Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

The effects upon an individual's identity as a result of his or her changing meaning systems. William James's studies of the psychology of religious experience, and specifically of the conversion process, represent an early exploration of this concept. Drawing upon Alfred Schutz's phenomenology, Peter L. Berger coined this term to describe the near total transformation of identity resulting from the internalization of a different meaning system. The conversion process, religious or secular, is one example. The radical changes in an individual's biography and self-concept that typify this experience are usually accompanied by a shift from one social world to another. Alternation may be more commonplace in modern, pluralistic societies where individuals are exposed to a broader range of meaning systems through communication technology or because of social and geographic mobility.

Bruce Karlenzig


P. L. Berger, The Precarious Vision (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961)

P. L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963)

P. L. Berger and T. Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966)

W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: New American Library, 1958 [1902]).

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