McDaniel, Michallene Gregge
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In recent decades much sociological thought has been devoted to the relative level of religiosity in the United States, as well as to the types of religions that have gained or lost popularity over the years. Another body of research has undertaken the tasks of describing and analyzing discrete new religious movements. This dissertation serves to bridge the gap between these research literatures by describing the process by which individuals actively engage in choosing among the many religious offerings in today’s society. Religion is not only a status that an individual claims. Religion may also be thought of as an activity in which people engage. Individual agents actively “do religion,” in that they constantly choose to believe some ideas rather than others. Based on textual analysis of reader reviews of bestselling religious books, this dissertation includes an analysis of the process of meaning construction on the part of spiritually-interested people, particularly regarding the meanings of family and authority, and the relative importance of social and ideological boundary maintenance. From that analysis three distinct groups of readers emerged, each characterized by a distinct cognitive orientation to the world. These orientations, called “Open,” “Semi-Permeable,” and “Closed,” are presented in this dissertation as ideal types or models. However, the study also suggests possible applications for these models as they are tested beyond the realm of this project.