Religious Exiting and Social Networks: Computer Simulations of Religious/Secular Pluralism

Ryan Cragun, Kevin McCaffree, Ivan Puga-Gonzalez, Wesley Wildman, F. LeRon Shults

Secularism and Nonreligion

Abstract: Statistical models attempting to predict who will disaffiliate from religions have typically accounted for less than 15% of the variation in religious affiliations, suggesting that we have only a partial understanding of this vital social process. Using agent-based simulations in three “artificial societies” (one predominantly religious; one predominantly secular; and one in between), we demonstrate that worldview pluralism within one’s neighborhood and family social networks can be a significant predictor of religious (dis)affiliation but in pluralistic societies worldview diversity is less important and, instead, people move toward worldview neutrality. Our results suggest that there may be two phases in religious disaffiliation: (1) the early adopters initially disaffiliate regardless of social support, and subsequently (2) disaffiliation spreads as support for it within local social networks widens and it appears more acceptable. An important next step is for sociologists to confirm or correct the theoretical findings of this model using real-world social-network data, which will require overcoming the measurement difficulties involved in estimating each individual’s degree of local network pluralism.

Click here to read the full article.