Chang­ing re­li­gion:

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.

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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

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