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In this essay, I will examine Eileen Barker’s research methods in her work on the Moonies and evaluate the practical, ethical and theoretical considerations of data collection with reference to one primary method. I will discuss the methods that Barker used in her research, the way she used them and whether or not these methods were inherently flawed.
Eileen Barker is a Professor of Sociology who focuses mainly on the study of ‘New Religious Movements, Cults and Sects’ (Professor Eileen Barker OBE FBA, 2018). She has carried out extensive research over the course of six years on the cult of the Unification Church, members of which were aptly named ‘Moonies’ by the American media – after their leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon. During the 1970’s, the Unification Church – ‘UC’ was still ‘a relatively closed community’ (Dawson, 2003) but received negative media attention due to allegations of corruption, deceitful recruitment tactics and brainwashing of its members. This bad press mainly stemmed from ex-members and concerned relatives (Dawson, 2003), which resulted in nationwide concern on the basis of its growing influence, and recruitment of the young and impressionable.
The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon in Seoul, South Korea. It is officially known as ‘Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity’ (Unification Church, 2016). Sun Myung Moon is recognized as the Messiah of this religious movement. Their scripture consists of the Bible and the Divine Principle. Current members are believed to be close to 3 million in total based on official records (Unification Church, 2016). Following the intense criticism and negative media coverage, the ‘UC’ sought out the reputable sociological researcher – Eileen Barker, to carry out research on the church. This was done, perhaps, to mitigate some of the negative media attention and criticism. Barker’s (1984) research on the ‘UC’ is distinctive due to the churches’ willingness to co-operate with her and allowing her ‘relatively free access to the group’ and ‘gave her a more powerful position to negotiate’ the terms for her research (Monahan, 2016). Her research was carried out primarily in the UK and in USA, and was funded by the British Government and the Unification Church itself.
Barker’s aim for her research was to attempt to answer the questions “Why should – how could – anyone become a Moonie?” and to find out whether the individuals who joined the ‘UC’ were, in fact, brainwashed. To answer this question, Barker used a triangulation of four different types of methods in her research:
1. Initial questions
2. Overt Participation and Observation
3. In-Depth Interviews
Barker’s Initial questions consisted of three different levels:
1. Personal Level: Consisted of questions regarding individual experiences and backgrounds within the ‘UC’.
2. Interpersonal Level: Consisted of questions regarding communication between the individual members and non-members of the church and their interactions within the Moonie community.
3. Impersonal Level: Consisted of questions regarding the social structure, background and status of the movement within a wider context of society as a whole.
The results of these questions gave Barker an understanding and the context of the movement and its members. Barker spent close to six years living with and observing the Moonies. She was an overt participant, which meant that she was able to observe the Moonies in their natural environment and gain a deeper insight into the workings of the sect.
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