Elan Vital is the name of several organizations that support the work of Prem Rawat, also known by the honorary title "Maharaji". Prem Rawat speaks of the possibility of knowing inner peace through four techniques of Knowledge. Elan Vital organizations exist in several countries with the purpose of organizing events in which Prem Rawat is invited to speak. They also engage in fundraising. In some countries, they broadcast public addresses of Prem Rawat. Although these organizations share similar aims and cooperate with each other, they are independent entities, each governed by its own board.
The "Divine Light Mission" in the United States changed its name to Elan Vital in 1983, by filing an entity name change. According to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, the mission was disbanded [when] Prem Rawat personally renounced the trappings of Indian culture and religion, to make his teachings independent of culture, beliefs and lifestyles.
According to Glen Whittaker, a former spokesperson for the organization in the United Kingdom, Elan Vital no longer has any connection to its originally Hindu or Sikh religious background. The Historical Dictionary of New Religious Movements states that Elan Vital insists that it is not a religion and that Maharaji's teachings are independent of culture and by no means bound to the traditions of India. Elan Vital, Inc. in the U.S. is a 501(c)(3). It has been labelled a "church" in reference to its tax status. As of 2005 the articles of incorporation describe its purpose as performing "religious, charitable and educational activities".
The organization was originally incorporated in the U.S. in 1971 as the Divine Light Mission as a non-profit corporation and in 1974 was recognized as a religious organization by the United States Internal Revenue Service under section 501(c)(3). The organization changed its name to Elan Vital in 1983, by filing an entity name change. Elan Vital states in its website that the name was changed to remove Indian labels and to present Maharaji's message in a manner more congruent with Western culture.
Elan Vital provides support for the dissemination of materials containing Prem Rawat's message. It also supports an Archive Project aimed to restore and catalog 30 years of film, video, and audio which documents Prem Rawat's work over these years. They say that their materials reach a global audience in 80 countries in more than 60 languages. They also state that Prem Rawat receives no compensation from Elan Vital. Voluntary contributions and sales of its materials support Elan Vital in the U.S., with 1,964 active contributors in the U.S.
According to their website, Elan Vital adheres to a policy of nondiscrimination on any basis, whether race, religion, creed, custom, nationality, age, or gender.
The Elan Vital in the United Kingdom is a registered charity with aims and objectives similar to the U.S. counterpart. In Australia, Elan Vital is a non-profit organization also with similar aims. EV states that the organization is almost completely run by volunteers, who offer their time, skills and donations in supporting the effort to make Prem Rawat’s teachings available as widely as possible. There are also Elan Vital organizations in Spain and Switzerland.
Persons who have been taught Maharaji's techniques of Knowledge can apply and receive a smartcard, issued by Elan Vital in the U.S., that is used to facilitate admittance to events in which the techniques of Knowledge are reviewed, or to gain access to events designed specifically for people that have received such techniques.
Ron Geaves, a Professor of Religion at Liverpool Hope University in England and follower of Prem Rawat, says that "Elan Vital was established to more effectively promote Maharaji's teachings in a way that was free from any particular religious or cultural association.
Sociologist Stephen J. Hunt, writes that
For Elan Vital, the emphasis is on individual, subjective experience, rather than on a body of dogma. The teachings provide a kind of practical mysticism. Maharaji speaks not of God, but of the god or divinity within, the power that gives existence. He has occasionally referred to the existence of the two gods—the one created by humankind and the one which creates humankind. Although such references apparently suggest an acceptance of a creative, loving power, he distances himself and his teachings from any concept of religion...deliberately keeping a low profile has meant that the movement has generally managed to escape the gaze of publicity that surrounds other NRMs.
Elan Vital was listed as a cult in a 1996 French parliamentary commission report. The report was compiled by the general information division of the French National Police (Renseignements généraux) with the help of cult-watching groups. This list has no official statutory or regulatory authority, and in May 2005 the former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin issued a circular indicating that the parliamentary report should no longer be used to identify cults. A 1998 article in Rocky Mountain News referred to Elan Vital as a "cult. In 2002 an article by the Australian Associated Press referred to the organization as the "Elan Vital cult.