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Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement [Hardcover]

By Andrew Holden (Author)
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Item description for Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement by Andrew Holden...

This is an ethnographic study of the enigmatic religious society, Jehovah's Witnesses. Through case histories based upon the experiences of converts, believers and defectors, it describes how the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society seeks to achieve conformity in devotees and to construct meaningful religious identities in a world whose excesses it vehemently reviles.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement by Andrew Holden has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 122
  • Publishers Weekly - 05/27/2002 page 56
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 93

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Routledge
Pages   224
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.46" Width: 6.36" Height: 0.73"
Weight:   1.06 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Feb 22, 2002
Publisher   Routledge
ISBN  0415266092  
ISBN13  9780415266093  

Availability  85 units.
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More About Andrew Holden

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Andrew Holden (PH.D) has taught sociology at various levels of further and higher education. He has been conducting fieldwork on millenarian belief systems for over a decade.

Andrew Holden was born in 1964.

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Reviews - What do customers think about Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement?

Worth Reading  Nov 17, 2006
I have read a number of books about the Jehovah Witness, yet in many the authors have been involved with the religion personally and have trouble being objective, getting angry or cynical. This is one of the coolest, most objectives book I've read about the JW. Most of all I liked Andrew Holden's approach toward the religion from a broad, theoretical understanding of the organization within the context of society at large -- irregardless of specific theological disputes. Mr. Holden's most repeated mistake in this book as I see it is overlooking the fact that JW indirectly discourage marriage and children, for Mr. Holden argues that the Witnesses want to increase their religion by means of procreating within the religion (two points which, of course, don't fit together). There are indeed mistakes about how Mr. Holden perceives the organization and it's members. However I would say this book is close to 93% accurate in it's description of the Jehovah Witnesses' ideology, which is a secondary issue anyhow. Specific theological details are secondary to an overall, at-large understanding of a religious organization within the context of the world (which is again why I like this book :). This book provides insights into understanding a general form of fundamentalist religious movements, into why they may exist and in fact may be currently growing in the world -- and into why it may not necessarily be such a "bad" thing, actually.
Thorough, except for some essential details  Oct 30, 2004
There is a certain truth in Andrew Holden's remark on the dearth of academic literature about the Jehovah's Witnesses, in spite of their high visibility in daily life. Although a quick count yields approximately 90 scholarly publications, empirical social scientific research of this religious movement is surprisingly rare. Until now the most recent comprehensive study, The Trumpet of Prophecy (Oxford: Blackwell) by English sociologist James Beckford, dated back to 1975. Jehovah's Witnesses in the United Kingdom are once again the subject in the book under review.
Andrew Holden's basic framework is an examination of the response to modernization from a variety of theoretical angles. The most promising of these angles is the idea of Anthony Giddens, who argues that individuals in modern societies can deal with their anxiety about secular changes by trusting it to higher authorities. In addition, concepts of purity borrowed from anthropologist Mary Douglas make clear that the Watch Tower Society, the umbrella organization of the Witnesses, is part of the larger religious fun-damentalist countercurrent, on the understanding that its teachings relate to a strictly rational theological system. The qualitative methodological approach is Geertzian, so in essence Holden has studied the Witnesses from the perspective of the detached anthropologist, suspending any judgments about the validity of their beliefs and practices. This conceptual foundation is the starting point for the main research questions: how does the Watch Tower Society deal with the challenges of the modern world and how do the Witnesses manage their religious identity in an age of cultural fluidity (p. 2)? Preceded by a sketch of the movement's history and teachings, the phenomena of recruitment, conversion, and integration into the belief system and community of the Witnesses figure prominently in no less than three chapters. Next, Holden examines how adherents negotiate their contact with nonbelievers, followed by the socialization of second and subsequent generation members. In the final chapter he describes and analyzes causes of disaffiliation from the movement.
For the most part, the ethnographic approach works well, since some data Holden elicited from his in-terviewees could not have been obtained through other methods. They reveal, for example, that many youngsters transgress the movement's puritanical rules, indulging in premarital sexual relationships and excessive alcohol consumption. Though officials of the Watch Tower Society are reluctant to admit that socializing children into the movement causes any major problems, the author concludes that `second-generation rebellion within the organization is more widespread than parents realize' (p. 143). In 1996, for example, the Swedish branch of the organization, in a letter to the national congregations, made clear that youngsters exhibited gross misconduct during the annual summer conventions. As Holden rightly notes, such protest may jeopardize the survival of the movement in the longer term. Consequently, the effect of house-to-house proselytizing carries less weight than justified by the amount of attention the author pays to this characteristic form of recruitment.
