British academic, Dr Ron Geaves, was the subject of an attempt by the 'ex-premie' group to have him dismissed from his university. Anonymous members of the group have used similar tactics to target other students of Prem Rawat.
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A Statement by Dr Ron Geaves
September 27, 2004
After a short period of reflection I have decided to respond to the website placed by anonymous individuals, in spite of its illegal infringement of copyright laws and statements meant to intimidate. The contents accuse me of 'fraudulent research' and threaten to contact my employer. (The latter is an empty threat as my employer is fully supportive of me.) In addition, another anonymous website has been launched by a hate group, entitled 'Geaves must go'.
There are three concerns of the author(s) of the websites:
1. I published a 'positive' article on Elan Vital (an that formerly assisted the work of peace advocate, Prem Rawat.), defined by the authors as a new religious movement, whilst not admitting to be associated with the teachings of Prem Rawat for the last thirty years.
2. False information' has been published in the paper in order to provide credibility to the movement through the use of my academic credentials
3. I am employed in a 'conspiracy with the organisation' to provide it with intellectual respectability.
I will respond to these 'accusations' in turn.
That I published a 'positive' article on Elan Vital, defined by the authors
as a new religious movement, whilst not admitting to be associated with
the teachings of Prem Rawat for the past thirty years.
It is not an aspect of the academic study of religion that one has to disclose one's faith position. The religious studies approach to the study of religion allows for people of any religion or none to be involved, as long as their scholarship is sound. Some of my colleagues know of my background, others do not. My spiritual journey belongs in the realm of religious freedom of choice. Almost everybody I know amongst my academic colleagues has a personal faith journey that is not declared in their writings.
That 'false information' has been published in the paper in order to provide
credibility to the movement through the use of my academic credentials.
The 'offending' article was neither proclaiming the truths of Prem Rawat's message nor denying them. I document the transformations of contemporary spiritualities and I am not concerned with the truth claims of the movements I study. Elan Vital was used as an example of where 'crude reductionism' has provided a simplistic view of religious transformation. My argument is that one needs to take into account believers' self-perceptions in order to deepen understanding of motivation. As such I am not concerned with the truth of the religious experience but the impact of the power of religious experience for those who feel it. In addition, the history of Prem Rawat is significant in understanding contemporary Western spirituality.
Religious Studies scholars are looking at the observable phenomena of religion and drawing critical inferences from those; they would not be taken seriously by their peers if they merely sought to promote a particular religion or worldview. It was David Barrett, working for INFORM, who first suggested that I combine my unique 'insider' position with my academic training to provide insights into a little studied movement.
That I am employed in a 'conspiracy with the organisation' to provide
it with intellectual respectability.
I value my academic freedom as highly as my liberty to follow my own spiritual truths. To every organisation or religious movement that I investigate, I offer the same conditions. I am prepared to allow the official representatives to read the final content before publication. They may raise objections that I will consider with regard to accuracy, but the final decision on the content is mine. That is non-negotiable.
I do have a personal position. I am an 'experiential essentialist' in the line of Professor Ninian Smart, Professor Geoffrey Parrinder and other eminent pioneers of my discipline. I am very proud and honoured to follow in their footsteps, especially after being awarded my Chair in Religious Studies this year. My ethics are simple - the study of religion is a critical valuation that is combined with a sensitive grasp of world views. There is nothing in the article that contradicts this position.
To the authors of the website, I say that my worldview may be different to theirs, but critical debate does not involve personal intimidation or attempts to assassinate character. The way to deal with articles that express a different viewpoint is refinement or correction. Creating websites displaying ambiguous headings like 'Geaves must go' has caused considerable distress to my family, whilst hiding behind anonymity is universally deemed to be cowardly.
I have always been open about my allegiances as the website author's choice of 'evidence' clearly indicates. That the website authors are afraid to identify themselves or to admit that they are writing from religious intolerance rather than a real concern for the accurate, scholarly study of religion can only reflect negatively on them.
Finally, I would like to thank the Principal of my College and my colleagues
in the British Association of the Study of Religion for their full support
in the last week.
--Dr. Ron Geaves