Brought into the Fold – A study of Scientology Recruitment in ‘Skeptic’ Magazine

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A few days ago, I posted a 1966 article from ‘Spy’ magazine by investigative journalist Mark Ebner. This described his undercover experience of Scientology’s recruitment procedure.

This article covers the same ground – but from a completely different perspective – that of academic psychology. It was published in 1999, in “Skeptic” magazine (US edition). If you compare the two articles you will see that, in the intervening 33 years, Scientology’s approach to recruitment had hardly changed at all.

Martin argues (and demonstrates) that the tactics that Scientology recruiters are trained to use have nothing to do with the content of Scientology itself – they rely instead upon well-understood techniques of persuasion and influence.

The author refers to the ‘Elaboration Likelihood Model’., which basically states that there are two ‘routes’ you can take along the road to persuading someone to take a particular view:

  1. The Central Route  Present the person whose mind you are trying to change with information that they find interesting, relevant and important to them – then leave them to think about it.
    If you have a good case, this is an excellent way of ‘converting’ a person to your point of view.
  2. The Peripheral Route  If you have a poor case, you are thrown back on sales psychology –  make the sales encounter an friendly, enjoyable social experience and emphasise the importance of an immediate decision, so that the ‘prospect’ hase no time for reflection.

The article describes the authors’ experience during an pre-arranged meeting with a Scientology ‘Counsellor’ at the Washington DC Church of Scientology, where he presented as an interested member of the public.

Scientology aggressively adopts the peripheral route – style before content – and persuasionMartin describes in detail the various psychological influences that are brought to bear upon prospects in carefully-prepared personal and social interactions.

Of course, Scientology is forced to take the peripheral route to the extreme by its own doctrine, as well as its unconvincing nature. The teachings of Scientology are revealed in stages, and believers are required to study (and pay for) in a particular order. They are warned that they progress will be seriously damaged if become aware of teachings that they have not been properly prepared for.

For example, L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, warned that people who encountered the infamous OT3 material would die of pneumonia as a direct result, if they had not been properly prepared by the Church, first.

Also, Scientologists are strictly prohibited from discussing their personal progress, or Scientology materials that they have studied with each other – this is called ‘Verbal Tech’ and a serious disciplinary offence.

It would be fascinating to repeat this kind of undercover operation in Scientology today. Under its new ‘leader’ David Miscavige,  the (successful) tactics used above have been sidelined in favour of ornate and imposing buildings (‘Ideal Orgs’). The fact that this approach is psychologically, far less effective than the practices discussed above is demonstrated by the continuing fall in membership of the Church of Scientology.


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