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.
Bergin, A.E. “Religiosity and mental health: A critical reevaluation and meta-analysis.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 14 (1983).
Beckford, J.A. “Correspondence: Psychiatry and Sectarians.” British Journal of Psychiatry, 127 (1975): 414.
Bergman, J. “Paradise Postponed . . . and Postponed: Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Have a High Mental Illness Level” Creation Research Institute, Charlotte, article ID: DJ601.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and Kindred Groups: A Historical Compendium and Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Problem of Mental Illness. Clayton, Calif: Witness Inc., 1992.
- The Mental Health of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Cult Awareness Information Center.(http://www.culthelp.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=403&Itemid=8)
Dein, S. “Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health.” Psychiatric Times.
Ellis, A. “Psychotherapy and atheistic values: a response to A.E. Bergin’s ‘Psychotherapy and religious values.’” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 48, 5 (1980): 635–639.
ESEMeD. European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders Project.
Englebert, J. A New Understanding of Psychopathy: The Contribution of Phenomenological Psychopathology.
Folkehelserapporten (“The Report of the Public health”) 2009. Folkehelseinstituttet.
Folkehelserapporten (“The Report of the Public health”) 2014: Helsetilstanden i Norge. C.Stoltenberg ed.
Furuli, R., L, Groenewald, and J. Nerdrum. “Studiet av nye religiøse bevegelser med vekt på Jehovas vitners psykiske helse” (“The study of new religious denominations, with focus on the mental health of Jehovah’s Witnesses”). Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening (Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association) 2001: 123–128.
von Janner, J. “Die forensisch-psychiatrische und sanitätsdienstliche Beurteilung von Dienstverweigern.” (“The forensic-psychiatric and medical assessment of conscientious objectors”). Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift 93, 23 (1963): 819–826.
Judd, D.K. Religiosity and mental health: a literature review 1928–1985. Unpublished master’s thesis. Brigham Young University, Provo, USA, 1985.
- “Religious Affiliation and Mental Health.” Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychoterapists Journal, 12 (1986): 71–108. (https://rsc.byu.edu/es/archived/religion-mentalhealth-and-latter-day-saints/13-religious-affiliation-and-mental-health)
Koenig, H.G. “Religion and mental health: what should psychiatrists do?” BJPsych Bulletin (British Journal of Psychiatry) DOI:10.1192/pb.bp. 108.019430, Published 30 May 2008. (http://pb.rcpsych.org/content/32/6/201)
-“Research on religion, spirituality and mental health: a review.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 54, 5 (2009): 283–291. Koenig mentions 2008 as the year of publication.
Koenig, H.G., M.E. Mccullough, and D.B. Larson. Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001:514–554.
Köppl, E. Die Zeugen Jehovas; Eine Psychologische Analyse. Ph.D. dissertation, vorgelegt von Dr.KÖPPL ELMAR, Innsbruck, 1985.
Kringlen, E., S. Torgersen, and V. Cramer. “A Norwegian psychiatric epidemiological study,” American Journal of Psychiatry,” 158, 7 (2001):1091–1098.
- “Mental illness in a rural area: a Norwegian psychiatric epidemiological study.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemology 41, 9 (2006): 709–713.
Martin, W.T. “Religiosity and United States suicide rates, 1972–1978.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 5 (1984): 1166–1169.
Montague, H. “The Pessimistic Sect’s Influence on the Mental Health of its Members: The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Social Compass 1 (1977): 135–147
NEMESIS. The Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study. (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s001270050097#page-1; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9857791)
National Comorbidity Survey. (http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/)
Neeleman. J., and M.B. King. “Psychiatrists’ religious attitudes in relation to their clinical practice: a survey of 231 psychiatrists.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 88 (1993) 420–424.
Penton, M.J. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1976.
- Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.
Perälä, J., J. Suvisaari, S.I. Saarni, K. Kuoppasalmi, E. Isometsä, S. Pirkola, T. Partonen, A. Tuulio-Henriksson, J. Hintikka, T. Kieseppä, T. Härkänen, S. Koskinen, and J. Lönnqvist. “Lifetime Prevalence of Psychotic and Bipolar I Disorders in a General Population” Archives of General Psychiatry 64 ( 2007): 19–28. JAMA Psychiatry 64, 1 2007, has a review of the article. (http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=209973)
Pescor, M.J. “A Study of Selective Service Law Violators.” The American Journal of Psychiatry 105, 9 (1949): 641–652.
Potter, R.A. A Social Psychological Study of Fundamentalist Christianity. Ph.D. dissertation, Sussex University, England, 1985.
Rand, M. Schizophrenia and Jehovah’s Witnesses. (http://www.jwfacts.com/pdf/jehovahswitnesses-schizophrenia.pdf)
Rothberg, M.A. “Correspondence. Psychiatry and Sectarians.” British Journal of Psychiatry, 127 (1975): 414–415.
Rylander, G. Jehovas Vittnen—En Psykologisk-Sosiologisk Studie (Jehowah’s Witnesses—a psychosociological study). Nordisk Medisin. Vol. 29, No.1, January–March (1946): 526–533.
Sack, U. Case Studies of Voluntary Defectors from Intensive Religious Groups. Ph.D dissertation, University of California, 1985.
Schneider, K. The Psychopatic Personality. Translation of the 9th Edition, by M.W. Hamilton. London: Cassel, 1950.
- Clinical Psychopathology. New York: Grune and Stratton, 1959.
Singelenberg, R. “Stigmas and Stereotypes: Child Custody Decisions and Jehovah’s Witness Parenthood.” Religion, Staat, Gesellschaft 1 (2000): 41–59.
Spencer, J. “Mental Health Among Jehovah's Witnesses.” British Journal of Psychiatry 126 (1975): 556–559.
Stedman, J. “Jehovah’s Witnesses and mental illness.” CARIS Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2 (no date). (http://www.jwfacts.com/pdf/jws-mental-illness-john-stedman.pdf)
Totland, K. Jehovas vitner og mental helse. (“Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mental Health”) 1–26.
Wilting, J. Riket som ikke kom (The Kingdom That Did Not Come). Langesund: Privately published, 1992.
- Das Reich, das nicht kam. 40 Jahre hinter der prächtigen Fassade der Zeugen Jehovas. Jena: Iks Garamond, 2000.
- The Kingdom that Never Came, 1999.
- Riket som inte kom, Swedish, i-book, 2001.