The Jehovah’s Witnesses in scholarly perspective:

What's new in the scientific study of Jehovean movement?


April 21-22 2016 - Antwerp, Belgium

The European Observatory of Religion and Secularism

In partnership with CLIMAS, Bordeaux Montaigne University, CESNUR (Turin) and the

Faculty of Comparative Studies of Religion and Humanism (FVG), Bist 162. 2610 Wilrijke


This presentation is only a summary. The text in his integrality will be published in FVG - ACTA COMPARANDA Subsidia III in June, 2016.


The Mental Health of Jehovah’s witnesses
Rolf Furuli, University of Oslo.



The studies of Rylander (1946), Pescor (1949), von Janner (1963), and Spencer (1975) of the mental health of JW are old, and they have several methodological weaknesses. Therefore, none of these studies can tell anything about the mental health of JW today.


Jerry Bergman has published one book and several articles on the mental health of JW. His scholarly integrity can be questioned, both because he is an adversary of JW, and because he presents himself as a psychiatrist, which is not correct. On the basis of his answers when he was examined in two child custody cases, we know that he never has made a scientific study of the mental health of JW. Thus, his claim that Witnesses have  between 10 and 16% higher rate of mental illness than the non-Witness population, and that 10% of the congregation members are in need of professional help, has no basis whatsoever. This means that no published studies exist that give a sound scientific assessment of the mental health of the 13 million JW in the world.


In contrast to this, my two empirical studies of the mental health of JW throw some light of the issue. My study of 984 members of 8 congregations of JW in southern Norway in 1993 (published in 2001), shows that the rate of mental illness and severe depression among the Witnesses was less than half the rate in the Norwegian population. My 2015 study is particularly important because the mental health of one third of the Witnesses in Norway was considered (5,457 members in 35 congregations). In order to make the study representative for JW worldwide, 3,283 members in 24 congregations in USA, as well as 1,935 members in 15 congregations in 13 other countries were included.


The results are that the rate of mental illness (psychosis, including schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder) among JW is a little more than one third of the rate in the population as a whole, and the rate of severe depression is about one fifth of the rate in the population. These results are the diametrical opposite of the five old studies of the mental health of JW published in scholarly journals, the publications of Jerry Bergman, as well as numerous articles on the Internet. Because the criteria used are simple and clear, and because the group that has been studied is large and represents 15 different countries, the results can be viewed as representative for the worldwide population of Jehovah’s Witnesses.





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