Classic and novel exploration styles in religious identity formation: Modern-Orthodox Israelis in mechina gap-year programs

Gai Halevy, Zehavit Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


To examine Erik Erikson's identity exploration styles as developed by James Marcia into the identity status model and expanded by Koen Luyckx et al. (2006), the present longitudinal study traced exploration styles in the ongoing process of religious identity formation in an underinvestigated sociocultural context: Israeli Modern-Orthodox students in posthigh school religious mechina gap-year programs. Modern-Orthodoxy contains inherent tensions between traditional religious observance and secular modernity. Using qualitative methodology, we conducted 158 interviews over 1.5 years with 20 male adolescents (age 18-20 years) and 3 rabbis heading 3 mechina programs. Content analysis distinguished four styles of religious identity exploration, two previously documented styles (in-depth, in-breadth) and two novel substyles (experiential, directed). In experiential exploration, students "try out" different behavioral religious experiences; if those are unsatisfying and students will not abandon their current commitment, moratorium may lead to foreclosure (see the case of Tom). In directed exploration, students' identity seeking is directed by educators toward one well-recognized alternative; students who reject that doctrine may regress to foreclosure (see the case of Erez). These findings add nuance to identity theory, highlighting the central link between identity and sociocultural context and emphasizing a dynamic model of identity formation in this understudied population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
Number of pages11
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
Issue number2
Early online date21 Jun 2018
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Psychological Association.


  • Identity
  • In-breadth exploration
  • In-depth exploration
  • Religious exploration
  • Sociocultural context


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