Gender and Religious Exit: Moving Away from Faith

Coventry University, Turku University and Aston University

Online One-Day Symposium

There have always been reasons for people to move away from a religious tradition, community or movement. Religious traditions are instrumental in providing individual members with a perspective on the world, a community and a relationship with the divine. Religious communities socialize their adherents regarding behaviour, embodiment and emotions. When people move away from their religion, their experiences may pertain to all or some of these aspects and dimensions. Leaving religion is thus a varied and diverse experience.

The one-day online symposium Gender and Religious Exit takes place at 28 November 2023. It starts from the premise that motivations for moving away from religion range from experiencing cognitive or emotional dissonance to social marginalisation to a critique of power relations. The notions of ‘moving away’ or ‘religious exit’ should be considered in a layered and nuanced manner: they raise questions about what exactly individuals consider to leave, and what elements of behaviour, embodiment and emotions remain part of their environments, lives and futures. Being or moving in or away from religion is thus often a grey area, leading some to feeling that they need to reshape themselves away from the religious discourse that has been formative for their lives. Leaving religion can be more or less agentic: individuals can be moving away of their own volition, feel driven out or be directly send away or excommunicated. Leaving a religious community can be an individual challenge involving hardship and trauma, but it may equally open up new possible future paths in terms of identity or ways of life. For some, religious disaffiliation is a form of political action or a way to contest dominant religious discourses. Finally, ‘leaving religion’ can be a story that people tell others about themselves, in which certain narratives and tropes are used to shape an understanding of the self.

Moving away from religion can thus involve complex processes and negotiations of all areas of life and understandings of the self. An intersectional perspective and analysis of leaving religious is long overdue, since notions and experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and dis/ability are central in shaping identity and the self. The multidisciplinary symposium Gender and Religious Exit invites scholars to investigate the variety of contemporary dynamics of leaving religion in the lives of individuals and communities.

During the opening plenary session, research findings will be presented that emerged from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie funded two-year qualitative research by dr. Nella van den Brandt (Coventry University, UK) on women leaving religion in the UK and the Netherlands. Keynote lectures on gender, feminism, apostasy and non-religion / leaving religion in various national and cultural contexts will be provided by dr. Julia Martínez-Ariño (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands) and prof. dr. Karin van Nieuwkerk (Radboud University, the Netherlands). During following (parallel) sessions, we will further look into current international and intersectional perspectives on moving away from religion.

We thus consider gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race and dis/ability as shaping and co-constructing dynamics of moving away from religion. We welcome empirical and theoretical contributions on themes that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • dynamics of moving away from Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, New Age or Pagan traditions;
  • gender in leaving religion, including the role of femininity and masculinity, and trans and non-binary experiences;
  • LGBTQI+ experiences of moving away from religion;
  • dynamics of religious exit in various inter- or transnational and regional contexts;
  • race and racisms as crossing experiences of leaving religion;
  • formation of a life path, identity and self after religious exit;
  • communities of leaving religion (peer-groups, support structures);
  • embodied and narrative processes of unlearning religion;
  • faith, spirituality and religion after leaving religion;
  • parenthood and transgenerational relations after leaving religion;
  • family and social relations in moving away from religion;
  • rituals, the body and emotions in moving away from religion;
  • media and technology in leaving religion;
  • intersectionality and power in moving away from religion;
  • social and cultural narratives of leaving religion;
  • relationship to nature and environmental issues after leaving religion.

The deadline for submitting an abstract is September 1, 2023. Your abstract should be maximum 300 words long. The abstract document should also include a title for your presentation, your name, affiliation and email address.

Please submit your abstract through:

For registration only, please use this form:

We would like to remind you that this event is not organised by REGENN. This event, while aligned with REGENN’s mission concerning gender and religion in the Netherlands, is organised by Coventry University, Turku University and Aston University. For further information, please get in touch with dr Nella van den Brandt, Marie Curie Fellow, CTPSR, at for more information about the event.

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