Religious identity

Religious Identity is a specific type of identity formation. Particularly, it is the sense of group membership to a religion and the importance of this group membership as it pertains to one's self-concept. Religious identity is not necessarily the same as religiousness or religiosity. Although these three terms share a commonality, religiousness and religiosity refer to both the value of religious group membership as well as participation in religious events (e.g. going to church).[1][2] Religious identity, on the other hand, refers specifically to religious group membership regardless of religious activity or participation.

Similar to other forms of identity formation, such as ethnic and cultural identity, the religious context can generally provide a perspective from which to view the world, opportunities to socialize with a spectrum of individuals from different generations, and a set of basic principles to live out.[3] These foundations can come to shape an individual's identity.

Despite the implications that religion has on identity development, the identity formation literature has mainly focused on ethnicity and gender and has largely discounted the role of religion. Nevertheless, an increasing number of studies have begun to include religion as a factor of interest.[1][3][4] However, many of these studies use religious identity, religiosity, and religiousness interchangeably or solely focus on religious identity and solely religious participation as separate constructs.

Of these types of research studies, researchers have examined the various factors that affect the strength of one's religious identity over time.[5][6][7] Factors that have been found to affect levels of religious identity include gender, ethnicity, and generational status.[3][8][9][10][11]

'Identity' is one of the most used terms in the social sciences and has different senses in different research paradigms. In addition to psychological studies, sociologists and anthropologists also apply the term 'religious identity' and examine its related processes in given social contexts. For example, one important study conducted in the United States after the events of September 11, 2001, explored the meaning-making among American Muslims[12] and how changes in identity ascription (what people think about another group of people) affected how Muslims sought to represent themselves. Other studies have applied concepts appropriated from race and gender identity theory such as disidentification[13] which undermines essentialist accounts of religious identity - that an individual has a 'fixed' religious identity, independent of pre-existing systems of representation and individuals' positioning within them.


During the early 1800s in the field of psychology, research on the topic of religion was considered important and ubiquitous. For example, researchers like G. Stanley Hall and William James conducted studies on such topics as religious conversion.[14][15] In contrast, the public perspective on religion began to shift two decades later.[15] Instead of religion being seen as an integral part of an individual's life and development and thus a necessary topic to research, scientists and scholars alike viewed religion as a hindrance to the progression of science and as a topic no longer applicable to the current times.[15][16][17]

Contrary to social scientists' prediction of the general decline of religion over time and increase of secularization leading to a complete abandonment of religious studies, religion did not diminish and was instead acknowledged by researchers as a topic worthwhile to research. Scientists and scholars, like British sociologist John Thompson, realized that despite the neglect of religion in studies, the presence and impact of religion on individuals' lives were undeniable and did not disappear with time.[18] Hence, a body of research on religion began to take root. Particularly, a handful of researchers were interested in examining religious identity during adolescence.

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