Deconversion as Conflict: The Moral Grammar of Latter-day Saints and Ex-Mormons



Hill, Oakley Thomas

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In religious psychology, deconversion is often studied as an intrapersonal phenomenon, a shift from religious belief to disbelief. But deconversion is at least analogous to (if not coterminous with) social conflict in that both are complex, non-linear social phenomena characterized by destructive relational patterns and protracted social identities. Hence this thesis presents a theory of deconversion as conflict. This theory is informed both by original research and the literatures of religious psychology, peace and conflict studies, and narratology. Original research includes a root narrative analysis of a triangulated dataset—five focus group interviews and a small sample of representative texts from three conflict parties. This includes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its current members, and its former members. This analysis demonstrates stark differences in moral grammar that make it difficult for each party to understand the points of view of the other. Who one group sees as a hero, the other sees as a villain; and what one group sees as their primary method of overcoming abuse, the other sees as an abuse of power. These disparate moral systems influence each party to choose resolution strategies such as evangelism and apologetics that fracture their relationship and prevent reconciliation. These findings suggest: a) deconversion transforms the relationships between believers and the newly formed disbeliever, b) evangelism and apologetics are win-lose modes of interaction unfit for the purpose of conflict resolution, and c) a healed relationship between believers and disbelievers will not occur automatically but requires renegotiation.


This thesis has been embargoed for 2 years. It will not be available until May 2023 at the earliest.


Deconversion, Ex-Mormon, Peace and conflict studies, Narrative, Religious psychology, Mormon studies