The impact of Christian fundamentalism on adolescent and young adult development: A exploratory qualitative study
A multiple case study explored the potential for adverse developmental consequences for 10 participants reared in a Christian fundamentalist environment who eventually converted away to an alternative religious worldview. Interviews were carried out to characterize commonalities of the fundamentalist environment and the lived experiences of participants with particular emphasis on the critical periods of adolescence and young adulthood. The study data depicts a highly uniform childhood environment where participant's enculturation was thorough; they were nurtured in safe harmony with God and insulated from the sinful outer world, they were instilled with high levels of guilt; they experienced several forms of manipulation to assure their enculturation and faith maintenance, including rigid authoritarianism; and the concept of salvation was thoroughly engrained. The study data was found to fit an evolutionary model. Participants were in homeostasis with their fundamentalist environment throughout childhood. During adolescence and early adulthood they were exposed to perturbing stimuli where exogenous worldviews conflicted with their enculturation. Developmental adaptation was additionally burdened by the need to resolve the worldview conflicts along the course of defining individualized identity and a vision for their future during the critical development windows. The primary mediating mechanism for conversion away from fundamentalism was critical, existential thinking, but the timeframe and endpoint of conversions were highly variant. All participants eventually rejected the rigid strictures of their fundamentalist rearing. Half became agnostics or atheists, but the other half retained the supernatural beliefs, especially the alluring aspect of salvation and an all-powerful male God image. The ways and means that the fundamentalist environment constrains critical and existential thinking and hinders the development of such thinking skills should be a matter of cultural and psychological profession concern. Those that convert away from fundamentalism such as the participants of this study comprise a smaller cohort than those that remain unconverted. There exists a compelling question as to how members of the larger unconverted cohort have been affected.