This brings us to a shortcoming of the study, for Holden has refrained from critically analyzing the quantitative data that the Watch Tower Society publishes annually. (I will dwell on this topic, since it touches upon the nucleus of the Jehovah's Witnesses' identity.) Although the author relies on a study by Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone (`Why the Jehovah's Witnesses Grow so Rapidly: A Theoretical Application', Journal of Contemporary Religion 12 [1997], 133-157), which predicts a continuing and steady growth of the movement, reanalysis largely contradicts these findings. Primarily, these figures indicate that during the last decade membership in the movement's traditional American and European strongholds (with the exception of the former Soviet controlled regions) is decreasing or at least stagnating. Moreover, expansion in the rest of the world, like Latin America, is considerably less spectacular than in the late 1980s. Secondly, commitment indicators, such as the amount of time the individual Witness spends on proselytizing, show a gradual decline. Further, it can be derived that the amount of `inactive' Witnesses (members who do not engage in proselytizing) must be substantial. For example, in the UK, in the five-year period from 1997 until 2001, more than 15,000 prospective Witnesses were baptized, while the number of proselytizers decreased by 3%. Since, basically, the Watch Tower Society does not sanction inactivity, except for upward mobility within the organization, this can only lead to the conclusion that among Jehovah's Witnesses, nominal membership has set in. From research among the Witnesses in the Netherlands, this reviewer learned that in some congregations 50% of the membership consists of `free-riders'.
While the data indicate that the missionary zeal of the Witnesses is waning, the potential pool of recruitment is also diminishing. The Western phenomenon of mutual wage earners not only affects the Witnesses themselves, causing them to reduce their time spent on proselytizing; it also contributes to many unanswered calls when they canvass their neighborhoods-a major factor in the dwindling evangelistic enthusiasm, according to this reviewer's informants. From observing baptismal ceremonies, it is clear that the initiates are overwhelmingly, if not all, sons and daughters of the existing membership. Therefore, in those regions where the Watch Tower Society is firmly embedded in the religious landscape, the proportion of external recruits in a cohort of new adherents appears to be marginal in comparison with the quantity of members' offspring. It seems safe to conclude that the function of house-to-house proselytizing for the individual believer has evolved from an effective recruitment strategy to a mere ritualized expression of commitment through which the believer demonstrates his or her religious identity. In the terminology of social anthropology, one may, in the near future, designate the practice as a `survival'. It would be premature, though, to conclude that the movement is in a process of decline. In newly opened missionary fields - usually in states who barely tolerate religious freedom - recruitment and commitment tend to peak initially; in that respect, China is a huge reservoir of potential adherents.
These comments notwithstanding, and some minor errors like calling the Witnesses `pacifists', a label they emphatically rejected half a century ago, Holden's strictly qualitative approach provides the reader with fascinating details about the Witnesses' daily struggle, ranging from major issues of dealing with the tribulations of modernity such as `9/11' to apparently futile occasions like unbelieving spouses who want to put up a Christmas tree (an abomination among Jehovah's Witnesses, since they look upon this celebration and similar events such as birthdays as traditions rooted in paganism). The theoretical framework is convincing and fits perfectly well with the data. `The world', though still anathema to a large extent, is a millenarian prerequisite: it must exist to show how evil it is. That does not imply silent withdrawal from or loud protest against the social system. Holden's conclusion that the Witnesses' response to the world `centres on the interplay between their resistance to and alliance with modern secular culture' (p. 173, italics in original) may point to opposing and undecided positions: the movement's continuous worldwide expansion of its infrastructure appears at odds with its urgent apocalypticism, while, at the level of the individual, a believing spouse may wonder if and how to partake in the birthday celebration of her unbelieving husband. At the same time, this dialectic relationship effectively blocks the road to either sectarian obscurity or mainstream denominationalism. By indicating how religion is shaped by secular forces, Hol-den's monograph is also a valuable contribution to the study of Christian Fundamentalism in which this mechanism of calculating ambivalence functions as a viable means to negotiate with the outside world.
Once again, though, it is clear that sociologists and anthropologists of religion should aim at a variety of research instruments, since Holden's ethnographic approach apparently obstructed a quantitatively oriented analysis. The outcome of the latter does not only query the author's remark that `At the moment, the movement is flourishing ...' (p. 149) but also brings the Witnesses' most salient feature of their religious identity up for discussion.

(Originally published in RELIGION, vol 33, 2003, pp. 393-395)
good introduction to the movement  Jan 17, 2004
As with most of the soft sciences, there is a certain amount of hesitance to present as fact what a researcher believes they have observed. Holden's work is no exception, and there are many parts where the reader was left wondering if the author was going to take a stand or continue to vascillate apologetically as to possible misconceptions.
This is not to say, however, that Holden did misapprehend the Witness sample he worked with. From my experience, he impressed me with the breadth and depth of information that he amassed in a relatively short time, and well-described the overall feel of being inside the movement.
While at times the author relied too heavily on presenting sociological material and quotes as background proof to support his eventual conjectures (especially since his audience is ostensibly peers, sociology students, or lay-people somewhat familiar with sociological principles and readings), he nicely integrated two seemingly contradictory explanations of the movement, as a reaction to modernity and a natural evolution of modernity. This integration, along with seamless transitions between micro and macro foci, makes for absorbing reading.
solid sociological study if a bit inaccurate  May 23, 2003
Having read and written a number of ethnographies and also having been involved in the religion of Jehovah's Witneses both inside and outside of the group (I have served as a regular pioneer and I have also been disfellowshipped), I can say that this study does present many accurate highlights of Jehovah's Witnesses, their paradigm and what motivates them.

