'I am a Believer but not a Conformist': Negotiating Claims to being Religious among Syrian Christians and Muslims

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Psychologists' attempts to define and measure religion reveal substantial variability, a lack of consensus, cultural variation and differences between religions. A discursive psychology approach can address variability in meanings and the inferential issues that may inform claims to be religious. This paper identifies strategies used by Syrian Muslims and Christians to affirm, reformulate or deny religiousness. The analysis is based on a corpus of data generated through semi-structured interviews with 158 men and women. It shows how some speakers affirm that they are religious and treat this as a non-accountable matter. When asked to describe the basis of being religious, they produced descriptions of their own practices or a set of general criteria. Other speakers denied or modified 'being religious', using an 'x but not y' formulation to reject one meaning (for example, conformist) in favour of another (for example, believer). Some speakers' self-ascriptions were reinforced by characterizing their own views of religion as morals and good behaviour. Thus speakers deploy multiple meanings of religion for different purposes. Moreover their accounts address inferential and interpersonal problems that arise when claiming to be religious: specifically that others may infer extremism or conformity, or prejudice against members of other religions. The implications of these observations for social psychological studies of religion are discussed. Copyright (C) 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)468-483
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Community and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date23 Oct 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


  • Christian
  • conversation analysis
  • discursive psychology
  • Muslim
  • religion
  • religiousness
  • Syria


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