Investigating religious conversion among Chinese college students: Testing the expansion of the Lofland and Stark model and the impact of media

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Xiao, Haifan
Lofland and Stark model; religious conversion
thesis / dissertation description
With an increasing number of Chinese students pursuing academic careers in the United States, where the majority of people hold religious beliefs, Chinese students’ conversion to religion when they move to the United States has become increasingly more common. In China, people are free to hold their own religious beliefs, according to the law. People who have a religious orientation, however, make up a small portion of the population because of the China’s unique history and political context. The dissemination of religious information, especially from foreign countries, is limited and people have few channels to learn about religion. Therefore, when Chinese students without a religious orientation find themselves in a society with different cultural and religious histories, their adaptation and emergence into the new environment is of great significance. In addition, people today have more opportunities to gather religious information online, especially when students come to the United States. By using the expansion of Lofland and Stark’s model (1965) and by focusing on the impact of media, my thesis investigates the process of religious conversion among Chinese college students in Ames, Iowa, a university town in the U.S. Midwest. Through 12 in-depth interviews, two important new themes emerged. The first new theme was families’ attitudinal change from opposition to consent toward religious conversion. The second new theme involved feelings of doubt after conversion and the management of these doubts. Regarding the test with respect to the expansion of Lofland and Stark’s (1965) model, the result confirmed the significance of three conditions: a turning point, affective bonds, and neutralized or supportive attitudes from extraneous social networks. This result refuted the necessity of the remaining conditions: acutely felt tension, the religious perspective, defining oneself as a religious seeker, and intensive interaction. Participants reported significance of media on their conversion, although their church sanctioned only specific sites or online resources after conversion.