The other reviewer obviously didn't read the book carefully, because Holden does interview former members of the faith. He tries to be objective, claiming to use caution when listening to the stories told by the different people he talks to, but he chooses to believe (and makes the statement) that JW's quote scriptures out of context and misapply them. Apparently, the author doesn't realize that Jesus himself quoted scripture out of context, as seen by the Sermon on the Mount.

Curiously, he claims that JW's don't participate in juries and believe that the universe was created in seven days. I know that JW's can participate in juries if they so choose and also that they do not believe the seven creation days were seven literal days, but rather seven creative periods of time. One can't help but wonder how closely he was listening to the subjects of his ethnography. If he got these little details wrong, what else did he get wrong?

Holden attempts to make some original statements or insights about JW's but instead ends up quoting from other sociologists/ethnographers. I just finished reading the book last night and can't think of a single original thought he came up with.

The author recognizes that many JW's try to seperate themselves from the secular world by strictly limiting the kind and amount of worldly entertainment they watch. He comments that parents won't allow their children to read fairy tales or stories involving magic, but fails to explain what scriptures they base this on. It would have been more interesting if he had studied and questioned those JW's who do allow themselves to watch movies and TV shows that have magic as the subject matter. For instance, do they experience any cognitive dissonance (or, in JW terms, "does their conscience bother them?") when watching movies like, Shrek, or TV shows like the X-Files?

What about those witnesses who continue to watch PG-13 movies, all of which contain at least one profanity, something JW's are supposed to avoid?

I can't help but feel the other reviewer deliberately made false statements about the book in the hopes that Jehovah's Witnesses in good standing would read the book (and thereby the statements made by former members of the religion.)

Although Jehovah's Witnesses did have expectations and beliefs that didn't come true (for example, about certain years like 1914 and 1975) so did Jesus Christ's apostles (Luke 19:11, "they imagined the Kingdom was going to display itself instantly" and John 21:23, "In consequence, this saying went out among the brothers, that that disciple would not die. However, Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but: "If it is my will for him to remain until I come, of what concern is that to you?".") Jehovah's Witnesses have never claimed to be infallible, unlike the Pope.

Just because someone is anointed by holy spirit, doesn't mean that they will always get it right. The prophet Samuel, for instance, thought that David's brother would be the next king of Israel, but Jehovah God told him he was not the one. (1 Samuel 16:6, 7: And it came about that, as they came in and he caught sight of E·li'ab, he at once said: "Surely his anointed one is before Jehovah." But Jehovah said to Samuel: "Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For not the way man sees [is the way God sees], because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.)

If you choose to read this book, do so with a grain of salt and be aware that the author has his own beliefs and values. He is not free from ethnocentricity. I preferred an older sociological study, "The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses" by James Beckford, which is the cumulative result of a group of people working together, unlike "Portrait", which is the work of one individual.

Sanitised Version of the Jehovah's Witness Faith  Sep 9, 2002
From the beginning of Holden's study where he admits he did no preliminary research into the faith and progressing onward to the point he starts to throw the word "objective" into the mix Holden's study disintegrates into a manipulated, highly crafted mess.

If Holden had done research into the faith himself he would have found that paramount in importance to the religion's adherents is the stricture, oft repeated, that by word and deed Jehovah's Witnesses are not to bring "reproach upon Jehovah's name". In interviewing ONLY rank and file members and in the absence of critical analysis Holden presents ONE viewpoint of the faith to the reading public, a very sanitised version of what Jehovah's Witnesses WISH to present to the world at large.

It is one thing to use your research as an opportunity to give space to a group of people in order to voice their opinions an experiences. It is another to allow said group to present their version and then put it out as some kind of unvarnished "truth". Anyone who studies fundamentalist Christianity knows that the reality is a great deal more complicated than adherents would have you believe. Given Jehovah's Witnesses highly publicised battles with accusations of pedophilia and the blood transfusion issue it is careless in the extreme to allow one side of the story to be presented without exploring the complexities inherent in the narratives.

As a sociologist whose area of expertise happens to be fundamental christianity and who was a Jehovah's Witness myself for over 20 years I am appalled and dismayed that Holden's work is being held up a "major study". Holden obviously follows the old, old school of sociological research and thought where by he is the "objective" researcher through whom his "subjects" true meaning can be understood. Holden has illuminated nothing more than a maneuvered version of what Jehovah's Witnesses would LIKE us to believe.


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