Time was when a person died in the same religion as he/she was born to – or at the most, became a passive practitioner. However with greater awareness of the plurality of cultures and knowledge systems from different parts of the world and the increasing individualism of modern ethos, religion is fast becoming a personal choice rather than communal identity. As a result many celebrities have converted to religions other they were born to. Here are ten Hollywood celebrities who have changed their, whether for personal or spiritual reasons.
One of the most high profile religious conversions in recent times has been that of Madonna, pop singer and actress to a mystical branch of Judaism, the Kabbalah. Madonna was born and raised a Catholic but developed an interest in Kabbalah after being introduced to it by her friend, the comedian and actress Sandra Bernhard, in 1997. Followers are supposed to wear a red string around their wrist to ward off the "evil eye" and believe the path to spiritual enlightenment lies in a mix of Orthodox Jewish tradition and positive thinking. As part of her new religion, she also adopted the Hebrew name Esther by which she is known to fellow believers. She also used her interest in the Kabbalah teachings as the inspiration for her series of children's books, which were launched in 2003 and include The English Roses and Mr. Peabody's Apples. Each of the tales has a strong moral tone, and they warn against such evils as greed and envy.
Madonna's involvement with Kabbalah has raised its profile around the world. The best known of around 3.5 million followers globally, she devotes several million pounds to the sect each year, as well as buying the venue for the London organization at a cost of more than £3.6million. in recent years though, there have been reports1 that Madonna was considering cutting off ties with Kabbalah, due to financial drain and the effect the austere practices – like not being allowed to celebrate Christmas – has been having on her family.
- Katie Holmes
Though she started out her career as an actress, Katie Holmes eventually came to be better known as the third wife of Hollywood star, Tom Cruise, an avid believer in the Church of Scientology since 1990. Though baptized and raised a Roman Catholic, within weeks of dating Cruise Holmes was taking Scientology classes. In 2006 they were married in a Scientology ceremony, after the given birth of their daughter Suri earlier that year - apparently Katie had a "silent birth" in accordance with Scientology practices. Over time however the overwhelming presence of the sect got to the marriage and in June 29, 2012, it was announced that Holmes had filed for divorce in New York from Cruise after five years of marriage. Even though Holmes had never officially converted to Church of Scientology, that she had done her best to live according to the sect was apparent from Tom Cruise’s interview with Diane Sawyer2 in 2006, where he said "You can be Catholic and be a Scientologist. You can be Jewish and be a Scientologist. But we’re just Scientologists."
- Jane Fonda
Brought up in an agnostic family and later married to Ted Turner, a confirmed atheist, actress Jane Fonda had little to do with traditional Christianity in the early part of her life. However a series of personal crises made Fonda look anew at her spiritual self and she found faith in Christianity. In 2001, Jane Fonda publicly announced her Christian conversion. According to Fonda, to some extent, her attraction towards Christianity may have been due to the fact that she lives in Georgia which is part of the traditional Southern Christian culture.
- Richard Gere
Pretty Woman heart-throb and once judged the sexiest man in the world, Richard Gere is perhaps the most famous Hollywood convert to Buddhism. Even though raised as a Methodist, Gere’s interest in Buddhism began early, just when in his twenties. He first studied Zen Buddhism under Kyozan Joshu Sasaki. After having studied Zen for five or six years, Gere traveled to Nepal in 1978 with the Brazilian painter, Sylvia Martins where he sought out the company of many Tibetan monks and lamas He then met the 14th Dalai Lama in India and became a practicing Buddhist of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism and an active supporter of the Dalai Lama. Gere is a regular visitor at Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and is also a vocal supporter of the Tibetan Independence Movement, because of which he is permanently banned from entering the People's Republic of China.
