03: Methods

Introduction

The purpose of this study is to determine the challenges and coping strategies among disfellowshipped or disassociated former members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. This chapter will discuss the details of how this study was conducted. The following sections will cover study design, sampling, data collection and instruments, procedures, protection of human subjects, data analysis and a brief summary.

Study Design

This study is exploratory in design because of the limited amount of research on how Jehovah’s Witnesses treat members who have been disfellowshipped or no longer believe in the faith. Currently, there is no research exploring the experiences of disfellowshipped or disassociated members and the effects on those individuals. To clearly see the challenges faced by these individuals, this study focused on those who are currently disfellowshipped or formally disassociated and explored the treatment of these individuals by their Jehovah’s Witness family and peers.
This study is qualitative in design and utilized semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions to collect data from the subjects. A strength of this study is that by using one-on-one interviews in a semi-structured manner, participants felt more comfortable to share their experiences than in a focus group. Also, by utilizing interviews, relevant and unanticipated data was more freely revealed without the impression of other subjects in a focus group. By using a semi-structured design this study also was able to clarify questions and gather more insight into subjects’ responses (Grinnell, & Unrau, 2018). Another strength of utilizing one-on-one interviews is that every participant’s narrative was heard, and no single participant was able to dominate the conversation as would occur in a focus group. Limitations of this study included the possibility that subjects would give responses that they felt were more desirable to the interviewer (Grinnell, & Unrau, 2018). Another possible limitation to the study was that only information from disfellowshipped or disassociated members was gathered, and no current practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses were interviewed.

Sampling

This study utilized non-random purposive sample of individuals who were disfellowshipped or formally disassociated and no longer practicing members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. The participants were collected from local online “Ex-JW” support groups on different social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit as well as by snowball sampling from other former members. A total of 15 subjects participated in one-on-one interviews but after data analysis and refinement of the subject pool only 11 participants were utilized in the study.

Data Collection and Instruments

The qualitative data in this study was collected by live, audio-recorded, one-on-one interviews and took place from May 2019 to November of 2019. The interviews began with a description of the study, its purpose, and a brief survey to collect demographic information from the subject (see Appendix A). The demographic information included participant’s age, gender, ethnicity, and education level. After participants demographic information was obtained, the open-ended question portion of the interview began.

The semi-structured interviews were conducted using an interview guide with a list of open-ended questions for the subjects with the possibility of additional questions not on the list to clarify as needed (see Appendix B). The interview guide and list of questions were prepared for the purpose of this study to elicit narratives from the subjects about their lived experiences as disfellowshipped members (Grinnell, & Unrau, 2018). Questions on the interview guide included asking participants about how they became Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they were baptized and subsequently disfellowshipped, and the challenges faced after their disfellowshipping or disassociation from the faith. The purpose of these interviews was to explore challenges and coping strategies that disfellowshipped ones have experienced in their journey out of the Jehovah’s Witness religion.

Procedures

A social media post was made on the “So-Cal Ex-JW” support group on Facebook, the “Ex-JW’ sub-reddit forum on reddit and other social media platforms used by former Jehovah’s Witnesses (see Appendix C). The social media post described the proposed research study, its purpose and asked for participants willing to share their story through one-on-one interviews. The post also asked for participants to be disfellowshipped or formerly disassociated from the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Participants were asked to comment on the post or privately message the interviewer through the social media platform. Participants were also asked to recommend individuals they knew that are disfellowshipped who may not use social media but that would be willing to participate.

Interviews were conducted at a previously agreed upon location or by Skype, Facebook messenger, or telephone if participants were unable to meet in person. Interviews lasted from 10 minutes to an hour and involved only one participant at a time to ensure confidentiality and free expression of their stories. At the beginning of the interview, participants were given consent forms to read and sign as well as a quick survey for demographic information. Introductions were made briefly, along with introducing the study and all forms were collected from the participants. Participants were thanked for their participation and the audio recording device was turned on and the interview began. At the end of the interview, the participants were thanked for their participation once again and given a debriefing statement (Appendix D).

Protection of Human Subjects

Confidentiality of these participants was ensured by keeping the identity of the subjects anonymous. Due to the personal nature of the interviews, confidentiality and anonymity can be limited but subjects were asked to use a pseudonym and not mention personal identifying information in the recorded interviews. Interviews were recorded on a recording device and placed on a password encrypted USB drive that was kept in a secure place. At the beginning of the interview participants were given informed consent to read and sign (see Appendix E). At the end of the interview, participants also received a debriefing statement with resources available should the interview bring up strong emotions.

Data Analysis

This qualitative study utilized constant comparative analysis to process and refine the data received from the interviews with the respondents. Originally, 15 individuals participated in interviews but after refinement, only 11 participants met the requirements for the study. The interviews were transcribed and then subsequently coded to determine common themes among the respondents of this study. Descriptive analysis of the demographic variables retrieved from the participants demographic survey was also conducted.

Summary

The qualitative design of this study is best to explore the narrative and common themes from participants. By utilizing semi-structured, individual interviews, participants were able to share their stories freely with guided open-ended questions to illicit responses that cover their challenges and coping strategies. The questions guided participants and assisted in focusing the interview on the information pertinent to the study. Using a semi-structured interview also allowed in-depth exploration into narrative that may not have been covered by the prepared questions.

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