Stephen Mather; Saturday, June 25, 2022; 3:00 PM-3:50 PM – online
This talk reviews my dissertation for a Masters in Organizational Psychology gained in 2020 at Birkbeck, University of London. The qualitative research explores how mature, ex Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret their pursuit of higher education and career as they struggle to make sense of who they are, following leaving the religion of their birth over ten years ago. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, transcribed and analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Participants experienced significant disruption to their sense of identity and feelings of profound loss of the only community they knew. They interpreted their pursuit of education and career as a means of self-discovery, suggesting a sense of continuity of identity, whilst also experiencing the emergence of a different person – an apparent paradox. Generating a sense of continuity, participants imbued meaning onto personal characteristics and behavior that they believed found fuller expression through career and/or further education once they left the organization. The research draws parallels with extant work, exploring other identity-challenging experiences, and proposes that people leaving an all-encompassing belief system, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may experience a period of identity moratorium, during which time they work to make sense of contradictory feelings of identity continuity and change, and that career and/or education may be an important component of this work. Participants identify career and education as the source of a new community that enables them to replace their former one and discover themselves in relation to it.
Podcaster, Producer and Researcher, Evil Sheep Productions
Stephen Mather, MSc, MBPsS is a professional coach and podcaster with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Organizational Psychology. Stephen was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and left when he was around 30 years old. His academic interests focus on the experience of the ‘born-in’ members of high control groups and cults and the psychological processes that kept them within the organization and then those they experienced upon leaving. His dissertation explores the role education and career can have in the process of making sense of self and identity after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Stephen works in organizations on management development programs and also co-hosts a podcast with his daughter called ‘What should I think about..?’ subtitled ‘Making sense of the life after leaving a cult’, in which he explores the process of constructing a new set of opinions and beliefs after leaving an all-encompassing belief system.