In the cult of the Unification Church, members of

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.


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.

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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).


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,
the Church of England and the Unification Church itself. The fact that the
research was funded by the Church of England proposes the idea that it had a
vested interest in seeing the downfall of ‘UC’, therefore it emphasises


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:

Ø  Initial questions

Ø  Overt Participation and
Observation – Qualitative

Ø  In-Depth Interviews –

Ø  Questionnaires – Quantitative

Initial questions consisted of three different levels:

Consisted of questions regarding individual experiences and backgrounds within
the ‘UC’.

Consisted of questions regarding communication between the individual members
and non-members of the church and their interactions within the Moonie

Consisted of questions regarding the social structure, background and status of
the movement within a wider context of society as a whole.

The major
advantage of these methods was that they gave Barker an understanding and a
wider context of the movement and its members.

spent close to six years living with, attending lectures and events organised
by the cult 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. It can be argued that
Barker could potentially gain more information by using covert observation
methods, but this is a question of ethics and morality which is a widely
debated topic in many subject areas, but especially in regards to secretive
cults such as the ‘UC’. Barker had to consider ‘whether it was morally
permissible to get information through false pretences’ (Sociological Research, p. 24).

contrast to covert observation, the method of overt observation raises a
question of the validity of the evaluations obtained as a result of The
Hawthorne Effect. The Moonies’ awareness of the fact that they were being
observed could have caused them to act differently to their usual manner, which
would potentially provide flawed results in Barker’s research.


carried out in-depth interviews with members of the ‘UC’. At the beginning of
her research there were 36 in total, which lasted between 2 to 12 hours. She
chose questions that pertained to the individual Moonies’ personal lives,
backgrounds, how they joined the church and their experiences. As the in-depth
interviews allowed Barker to connect to her interviewee and build a rapport,
this gave her an insight into the reasoning behind the Moonie’s joining of the


A full
study using the method of questionnaires were carried out on the UK population
of approximately 500 Moonies. Barker used this quantitative data collection
method in order to give depth as well as effectiveness in backing up other
areas of her research. The questionnaires provided her with quantitative data
which broadened the number of people that she gained information from.



Research Findings


the completion of her research, Barker published her findings and conclusions
on the Moonies in her book “The Making of
a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?” in 1984. While thousands of people have
attended the residential courses that were organized by the Moonies, Barker has
not found any evidence of physical or any other form of coercion. Barker
concluded “conversion to the movement is the result of a (limited) number of
individual experiences; it is not the result of mass-induced hypnosis” (Sociological Research, p. 32). As she used
methodological triangulation in her research over an extended period of time,
this resulted in very rich and detailed qualitative and quantitative
information on the Moonies.


conclusion, Eileen Barker has completed extensive valid research on the Moonies
despite flawed methods which are not easily reproducible and subjective in

It has
made her findings highly valid, although not entirely reliable. Reliability of
her research can be criticised because of her choice of methodology – it was
impractical in terms of the length of time that it took her to collect and
analyse the data (specifically in-depth interviews and observations) and,
undeniably, the high cost and operations would make it highly difficult to
replicate any of her research methods. Subjective methods of conducting
research such as interviews and observations are widely debated and therefore unreliable.
Barker has been honest with the Moonies while conducting her research,
therefore it was ethical and all data was gained with the consent of the people
being studied. The time that she has spent among the cult members may have
affected her objectiveness and made her empathetically inclined to support the
members, therefore making her biased.