Findings & Footnotes-January 2019

  • British researcher Sophie Gilliat-Ray gained notoriety in 2005 (mainly among Muslims) for an article detailing the lack of access she experienced in trying to study the seminaries of a strict form of Islam practiced by Deobandi Muslims (whose name derives from their origins in an Indian town by that name). Now in the current issue of the journal Fieldwork in Religion (13:2), Gilliat-Ray returns to these Deobandi seminaries in the UK and finds a sea change in their openness to society. The researcher writes that the closed attitude of these schools reflected the attitudes of Deobandis who had settled in the UK in the 19th century and maintained a separation from and conflictual posture against non-Muslims. Their increased openness has resulted from changes in the educational landscape for younger generations of Muslims and the need for graduates of these institutions to be integrated and employable in British society, given the shortage of positions for imams in the UK. For more on this article, visit the journal at:

  • As the number of LDS members leaving the church is said to be growing, Disenchanted Lives (Rutgers University Press, $34.95) by E. Marshall Brooks investigates the distinctive subculture that has developed among Mormon apostates. Brooks conducts ethnographic research among ex-Mormon support groups, online forums, and informal gatherings in Utah. The book does not see Mormon apostasy as stemming from members who already have “one foot outside of the door of the faith,” but rather as the result of internal tensions and contradictions in the church that affect dedicated members who had few intentions of departing from the faith (one chapter looks at the “sudden” nature of many cases of Mormon apostasy). Brooks notes that his sample of ex-Mormons do not necessarily reflect most people who have left the LDS church, and there is little indication that the much-publicized departures and public protests of church liberals, feminists, and gay rights activists are widespread. But Brooks still tends to stress that cases of Mormon disaffection represent a “crisis of apostasy.” This fits with his treatment of these ex-members as experiencing trauma, bigotry, stigma and “social suffering” at the hands of a church that has repressed its history and a religious culture too dismissive of doubt and dissent. The ex-members’ anger, depression, and atheism are viewed by Brooks as constituting a “reasonable response” to a dysfunctional and harmful religion.

    The sympathetic treatment of ex-members extends to how Brooks finds that they experience apostasy not just as a rational dismissal of church doctrine but also as a bodily effect of lifelong observance (in a similar way to recent studies of ex-Hasidic Jews). There have been other studies of apostasy in new religious movements that are less exclusively focused on ex-members’ portrayal of their former group in mostly negative terms and that attempt to balance their treatment of the group with accounts by current members and historical experiences. Brooks does include a short section distinguishing “angry ex-Mormons” from “middle-way Mormons” who still identify with the Mormon people even if not with LDS beliefs, but he does so to show how the former group uses anger to patrol boundaries between themselves and the church and to “insulate themselves from its pernicious influence.