A common perception about individuals who switch religions is that they are very fervent about their new faith. A new analysis by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life provides quantitative support for this piece of conventional wisdom often referred to as the "zeal of the convert." The analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed slightly more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith, as measured by the importance of religion in their lives, frequency with which they attend religious services and other measures of religious commitment. However, the analysis also finds that the differences in religious commitment between converts and nonconverts are generally very small and are more apparent among some religious groups than others.
One of the most striking findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007, was the large number of people who have left their childhood faith. According to the survey, roughly half of all Americans say they have left the faith in which they were raised to adopt another faith or no faith at all, or if they were not raised in a religion, they have since joined one.
The new analysis finds that, overall, people who have switched religions consistently exhibit higher levels of religious commitment than those who still belong to their childhood faith, but the differences are relatively modest. For example, among people currently affiliated with a religion:
- Slightly more than two-thirds of converts (69%) say religion is very important to them, compared with 62% of nonconverts.
- Half of converts (51%) attend worship services at least once a week, compared with 44% of nonconverts.
- More than eight-in-ten converts (82%) believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 77% of nonconverts.
- Seven-in-ten converts (70%) pray every day, compared with 62% of nonconverts.
- About three-in-ten converts (29%) say they share their views on God with others at least once a week, compared with two-in-ten nonconverts (20%).
- And slightly more than one-quarter of converts (27%) say theirs is the one true faith, compared with 22% of nonconverts.
The analysis reveals only one striking exception to this pattern: Lifelong Mormons are significantly more religious than converts to the faith on two measures. Nonconverts are, for instance, more likely to attend church regularly and to believe that theirs is the one true faith than are converts to the Mormon faith. Outside of Mormonism, however, the analysis finds no instances where lifelong members of a particular faith exhibit significantly higher levels of religious commitment than converts on any of the six measures.