Apologetics Index

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi is a professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Michigan State University in 1970. Since then he has held clinical, research, and teaching positions at the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Michigan State University, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Columbia University, Vassar College, University of Haifa, the Israel Institute of Technology, Tel-Aviv University, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, King’s College London, and the CNRS in Paris. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of seventeen books and monographs and 130 articles and book chapters on the psychology of religion, social identity, and personality development. In addition, he has a special interest in questions of ethics and ideology in psychological research and practice. In 1993 he was the recipient of the William James Award, given by Division 36 of the American Psychological Association for his contributions to the psychology of religion.

Source: – Email from Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, on file.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi received a PhD in clinical psychology from Michigan State University in 1970, and since then has held clinical, research, and teaching positions in academic institutions in the United States, Europe, and Israel. He is currently professor of psychology at the University of Haifa. Among his best-known publications are Despair and Deliverance (1992), The Psychology of Religious Behavior, Belief and Experience (1997), and the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions (1998)

– Source: Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field


Integrity and Suspicion in New Religious Movement Research 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. A greatly expanded version of this paper is found in Chapter 1 – titled, “‘O Truant Muse’: Collaborationism and Research Integrity” – of Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. The article addresses the problem of collaboration, including a) financial arrangements between certain sociologists of religion and the New Religious Movements they studied, and/or b) the production of shoddy ‘research’ papers that might as well have been made-to-order Public Relations efforts for such religious movements. [Note that the expanded version can be read in its entirety at Google Books (page 35+)

Beit-Hallahmi then pulls out the strongest evidence for his case by referring to “a confidential memorandum, dated December 20, 1989, and authored by an [unnamed] NRM researcher who states that he is writing on behalf of two other leading researchers, all of them sociologists.”

“This document reports on a series of meetings and activities involving NRM scholars, NRM attorneys, NRM leaders, and some other scholars. … The memo proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, not only behind-the-scenes contacts between scholars and NRMs, but the coordinated effort on the part of leading NRM scholars to work with NRMs.” Beit-Hallahmi concludes that “leading members of the NRM research network regarded NRMs as allies, not subjects of study” and that “the scholars were more eager than the NRMs to lead the fight for NRM legitimacy.”

Organized efforts between NRM scholars and NRMs are then linked to groups such as the American Conference on Religious Freedom, Eileen Barker’s INFORM (United Kingdom), and the Association of World Academics for Religious Freedom (AWARE) in particular. – Source: Overview of Beit-Hallahmi’s paper “Integrity and Suspicion in New Religious Movement Research” Apologia Report

(Note: The “unnamed” NRM researcher is the late Jeffrey K. Hadden, and the condidential memo can now be read online.) Hallahmi discusses this issue – naming Hadden – in Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field
Scientology: Religion or racket? by Benjamen Beit-Hallahmi, Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 8, No. 1, 2003

Scientology’s own documents show an organization which is blatantly commercial, blatantly secular and blatantly predatory, as well as blatantly fraudulent. As Hubbard himself said in 1962, the religion label “is entirely a matter for accountants and solicitors” (Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, HCOPL, 29 October 1962). Scientology will use the religion label when it is convenient, and a secular label when it suits better. It will use the cross (as it has done in publications and displays on buildings) just like it has used Sigmund Freud’s name.

The preponderance of the evidence indicates that the religion claim is merely a tax-evasion ruse and a fig leaf for a hugely profitable enterprise, where the logic of profitability and profit-making dictates all actions. Scientology is in reality a holding company, a business empire earning profits from a variety of subsidiaries. It is guided by considerations of economic consequences and benefits, a strict business strategy.

The assertion that Scientology is a misunderstood religion seems less tenable than the competing assertion, that it is a front for a variety of profit-making schemes, most of which are totally fraudulent. The question is only whether Scientology is “an ordinary profit-making enterprise”, as Passas & Castillo (1992) suggest or whether “Scientology’s purpose is making money by means legitimate and illegitimate” (US District Court, Southern District of New York, 92 Civ. 3024 (PKL) see www.planetkc.com/sloth/sci/decis.time.html ). The most charitable interpretation would be that it is a profit making organization; a less charitable one that it is a criminal organization. The evidence for an explicit policy of deception makes it harder and harder to show any degree of charity.

The story of Hubbard and his brainchild deserves treatment by those who have written on famous impostors and great con men (Maurer, 1940/1999). Similar cases include the phenomenon of “psychic surgeons” in the Philippines, who prey on terminal cancer patients from the West, or the Dominion of Melchizedek (a cyberspace scam, self-described as a “recognized ecclesiastical and constitutional sovereignty, inspired by the Melchizedek Bible”). In the context of United States cultural history, Hubbard seems like a combination of the best-known qualities of Roy Cohn (Von Hoffman, 1988) and Lyndon LaRouche (King, 1990). The similarity between Scientology and the LaRouche organization in terms of ideology and activities seems far from than trivial, but has never been noted.

Some of the scholars claiming that Scientology is some kind of a religion have put their statements to an empirical test. Both Bainbridge & Stark (1981) and Passas & Castillo (1992) did suggest that Scientology would become more religious in the future, just because its claims of efficacy were absurd and unprovable. More than two decades later (for Bainbridge & Stark, 1981) and more than a decade later (for Passas & Castillo, 1992) these predictions have turned out to be totally wrong. Scientology has not become more religious in any discernible way since 1981 or 1992. It is as much a religion today as it has ever been, and as it will ever be.– Source: Scientology: Religion or racket? PDF by Benjamen Beit-Hallahmi, Marburg Journal of Religion, Volume 8, No. 1, 2003


Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, Sects, and Cults, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Roger Rosen (Editor)
Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, by Benjamin Zablocki (Editor), Thomas Robbins (Editor). Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi is a contributor. Highly recommended reading for everyone interested and/or involved in the ongoing debates on New Religious Movements and their academic supporters/detractors.

Misunderstanding Cults provides a uniquely balanced contribution to what has become a highly polarized area of study. Working towards a moderate ‘third path’ in the heated debate over new religious movements (NRMs) or cults, this collection includes contributions both from scholars who have been characterized as ‘anticult’ and from those characterized as ‘cult apologists.’ The study incorporates diverse viewpoints as well as a variety of theoretical and methodological orientations, with the stated goal of depolarizing the discussion over alternative religious movements. A large portion of the book focuses explicitly on the issue of scholarly objectivity and the danger of partisanship in the study of cults.

The collection also includes contributions on the controversial and much understood topic of brainwashing, as well as discussions of cult violence, child rearing within unconventional religious movements, and the conflicts between NRMs and their critics. Thorough and wide-ranging, this is the first study of new religious movements to address the main points of controversy within the field while attempting to find a middle ground between opposing camps of scholarship.

– Source: Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, From the page facing the inside front cover.

The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Michael Argyle
Religion, Psychopathology And Coping, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Halina Grzymala-Mosczcynska

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First published (or major update) on Monday, August 10, 1998.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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Apologetics Index: Research resources on religious movements, cults, sects, world religions and related issues

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