Nurelweb is an academic website developed by IRVING HEXHAM. Click onto my name if you want to learn more about me and what I have written.
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First, as a professor of Religious Studies, and student of Ninian Smart, I believe that "understanding precedes criticism." Therefore, every effort is made to represent various religions as accurately as possible. In other words when someone belonging to a particular group, cult, sect, new or contemporary religion, reads anything I write about their religion they ought to be able to recognize their own movement in my description. Consequently, when I add links to the Nurelweb site I look for other sites which show a similar approach and clearly identify sites which do not, i.e. those that set out to criticize other religions without necessarily attempting a fair presentation of the views of followers of the religion under discussion. Further, I believe that the quest for truth is an important academic enterprise to which all scholars ought to be committed.
Here the question of objectivity is important. Contrary to many academics today, I believe that striving for objectivity is an important goal. No one is entirely objective. We all have our biases, but bias must be distinguished from prejudice. A bias informs a person's outlook on the basis of their birth, education, and life experience. It cannot be escaped, but it can be spelt out so that others are able make allowance for any distortion the bias creates. A prejudice involves an unquestioned commitment to one's own viewpoint as the only possible viewpoint, the refusal to consider that one might be wrong and disrespect for other viewpoints. We all have biases, but we need not be prejudiced. Therefore, objectivity remains the elusive goal of all academic activity.
Second, I am a Christian. To be more exact I am an evangelical Anglican who believes in the truth of historic Christianity. As a Christian, I believe that truth is important and that Christians, like academics, have a duty to seek truth wherever it may be found. With regard to the study of religion I echo the words of Jan van Baalen who described cults as "the unpaid bills of the Church" [The Chaos of the Cults, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1956:369]. This means that before commenting on cults, or other religious groups, one must attempt to understand their appeal. Why do people join such groups? Far too often membership in religions other than one's own is dismissed as either "the work of the devil" or "brainwashing," Both of these explanations tell us very little and certainly do not explain the actions of individuals. Therefore, as a Christian scholar I attempt to understand before offering a Christian perspective on religious beliefs other than my own.
Finally, it should be noted that unlike many secular colleagues, I do not believe that all religions are necessarily good. Nor do I think that scholars have a duty to embrace something just because someone sincerely believes it to be true. The duty of both the academic and the Christian is to raise critical questions and to continually seek fuller understanding. When such questions and understanding leads us to the conclusion that members of a religious group hold beliefs which are dangerous to others or even evil, as in the case of certain new religions in Germany during the 1930's, then it is our duty say so loud and clear.