This project entailed the use of four research methods: 1) a written survey; 2) personal interviews; 3) participant observation in a Unity retreat as well as at services and programs of a Unity Church; and 4) personal or telephone interviews with Unity officials. These methods are explained below.
The research methods outlined below received approval from The University of New Mexico Arts and Sciences Human Subjects Institutional Review Board on April 3, 1996.
The 72-item written survey was devised using questions asked by Hoge et. al (1994) and Roof (1993) in order to facilitate comparison to these studies. In addition, original questions were created to measure adherence to Unity philosophies and practices and other descriptors. A copy of the survey, is included at the end of this Appendix.
Because random sampling of Unity participants throughout the country was not possible for this survey, I selected two different populations which would give a better overall view of Unity as a whole than one population would give alone. The congregation of Christ Unity Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was selected simply because of it's proximity to the University of New Mexico, which would allow my participant observation as well as provide a group for survey research. The congregation survey data provides information about people who attend a Unity church. Since I knew that participation in Unity sometimes does not include attendance at a church, I decided to attend a retreat at Unity Village in order to gain access to a wider range of Unity participants. Retreat attendees included people who were members of Unity churches, as well as people who used Silent Unity or read Daily Word, but had never attended a Unity church. In addition, the survey was also distributed to participants in Unity's Continuing Education Program, which was comprised of people who are more likely to be dedicated to the Unity message.
The survey was distributed on April 11, 1996, to all retreat participants (a total of 27), and on April 12, 1996 to all participants in the Continuing Education Program (a total of 54) held at Unity Village. Thirty-two surveys were returned from the retreat, for a response rate of 39.5 percent. A slightly altered survey (the question on income was removed at the request of the minister and replaced with a question on the use of spiritual principles for prosperity) was distributed on November 3, 1996, to everyone in attendance at the Sunday service. Of 121 surveys distributed, 65 were returned for a response rate of 53.7 percent. The overall response rate was 48 percent.
Ten people were interviewed on audio-tape using open-ended questions covering the following general topics: demographics, church switching patterns, church membership, individualism, pluralism, religious beliefs and practices, reaction to church authority, community involvement, mysticism, adherence to Unity philosophies, openness to New Age concepts and general liberal/conservative views. A list of sample questions is attached, but is not necessarily inclusive of all questions asked of every interviewee. Each interview lasted about one-half hour to one hour. I selected subjects from the attendees at the retreat based on demographic and prior church membership information.
Subjects were given the option of using a pseudonym or signing a consent form if they agreed to allow use of their real name. For those individuals who requested anonymity, other demographic information may have been changed so that they could not be identified. Subjects were also informed that they could change their decision to use their real name at any time before the research was published.
The interviews took place on the following dates:
Annemarie: April 7, 1996
Raymond: April 9, 1996
Barbara: April 10, 1996
Jeanne: April 10, 1996
Paul: April 11, 1996
Maria: April 11, 1996
Billy: April 11, 1996
Isabel: April 12, 1996
Patricia: April 12, 1996
Cora: April 13, 1996
Ideally, the personal interviews and surveys would have included former members who are estranged from the church, but former members were difficult to find. However, the interviews do include one person (Maria) who grew up in Unity and now is no longer a member, although she does attend Unity retreats. In addition, Jeanne returned to a Unity retreat after a long hiatus from Unity and religion in general.
My participant observation in the retreat and in services and programs at Christ Unity Church was undertaken in order to provide me with a clearer understanding of Unity. My role as a researcher was explained to retreat participants, as well as to participants at Christ Unity Church with whom I came in regular contact. I do quote ministers and other church authorities who spoke either in services or at the retreat, and their speeches are available on tape. This research does not include any quotes from any Unity participants who have not consented to participate.
Interviews with Officials
Interviews were conducted with the following Unity officials:
Rosemary Fillmore Rhea, administrator, Unity School of Christianity: April 8, 1996;
Mary Alice Jafolla, co-director, Silent Unity: April 10, 1996;
Colleen Zuck, editor of Daily Word. April 10, 1996;
Thomas Thorpe, instructor for ministerial education: April 11, 1996;
Glenn Mosley, executive director of Association of Unity Churches: April 10, 1996.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.