Jeffrey Hadden 66, who taught religious studies at the University of Virginia, died this past Sunday of cancer, reports Associated Press.

The AP says the professor’s “work promoted religious tolerance.”

However, Hadden can instead easily be seen as a “cult apologist” who focused much of his energy in later life on defending groups called “cults.”

Hadden worked closely with Rev. Moon’s Unification Church and was recommended as an expert by Scientology.

However, Hadden insisted that such groups not be called “cults,” but instead “new religious movements.”

A confidential memo written by Hadden during 1989 and later made public revealed a network of academics, scholars and related operatives who sought to neutralize and/or discredit criticism of cults. Hadden hoped that these efforts might be funded by “cult” organizations.

Academics like Hadden, became increasingly controversial and some scholars saw them as a source for potential “public scandal.”

Rutgers Professor of Sociology Benjamin Zablocki said, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.”

Jeffrey Hadden was the recipient of such “sums of money.” One example is his defense of Scientology as a paid expert in court.

Hadden’s website, which the AP refers to as a “comprehensive” resource about “religious movements,” was actually a part of the professor’s ongoing effort to defend “cults” and discredit their critics.

The AP claims Hadden believed in “tolerance and freedom,” but he was often intolerant of former cult members that exposed abuses and his confidential memo does not seem to encourage freedom of expression, at least not for those who disagreed with his views.

During the 90s as acts of cult violence, scandal, suicide and/or abuse became more commonplace, Hadden’s apologies rang hollow. And subsequently his importance and influence as an objective serious scholar waned.

In the end, though some “cults” may lament the loss of a friend and defender, much of Jeffrey Hadden’s work as an academic scholar seems suspect.


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