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Review of Jehovah's Witnesses: A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography:

Jehovah's Witness. A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography

Sociology of Religion; Florida; Spring 2000; Richard Singelenberg;

Reprinted with permission from the Spring issue (vol. 61, no. 1) of Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review© Association for the Sociology of Religion, Inc., 2000. May not be reprinted without permission. Contact: Association for the Sociology of Religion, 3520 Wiltshire Dr., Holiday, FL 34691-1239.

Volume: 61
Issue: 1
Start Page: 114-115
ISSN: 10694404
Subject Terms: Nonfiction; Religion; Religious organizations; Bibliographic literature
Companies: Jehovahs WitnessesSic:813110; Watchtower Bible & Tract SocietySic:813110 Sic:813110Sic:813110
Abstract: Singelenberg reviews "Jehovah's Witnesses. A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated" compiled by Jerry Bergman.

Full Text:

Copyright Association for the Sociology of Religion Spring 2000

Jehovah's Witnesses. A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography, Compiled by JERRY BERGMAN. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1999, xiii + 351pp. $59.50.

Recently, Rodney Stark and Lawrence Iannaccone advised social scientists of religion to spend more time studying the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs). They accused their colleagues of systematically neglecting the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS) and its adherents. The membership of this more than 100-year-old religious movement may be highly visible in daily life, but it is practically ignored in journals and textbooks.1

Whatever the reason may be, a lack of written sources can hardly be a valid explanation for this alleged indifference by the scientific community. In his second bibliography about the JWs, American psychologist Bergman compiles approximately 5000 titles of printed material by and about the WBTS and its membership. The author divides this work into five categories: official literature by the WBTS (chapter 1); material associated with the movement's genesis and early development (chapter 2); sources from outside observers such as books and newsletters (chapter 3) and magazine and journal articles (chapter 4). and, finally, material from the organization's offshoots (chapters 5 and 6). Only chapter 4 is arranged by separate subjects like court cases involving the JWs, the blood transfusion doctrine, the flag salute issue, and sociological and psychological studies. A name index concludes the book.

Though the bulk of the publications are in English, Bergman also presents many sources from Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. Italian, Spanish, French, and Russian references are sparse while material in other languages is minimal. The time span covers more than a century and a half: from the 1840s - sources that, according to Bergman, were highly influential in the development of the views of founder Russell - until 1997. With regard to the amount of sociological research, a quick count yields approximately 20 Ph.D. dissertations and 50 articles in professional journals. If these numbers indicate "systematic neglect" as asserted by Stark and Iannaccone, one wonders what amount is required for "systematic attention."

This bibliography is a reasonably easy reference book for specialists. One may conclude that, with one exception, most of what any researcher on this religious movement will require is here. Particularly the final chapters that deal with the organization's many schisms offer interesting details. Social scientists may pay too little attention to the JWs; the offshoots of the WBTS are a virtual terra incognita.

Unfortunately, the bibliography's comprehensiveness is the only positive characteristic of this work. The annotations suffer from subjective usage, unfounded or incomplete evaluations, and tabloid irrelevance. Partially, these problems can be explained by the compiler's former religious allegiance; Bergman is an ex-JW and notorious adversary of the WBTS. The uninformed reader, however, is left in the dark about these facts. "He has been researching and writing about the Jehovah's Witness movement for nearly four decades," is the only biographical information provided. From the annotations, however, his present position and sentiments become clear.

He describes the organization as "corrupted," "inhuman," and "dishonest" while its various teachings, such as the blood transfusion doctrine and the prophetic year 1914, are evaluated as "tragic," "erroneous," and "wrong" (pp. 95, 98, 100, 111 ). Next, Bergman qualifies hundreds of sources including some of his own (p. 119) - as "excellent" without providing any argument for this appraisal. This applies to a Swedish treatise ("excellent review") that makes a stand against the movement's transfusion prohibition (p. 100) and a Dutch book that contains "much excellent information found nowhere else" (p. 109). How does he know? Has he mastered these languages? From the writer's acknowledgments, it seems that many opinions probably originate from foreign associates who contributed much of the non-English material (p. ix).

Some annotations are painfully incomplete or embarrassingly void. A plain blunder is the comment on a publication commissioned by the former East German Secret Service with the specific intention to discredit the WBTS. Surely, Bergman labels the book "an Anti-Witness work," but he leaves out the vital (and well-known) information that the Stasi was behind its production (p. 97). Also, the pioneering studies of Bryan Wilson on the JWs are devoid of any comment (p. 256); and when the reader's interest may have been aroused by an obscure but unique experimental study on personality traits among German JWs, no details but the minimally required bibliographical data are provided (p. 101 ). In contrast, the author's comments on the seminal study of the JWs persecution in Nazi-Germany by historian Garbe are limited to the gratuitous remark that the movement's own historiography is "not always very accurate," rather than showing the theoretical merits of this work (p. 97). Further, Bergman overlooks numerous German (case) studies published since the early 90s about the fate of the JWs during the Hitter-regime. A separate section on this specific issue would have been appropriate.

An inclination to outright sensationalism can be detected in annotations about the alleged relationship between WBTS membership and adverse behavior. What does the author suggest with the comment "About the skinhead murder by three boys all of which were raised Witnesses" (p. 107)? So far, any significant association between upbringing in this religious milieu and criminal activities has not been demonstrated. The same goes for a JW lawyer who swindled his fellow believers (p. 241). These are unfortunate events, but by emphasizing these and similar isolated incidents it is unclear what information the writer wants to convey to the reader other than the negative stigmatization of a religious minority.

Concerning Bergman's classification criteria, one may wonder if grouping the so called "human interest" category under the heading of "sociological and psychological studies" is advisable. Thus, articles in Sociological Analysis and Acta Psychiatrica Belgica alternate with a Penthouse interview with singer and JW-raised Patti Smith and an expose about a converted television star in Woman's Day (pp. 249-256). Finally, the observation that the non-English entries are saturated with language errors points to sloppy - if at all - final editing, the sophisticated external care of the book aside. The best advice to the reader would be to concentrate on the titles and ignore the annotations.

1. Stark, R. & L. Iannaccone. 1997 'Why the Jehovah's Witnesses grew so rapidly'. Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol 12, nbr 2, pp 133-157.

Richard Singelenberg
University of Utrecht

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