Leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses; identity, Transition and recovery


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


By theoretically framing religious exit from the Jehovah’s Witness religion with a social identity approach, an important purpose of this thesis focused on identity transition in the face of religious ostracism. By adopting this approach, this thesis reinforces how social identity processes impact personal and social identities that can become threatened when leaving the JWs. This thesis utilised quantitative and qualitative methods in finding that group membership is a useful intervention to ameliorate social loss and a source of influence that can positively influence identity recovery and transition. Overall, findings add to our understanding of what happens to the personal and social identities of former JWs when they leave or are cast out of their religion. Study 1 examined cross-sectionally the psychosocial impacts of leaving the JWs, exit method, and whether post-exit membership of online support groups was associated with increased self-esteem and identity reformulation. Results indicated partial support of the utilisation of social identity models of recovery. Study 2 examined longitudinally, theories of personal identification to understand the extent to which identity reformulation may proceed. Results indicated that challenges to identity were experienced irrespective of exit method and that respondents generally appeared to retain an embedded JW identity. Study 3 explored the impact of ostracism on wellbeing. Findings indicated that disfellowship from the JWs could elicit more serious detriments to wellbeing than voluntary exit. Study 4 explored longitudinally, the impact of terminated religious group membership on respondents’ social identification, and the extent to which online support groups facilitated the establishment of new social networks. Results indicated that respondents who were disfellowshipped experienced strong attachments to the JWs which inhibited ability to manage (social/family) loss. Overall, this thesis outlines the central role of group membership in identity reformulation. Its contributions highlight how social identity processes may be drawn upon to address identity reformulation after leaving the JW religion.
Date of Award17 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorREBECCA MONK (Director of Studies) & Derek Heim (Supervisor)


  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • identity
  • Ostracism
  • social support
  • wellbeing

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