Integrity and suspicion in New Religious Movement research - 1998-08-07
In April of 1998 we received a remarkable paper by Dr. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi entitled Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research. This paper is a revised and abridged version of his Advocacy and Research on New Religious Movements, presented at the November 7-9, 1997 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in San Diego, California. It is with his consent that we offer our overview.
Beit-Hallahmi opens by reviewing the violent history of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, now notorious for its March 20, 1995 poison gas attack on innocent Tokyo subway commuters. Shortly after this tragedy, four American scholars (including the unnamed J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion [one of the CESNUR's director, August, 1998 - ndr]) traveled to Japan "to defend Aum... against charges of mass terrorism" and urge Japanese authorities not to "crush a religion and deny freedom." In contrast, Beit-Hallahmi offers evidence that that "reliable reports since 1995 have shown that Japanese authorities were actually not just overly cautious, but negligent and deferential, if not protective, regarding criminal activities by Aum, because of its status as an NRM." Further, "it is safe to conclude that religious freedom was not the issue in this case. Nor is it likely, as some Aum apologists among NRM scholars have claimed, that this lethal record... and other non-lethal criminal activities were the deeds of a few rogue leaders."
Beit-Hallahmi asks: "Are we shocked by the alleged involvement of NRM researchers in this tragic story? Given the climate and culture of the NRM research community, and earlier demonstrations of support for NRMs in trouble, we are not completely surprised."