- Orlando Bloom
Another Hollywood celebrity who found Buddhism the way to inner peace is Orlando Bloom. The handsome young actor known for his roles in movies series like Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings was raised in the Church of England but in 2004, he became a full member of Soka Gakkai International, a Nichiren Buddhist-based lay association. Along with 60 others, his formal conversion occurred at SGI's headquarters at Taplow Court Mansion in Maidenhead, England. In an interview with the Independent Film Quarterly3, he was quoted as saying, "The philosophy that I've embraced isn't about sitting under a tree and studying my navel, it's about studying what is going on in my daily life and using that as fuel to go and live a bigger life."
- Isla Fisher
The Australian, flame-haired actress best remembered for her role as the pathologically clingy "virgin" in the hit film, "The Wedding Crashers," opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, changed her religion from Methodism to Judaism. The conversion came about after Isla Fisher entered a relationship with English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen who was brought up an Orthodox Jew in London and was quite active in Jewish theater performances there. Fisher converted to Judaism in 2007 after completing her studies and even accepted the Hebrew name Ayala. As of now the couple live in Los Angeles and London with their daughter, Olive.
- Dave Chappelle
As the son of Yvonne Seon, who was the first ordained African-American woman Unitarian Universalist minister, Comedian and actor Dave Chappelle never thought he would move away from the faith he was raised in. However under the influence of his brother who converted to Islam, Chappelle found himself drawing closer to Islam and converted in 1998. Today he is probably best known for the sudden hiatus he took in 2005 from Season Three of his then wildly popular Comedy Central program, "The Dave Chappelle Show," when he disappeared and then turned up in South Africa. Later he told Time magazine4 in 2005 that the break was occasioned by a need to reflect on his Muslim faith, to be "well balanced" and to "check my intentions," Chappelle, like always, rarely talks about his religion in public.
- Stephen Baldwin
Stephen Baldwin is the youngest of the Baldwin acting clan. Though raised as a Catholic, Baldwin moved away from religious moorings under the spell of glamour and a fast lifestyle in Hollywood. Much later he was exposed to Evangelicalism by a Brazilian housekeeper who filled his home with Portuguese songs about Jesus and in the process raised his wife Kennya’s interest in Jesus. Kennya would go on to steep herself in Bible study and become a member of a church where she would fervently pray for Stephen. He came fully into the Christian faith following the 9/11 attacks. Since then Stephen has become very vocal about his faith and his book "The Unusual Suspect," reflects this as do his extreme sports evangelism ministry and a Christian talk-radio show.
- Julia Roberts
Like her handsome co-star got drawn to Buddhism, Pretty Woman actress and one of the highest earning female stars in Hollywood wanted to learn more about another ancient Eastern religion, Hinduism. Roberts, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father, reportedly became interested in Hinduism after seeing a picture of the deity Hanuman and the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, who died in 1973 and whom she never met. She revealed in the past that the entire Roberts-Moder family went to temple together to "chant and pray and celebrate." in fact she went on record5 saying, "I'm definitely a practicing Hindu." While Roberts has been involved in yoga for quite some time, her interest in Hinduism took on a stronger form when she came to the northern Indian state of Haryana in September 2009 to shoot Eat, Pray, Love in an 'ashram' or hermitage. In January 2009, she was seen sporting a 'bindi' on her forehead during her trip to India. Her film production company is called 'Red Om Films,' named after the Hindu symbol 'Om' which is considered the mystical syllable containing the universe.
- Lewis Arquette
American film actor, writer and producer, Lewis Arquette is best remembered for playing "J.D. Pickett" on the TV series, The Waltons. He is also the father of actor siblings David and Roseanne Arquette. Though being raised as a Catholic, Arquette became a convert to Islam. However his children continue to be practicing Jews, owing to their mother, Brenda being a Jew and in fact a Holocaust survivor from Poland.
- The Independent - Kabbalah: is Madonna losing her religion?
- ABC News - Exclusive: Tom Cruise Talks to Diane Sawyer
- Independent Film Quarterly - Orlando Bloom
- Time Entertainment - On the Beach With Dave Chappelle
- Mail Online - 'I'm a Hindu': Julia Roberts reveals that she converted to the religion while making her new film Eat, Pray, Love