Lost Sheep: Influences in the formation of religious meanings and identities of former practicing Catholics

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Abstract: Dacanay, M. H. A., and Manabat, N. A. P. (2010).“Lost” Sheep?: Influences in the Formation of Religious Meanings and Identities of Former Practicing Catholics. Unpublished Undergraduate Thesis, University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communication.

This thesis discusses meanings attached to Catholic practices and symbols, as well as influences in the formation of religious meanings and identities of Filipino youth who drifted away from Catholicism (non-practicing Catholics, converts to another religion, atheists/agnostics). This study also looks into face-concern manifestations (self, other, and mutual) in the various directions of religious conversion. Past studies revealed that interpersonal and intrapersonal factors have varying influences in conversion, and personal religious experiences are also diverse. This study addresses the lack of studies that focus on Filipino religious experience, as well the communication aspect of the process of conversion away from Catholicism. Insights from three theories (namely George Herbert Mead‘s Symbolic Interactionism, Michael Hecht’s Communication Theory of Identity, and Stella Ting-Tomey’s Face Negotiation Theory) guided this study. The construction of meaning is made through the interaction process of the self with the society or the social world. Also, the individual builds frames of identity which become the source of one’s motivations on religious practice and expectations toward religion. These frames involve self-cognitions on being Catholic, family’s religious background, membership in Catholic organizations, attendance in Catholic schools, and interactions with/observations on the clergy, fellow Catholics, and friends. The direction of conversion is influenced by the facework strategies that an individual employs depending on one’s locus of facework. For the purpose of this study, the researchers conducted 21 focus interviews following criterion and snowball sampling. Findings of the study revealed that Catholic practices and symbols were generally understood negatively by informants due to the lack of in-depth explanation and emphasis on significance in Catholic families and schools. Undesirable outcomes of meaning and identity formation resulted to decisions to drift away from Catholicism. Looking at the informants’ stories of religious transformation, conversion to other religions was interpersonally driven, while turning into non-practicing Catholics and religiously-unaffiliated individuals (e.g. atheists and agnostics) is mainly motivated by intrapersonal influences. Concerning facework, mutual-face concern was manifested in inward (concealed) conversions, while self-face concern was demonstrated in outward (overt) conversions. The results of this study call for the need for programs and activities specifically targeted to Catholic youth that will help them appreciate the practical applications of their religion. Moreover, teachers of religion (including the clergy) should be well-trained and serve as role models for Catholic youth.

Subject Index: Catholics, Atheists, Agnosticism, Signs and symbols, Religion, Identity (Philosophical concept)

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