This is a thesis from 1981, which earned its author a masters degree and it is still astonishingly relevant today.
Spencer’s thesis is that the distinctive culture and communal activities of Science Fiction fans allows adults to indulge in healthy imaginative play.
He contrasts this with L Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, which he argues has exploited SF imagery and technological optimism to create an unhealthy fantasy world. After attending a “Star Trek” conference, the author observed how fans have created a consensual ‘virtual world’ around the franchise.
“Trekkers” frequently attend these events dressed in reproductions of costumes from the series, often assuming the identity of favourite characters. They have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the “Star Trek” universe, enjoy discussing it with other enthusiasts, and aspire to the utopian ideals that are a feature of the series – a society in which science and technology has ended poverty and brought about peace and equality.
Spencer concludes that the world of SF Fandom (which includes “Trekker” conventions) represents a new cultural form that has been created from personal fantasy. It can appear bizarre – but only because it is unfamiliar (fans who follow teams of sportsmen also dress in team colours, follow particular players &c but few people find this behaviour curious).
Trekkers clearly see the fictional devices of “Star trek” for what they are – they do not, for example attempt to teleport themselves to work in the morning. Scientologists, however, do believe that it is possible, here and now, to develop superhuman powers (including telekinesis, telepathy and immunity to physical disease) and expend time effort and considerable money in their pursuit of these goals.
Unfortunately, the “technology” that Scientologists trust will bring about their dream is nothing more than pseudo-science, and their project has more in common with Melanesian cargo cults. Scientologists have embraced magical thinking (presented to them by Hubbard under the guise of Science) and lost touch with reality.
There is much more to this thesis, which is well worth a close read.