Martha Nibley Beck (born November 29, 1962) is an American sociologist, life coach, best-selling author, and speaker who specializes in helping individuals and groups achieve personal and professional goals. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, both from Harvard University.
Beck is the daughter of deceased LDS Church scholar and apologist, Hugh Nibley. She received national attention after publication in 2005 of her best-seller, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith in which she recounts her experiences of surviving sexual abuse. In addition to authoring several books, Beck is a columnist for O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine.
Early life and education
Martha Nibley was born in Provo, Utah, in 1962, the seventh of eight children of Hugh Nibley and Phyllis Nibley, and raised LDS in a prominent Utah family. Her father was a professor at Brigham Young University. She received a BA degree in East Asian studies, along with an MA and a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University.
During her academic career, Beck worked as a research associate at Harvard Business School, studying career paths and life-course changes in today's economic and social environment. Before becoming a life coach, she taught sociology, social psychology, organizational behavior, and business management at Harvard and the American Graduate School of International Management. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers Expecting Adam and Leaving the Saints, as well as Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, Steering by Starlight, and Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaiming Your True Nature.
Beck has also been a contributing editor for popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and has been a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine since July 2001. Her latest book, The Martha Beck Collection: Essays on Creating Your Right Life, Volume 1, includes essays from her O, the Oprah Magazine column. Beck is president of Martha Beck, Inc., which offers a life coach training and certification program based on Beck’s books and experience for individuals looking to acquire life coaching skills and tools. In addition to life coach training, Martha Beck, Inc., offers live events, products, and resources related to life coaching strategies.
Beck met John Christen Beck, a fellow Mormon from Utah, during her undergraduate studies at Harvard. They married in the LDS Salt Lake Temple on June 21, 1983, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and they eventually had three children together.
After the birth of their second child, Adam, who had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome prior to his birth, Beck returned with her husband and children to Utah to be closer to family and support. Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic is Beck's story about her decision to give birth to and raise Adam.
In 1990, soon after the birth of her third child, Beck, as a part-time faculty member at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, taught a course on the sociology of gender in the Department of Social Science. During her time as part-time faculty member at BYU, five faculty members were excommunicated from the LDS Church as a consequence of public writings that were deemed critical of the church; the group became known as the September Six. She and husband John Beck also made critical public statements about both the excommunications and other church and BYU matters, which led to first John, then Martha herself, leaving the LDS Church in 1993.
Since leaving the LDS Church, both Martha Beck and her now ex-husband subsequently came out publicly as gay. In 2003, Beck separated from her husband, divorcing him in 2004. She now lives with her partner Karen Gerdes, a social worker and professor, and her son, Adam, on her North Star Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, California.
Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior
Beck's first book, coauthored with her husband, John Beck, Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior, treated homosexuality as one of several "compulsive behaviors," like bulimia. However, both Martha Beck and her now-ex-husband subsequently came out publicly as gay and have stated that they no longer consider homosexuality a form of compulsive behavior.
Leaving the Saints
In 2005, she received national attention for her bestselling book, Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith. According to Sunstone magazine, the book may have originally been conceived as a novel, loosely based on her life (with a male main character), but was changed to recount her personal experiences, with the encouragement of her publishers. Ultimately released in March 2005, the book is a narrative in which Beck describes recovered memories of alleged sexual abuse by her father, prominent LDS academician Hugh Nibley; her experiences teaching at Brigham Young University; cultural dissonance and anomalies in Utah; her spiritual journey leaving the LDS Church. Prior to and after publication of the book, several national newspapers in the United States reported that Beck's memoir had quickly become controversial in Mormon circles.
Articles were published in response to the book, including a critical essay by the Mormon author, Boyd Jay Petersen. Petersen, Beck's brother-in-law, wrote a biography about Nibley and stated: "Throughout this book, as with her other books, it is obvious that she distorts the record as much as or more than she reports it, jumps to conclusions more than provides evidence leading to conclusions, and blurs fact and fantasy. But to stick to the facts requires more than simply assuring readers that you do. You actually have to stick to them, something it seems Martha seldom does."
Beck responded to some of these criticisms by stating that she began having memories of her traumatic events prior to the use of any therapy (including hypnosis), that her vagina had scarring that may have been the result of sexual abuse, and that her memories were vivid and intrusive.
Some members of Nibley's surviving family also challenge Beck's allegations by pointing out inconsistencies in her descriptions of events to various media sources. Hugh Nibley's family claimed that Beck's experiences of sexual abuse recounted in her book were false and expressed "outrage" after the book's publishing. Beck acknowledged consulting recovered-memory therapist and self-hypnosis advocate Lynne Finney, although she claimed that she only did it after recovering her memories of abuse.
Although most of the criticism from LDS church members in support of Nibley centered around Beck's allegations of sexual abuse, a substantial portion of the book involves a discussion of the LDS Church and its policies. BYU professor Robert L. Millet criticized Beck's portrayals of Nibley as "nonsense," "ludicrous," and "paranoia," saying that she "seems to be a magnet for improbable happenings" and "equate[s] weird anomalies in Mormon culture with the norm." The book cites Beck's observations of Nibley and how he had intentionally misinterpreted certain Egyptian hieroglyphics in order to support some of the writings of early church leaders, including Joseph Smith.
- Beck, Martha Nibley; Beck, John C (1990). Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company. ISBN 978-0-87579-290-3. OCLC 20799870.
- (1997). Breaking Point: Why Women Fall Apart and How They Can Re-create Their Lives. New York: Times Books. ISBN 978-0-8129-6375-5.
- (1999). Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic. Times Books. ISBN 978-0812929805.
- (2001). Finding Your Own North Star. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8129-3218-8.
- (2003). The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-609-60990-3.
- (2005). Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith. Crown Publishers. ISBN 9780609609910. OCLC 55494925.
- (2007). The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Books. ISBN 978-1-59486-607-4.
- (2009). Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny. Rodale Books. ISBN 978-1-60529-864-1.
- (2011). Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want. New York: Free Press. ISBN 1-4516-2448-4.
- (2013). The Martha Beck Collection: Essays on Creating Your Right Life (self-published). Volume 1. San Luis Obispo, California: Martha Beck, Inc. ISBN 978-0989306706.
- (2016). Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening (self-published). San Luis Obispo, California: Cynosure Publishing. ISBN 978-1944264000.
- Beck, Martha Nibley (1994). Flight from the iron cage: LDS women's responses to the paradox of modernization (Ph.D.). Harvard University. OCLC 32034090.
Beck is also creator of a number of non-book products, primarily digital recording services that offer education and various life coaching strategies.
- The "Wild New You" eCourse - a product based on a four-week live telecourse covering Beck's book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.
- Starlight Seminar-Leading Your Life DVD Set - A five-DVD set of Martha's one-day seminar based on her book, Steering by Starlight.
- Martha Beck's 'What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?' Workbook and CD Set - Set of 5 CDs and a 126-page workbook of Martha's six-week live telecourse of the same name.