My CHASE-funded placement at INFORM
During my placement I worked with INFORM (The Information Network on Religious Movements, based at the London School of Economics. Founded in 1988 by renowned sociologist Professor Eileen Barker, INFORM is a charity that specialises in providing the public with balanced and detailed information on new religions and minority movements. INFORM employs a team of specialists in the field of new religions, minority movements, and alternative spiritualties. They work on maintaining and updating a detailed database and archive on hundreds of minority movements, deal with public and press enquiries, publications on various movements, and the organization of specialized conferences and seminars. Joining the team as an Intern, I was primarily responsible for updating the databases with contemporary news and information on a plethora of movements. Of particular interest to me was INFORM’s large volume of data on the Church of Scientology and the ‘Free Zone’ (also known as ‘Independent Scientology’ - groups of Scientologists that practice outside the institutionalized Church), as this is the focus of my PhD thesis.
My specialist knowledge on Scientology was useful in updating, amending, and contributing to INFORM’s database of information on Scientology – particularly their databases on Independent Scientology. Furthermore, I was able to explore INFORM’s large archive of information and rare publications on Scientology, while contributing to its organization. This placement was highly valuable to my research in both connecting me with other influential figures in the study of new religions, but also developing my skills in working outside the traditional academic environment. My work allowed me to familiarise myself with a variety of programs and electronic databases and become effective in using them, while working as a part of a wider professional team on different projects.
Beyond expanding my professional skills, my placement has enriched by PhD research by allowing me to extend my own knowledge of Scientology via examination of the vast INFORM archives. In addition, working with INFORM involves a strong element of handling highly confidential information, particularly testimonies from members of minority movements. This allowed me to develop the skills to carefully and sensitively work with confidential data, and reinforced the importance of protecting the anonymity of research participants, thus allowing me to hone my skills in presenting my fieldwork results with the strictest ethical standards. Overall, my placement has been a highlight of my time as a doctoral researcher thus far, and an extremely enjoyable experience that I would recommend to other students. I feel that I have developed skills in the professional workplace, in use of technology, and organization of information through this placement, which has additionally provided me with fresh and valuable data for my research.