discussed.

Religious Disaffiliation, Family Relationships