by Valerie Tarico
What do vampires and Las Vegas atheists have in common? Ethical rules, social stigma, and a hunger for community. When people think about Las Vegas, most picture some combination of gambling, burlesque, night clubs and legalized prostitution—the pleasures that earned Vegas the nickname Sin City. But when Sociologist Lori Fazzino thinks about Las Vegas, she pictures churches.
Seventy-seven percent of Las Vegas residents say they are religious, mostly Christian; and Vegas caters to a largely Christian population of tourists, many of whom party hard on Saturday night and then attend one of the 30 churches surrounding the strip on Sunday. And yet, the city’s public image makes it a target for revival meetings, “church planting” and missionary outreach by conservative Christians who see the city as ripe for redemption. According to Fazzino, that makes Sin City a fascinating place to study religious belief and non-belief.
Fazzino is an instructor and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, and a former Evangelical Christian. Her research explores social movements and identity, religious conversion and deconversion, and in particular how people leaving their religion arrive at a new worldview and community. In this interview she discusses challenges faced by secular groups and individuals in a city that is enamored with both sin and salvation.
Tarico: You’re a former Evangelical, a former erotic dancer, and now an academic sociologist studying religion in Las Vegas. That combination is a bit dizzying. How in the world did you end up where you are?
Fazzino: I was raised Catholic and got saved at an Evangelical mega-church at age 16. But in 2007, I was excommunicated, well as much as you can get excommunicated from a Protestant church. I was living just south of Seattle, very involved in a church called Real Life. I also was in a very bad marriage with a man who lied to get me down the aisle. About a year in, I learned that we were deeply in debt to the point that we almost lost our house.
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