Apologism, also known as Apologetics, is historically specific to Christianity, it should not be confused with any expression of regret - Apologism is about justification. Apologism has become important to the presentation of Prem Rawat, it is inextricably linked to the recasting of Rawat as an 'inspirational speaker' and underlies what Rawat's critics claim is a process of blatant and dishonest revisionism.
As the destructive and harmful capacities of cult like organisations became more evident in the 1970s, numbers of individuals and groups published material critical of cults. Primarily in response to this body of criticism, various authors started to publish defences of cults and cult behaviour. While academically the preponderance of criticism of cults has come from Psychologists, Neurologists and Psychiatrists, the preponderance of Apologism has come from Social Scientists.
Prem Rawat has his own specialist academic Apologist, Professor Ron Geaves of Liverpool Hope University, (UK). Geaves was one of the first western followers of Prem Rawat and developed his academic status only after many years of devoted commitment to Prem Rawat. Geaves has spoken at a number of conferences organised by CESNUR - an Italian based Apologist entity run by self styled 'sociologist' Massimo Introvigne. At a 2002 CESNUR conference Geaves presented a paper on Elan Vital, neglecting to addend to the paper, either at the Conference or to its eventual Internet publication, the fact of Geaves' personal perspective on Prem Rawat. In 2004 Elan Vital attached to its various web sites, material produced by Massimo Introvigne and published by CESNUR. Geaves has the dubious distinction of having an anonymous web page slandering him.
Geaves has both an etic role preparing academic papers that give supposedly rigorous studies of Prem Rawat and his role as a modern Sant free of tradition and constraints who:
"has gathered students around the experience of "self-knowledge" or inner realization of "truth." Maharaji has chosen a route of perpetual transformation in which organizational forms are created and utilized and then destroyed, thus providing flexibility to deal with rapidly changing social attitudes, to provide pragmatic solutions to internal problems, and above all to keep his students focused on the core message rather than the peripheral requirements of organizational forms."
Geaves has written a series of papers which reveal Prem Rawat to be, well, perfect:
- From Totapuri to Maharaji: Reflections on a Lineage (Parampara), 27th Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, Regents Park College, Oxford, 22 - 24 March 2002
- From Divine Light Mission to Elan Vital and Beyond: An Exploration of Change and Adaptation, deliverd at the 2002 CESNUR International Conference: Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience, June 21 2002, published in Nova Religio; Mar 2004; 7, 3;
- Globalization, charisma, innovation, and tradition: An exploration of the transformations in the organisational vehicles for the transmission of the teachings of Prem Rawat (Maharaji), Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies, 2006
- From Guru Maharaj Ji to Prem Rawat: Paradigm Shifts over the Period of 40 Years as a "Master" (1966-2006), Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America by Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft (eds.), Vol. IV: Asian Traditions, Greenwood Publishing Group
- Forget Transmitted Memory: The De-traditionalised 'Religion' of Prem Rawat, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Volume 24, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 19 - 33
He also has an emic role being a long-term and trusted devotee who is given the opportunity of testifying to his peers in publications of Rawat's organisations:
Passages - A Masters Journey, a Visions International (a division of Elan Vital Inc) video, was published during 2001 to mark the 30th anniversary of the arrival of Prem Rawat (aka Maharaji) to the West in 1971 and to provide a coherent story for Rawat's followers to counter the criticisms of him being published on the Internet some of them by his former closest associates. It contains a potted history of Maharaji's life, his family, his organizations and his "message". Several prominent followers of Maharaji were interviewed for the video giving their very similar thoughts on these criticised aspects of Rawat and his career.
It was first shown at an Elan Vital program held in Nottingham UK in 2001, then sold for a period of time and broadcast via Satellite. The video is now no longer available for purchase or distribution via Elan Vital or their sister organizations. It contains some early footage of Prem Rawat in the West, some even earlier footage of his father but definitely not of his "Holy Family" in India, interviews with about a dozen of his most trusted followers and some background material with a professional doing the voice-overs explaining the new interpretation of his past and his Knowledge in an attempt to counter accusations against him on the internet. A complete transcript is available here.
It was probably created to rebut the growing criticism of Rawat by some of his former closest and most trusted administrators and personal assistants that was then being aired on the internet. Ron Geaves has a very significant role in the video.
As part of an ongoing program to create an aura of international respectability for Prem Rawat his followers rented a room at Oxford University (among many other prestigious institutions). Prem Rawat gives speeches in these rented rooms at prestigious institutions to a group of his followers and if possible some officers of the institution atracted by a donation. Professor Ron Geaves works at a somewhat humbler university but agreed to introduce Rawat at Oxford University and undoubtedly understood the deception that was being perpetrated when these DVDs of this speech were given out to anyone interested. This is probably his only chance of being thought of as an Oxford Don.
Academic cult apologism has attracted criticism because of the lack of demonstrable disinterest on the part of 'researchers'; recent revelations regarding Gordon J. Melton illustrate the scale of the problem. Melton is frequently referenced by other apologist writers and is a regular at CESNUR conferences, and is with Introvigne, a co founder of CESNUR.
The object of cult apologism is the creation of an aura of legitimacy for cultic organisations, by treating the activities, behaviours and beliefs of those organisations and their adherents as having comparable value to any other activity, behaviour or belief. The academic environment has provided a legitimisation of this uncritical approach, the consequences of this when extended to the non specialist environment are demonstrable by the hagiographic treatment of Prem Rawat's biography on Wikipedia.