Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Mormon, Scientology, The Westboro Baptist Church, memoir, radical, Topeka
This thesis investigates the physical and mental factors extremist religious organizations, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Church of Scientology and Fundamentalist Mormonism use to decrease the chance of members’ departure from their institutions. These factors include familial relationships, physical and mental limitations, and restricted exposure to society outside of the religious organization. The following memoirs illustrate and expose these difficulties and how the female authors overcome these limitations: Educated by Tara Westover, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill and Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper. All three books detail their authors’ various journeys as they persevere through self-liberation in order to find peace.
All three female memoirists have to fight for the opportunity to pursue higher education and integrate into the outside world that they had been sheltered from for a majority of their lives. Westover narrates her childhood in the mountains of Idaho and her ultimate decision to leave her tyrannical household run by her radical-thinking father, Gene Westover. Hill reveals the history behind being born and raised in the Sea Organization of Scientology; and the tight-knit community of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, is detailed by Megan Phelps-Roper's memoir. Each author faces different battles concerning life outside of their respective communities, but their pursuit of the knowledge that their religion shelters them from motivates all of their desires for more.
There are often connotations imparted on memoirs, with the expectation of a revelation for the author or even the reader, as they compare their life story to that of the author. These memoirs in particular are not predictable and do not shy away from the harsh realities the women were faced with in their communities as well as when they left. Even after traumatic events and dialogue are described, somehow the authors are all able to rise above the backlash they have faced and have the confidence that remains in their decision to leave. The Westboro Baptist Church continues to protest, Scientologists still practice invasive auditing sessions, and the Westover family is still adamant in their radical Mormon beliefs; life continues as before. Though Westover, Hill and Phelps-Roper may not be able to alter the beliefs of their institutions as whole, each of their departures caused a stir that cannot be undone, no matter what the authorities attempt. They are strong, independent and confident women who fought for what they wanted from the world and went on to educate that world through their narrative voices.
Lewis, Sydney, "An Analysis of Religious Extremism Through Memoir" (2021). Honors Theses. 2397.