The Creation of ‘Religious’ Scientology

religious studies and theology



1999 The Creation of ‘Religious’ Scientology | Stephen A Kent
Religious Studies and Theology 18 No. 2 (December 1999): 97-126
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Abstract: Among the most complex and mysterious ideologies of the so-called new religions today is Scientology. A multinational conglomerate dedicated to the propagation and implementation of L. Ron Hubbard’s beliefs and ideas, Scientology operated missions in approximately twenty-five countries and had an active membership of at least 75,000 in the early 1990s (Kent, 1999a: 147 and n.2). (More precise and recent figures are exceeding difficult to acquire.) Aspects of its elaborate ideological system relate to business practices (Hall, 1998; Passas, 1994; Passas and Castillo, 1992), educational techniques, mental health (Wallis, 1976), drug rehabilitation, moral values, environmentalism, and religion. Its religious theology and accompanying cosmology are poorly understood by researchers (for an exception see Meldgaard, 1992), who fail to appreciate how they motivate members, identify societal opponents, and reflect the social and financial pressures that plagued its founder and sole theologian, L. Ron Hubbard, in the early 1950s.

This article documents the multifaceted self-representation of Scientology as a science, a mental health therapy, and a religion during its founding years. In doing so it pays particular attention to the social, economic, and ideological pressures on Hubbard that motivated him to claim religious status for his ideas. Consequently, the study provides an in-depth examination of the birth of a controversial faith, and it complements an earlier analysis that viewed Hubbard’s religious representations of Scientology as attempts to protect his followers from charges that they were practising medicine without licenses (Kent, 1996: 30-33). The first part of this study presents the ideological content of Dianetics and its offspring, Scientology, and the second part identifies social and economic pressures that were significant factors in Hubbard’s creation of Scientology’s religious claims. It concludes with some [p. 98] thoughts about the development of religious beliefs out of purely secular concerns, and underscores the contemporary difficulties brought about by an historical understanding of Scientology’s early years.