As people drift away from traditional Christian churches, a growing number are converting to other faiths. Clair Weaver and Thérèse Henkin meet three women who have undergone life-changing spiritual transformations.
women who have found spiritual fulfilment beyond Christianity
Like many teenagers, Susan Carland was trying to figure out her identity and direction in life when she began questioning the religion she’d been raised with. Growing up in a loving family in a regular suburban Christian home, she’d attended the Uniting Church as a child before switching to the Baptist Church as a teenager.
“I was very happy with the Christian faith I had grown up with,” she says. “It was so positive, I started going to my [church] role models with my questions.”
Yet her spiritual curiosity was still not quenched, so the then 17-year-old decided to embark on an exploration of other religions.
“I started to wonder why I believed what I did,” recalls Susan. “Was it because I genuinely believed it to be true or was it because it was what I was raised to believe?”
There was only one religion she really wasn’t interested in – Islam. “I thought, why would anyone want to be part of a barbaric, outdated, sexist religion?” Susan says.
Two years later, she became a Muslim. In this year’s Australian Census, it’s quite possible that “no religion” will become the number one single answer to the question on religion. If so, it will overtake Catholicism, which has been the top response for the past three decades, and Anglicanism, which had been number one since records began (although Christianity is likely to stay on top if you combine all its denominations).
However, this is not the only change that’s been observed. Minority nonChristian religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, are bucking the trend, swelling in numbers as the larger churches downsize. A big part of the explanation, of course, is migration and population growth. Yet there’s another reason, too: people converting to faiths that resonate more deeply than the ones they were raised with.
Islam is growing in Australia, although contrary to public perception, Muslims still make up only 2.2 per cent of the population at last count (a survey in 2014 found Australians on average guessed the figure to be 18 per cent). When Dr Susan Carland, now a sociologist and academic at Monash University in Melbourne, converted at 19, that figure was just 1 per cent.
Despite her early avoidance of
Islam, Susan says, “I kept coming across information about Islam in my reading and on TV until my interest was piqued.”
Given the internet hadn’t taken hold yet, she turned to books and a Muslim women’s group at university to find out more. After two years of research, a series of small epiphanies and much soul-searching, Susan decided she was ready to commit.
“Before I felt a spiritual connection to Islam, I felt a logical connection to it,” she says. “I found the emphasis on social justice appealing; I noticed there was a real concern for the vulnerable people in society. Islam codifies their right to be protected.”
Of making her new faith official, Susan says, “Becoming Muslim felt