Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Graduate Department of Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Rodger K. Bufford

Second Advisor

Kathleen A. Gathercoal

Third Advisor

Kathryn Ecklund


Apostasy is the transition involving disengagement from previously held religious beliefs. Social-psychological investigators of the nature and causes of apostasy have identified varied causes for the transition including weak religious socialization (Hunsberger, 1980, p. 159), commitment to intellectualism (Caplovitz & Sherrow, 1977), aversion to the hypocrisy of others, acute trauma or loss, or discontentment with the promises of religion (Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt, & Prancer, 1993).

Most experiences of apostasy follow the pattern that socialization theory predicts, that highly religiously socialized individuals adhere to their beliefs and minimally socialized individuals are more likely to discard their beliefs (Hunsberger, 1980, p. 158). A small percentage (1.4% ), however, appear to act in contrast to this theory (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 1997, p. 27). These individuals, termed "amazing apostates", show a commitment to intellectualism, a questioning attitude, and often invest focused energy and substantial time into the doubting process. It appears that in this type of apostasy individuals are more concerned with the rational problems with religious beliefs themselves than motivated by an emotional response characterized by discontentment, loss, or aversion to some aspect of practiced religion.

Though the amazing apostate may go through a largely intellectualized process, he/she may experience intense emotional sequelae including guilt, intermittent fear of God, existential crisis, and loss of social support. This process of moving away from religious belief will likely cause problematic psychological (existential/emotional), social, behavioral, and occupational functioning and may require therapeutic intervention.

A therapeutic model is articulated including recommendations for rapport building, assessment and diagnosis, goal-formulation, intervention selection, and termination. Interventions include cognitive therapies to deal with negative affect, role playing and decisional interventions for relationship conflicts, and philosophical partnership which involves facilitating clients' search for truth on their own terms. Other interventions include the creation of a transitional or new, permanent worldview, the development of new group membership, and identity reformation.

Finally, the project explores the possibility that the amazing apostates isolated by the Altemeyer and Hunsberger (1997) study may actually be a less than homogeneous group. The differing therapeutic needs of two proposed subgroups are discussed.

Included in

Psychology Commons